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Repairing a Shop’s Reputation

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When Jack Ivey came on board as the collision center director of North Park Lincoln, the relationship between the dealership and the body shop was strained. Ivey immediately recognized the importance of the dealership customers, and got to work repairing the relationship and implementing new efficiencies to rid the shop of its slow reputation.

From the outside looking in, I was always under the impression that the dealership should have all the work. They’re the ones that are selling the cars and they should have the work. If they don’t, there’s a problem and it needs to be fixed. It didn’t take very long once I got here for me to realize that these big buildings with all the cars in the parking lots were my best customers.

If I could make the dealerships happy, then their customers were mine. Think about it: what better source of customers in the dealership shop world than the dealership? We have seven dealerships within the city limits of San Antonio. Between those seven, I bet they sell roughly 1,000 cars a month. Those are 1,000 potential customers. Somehow the customers were let go a long time ago, and it was my job to get them back.

My background is in the independent field, but I was always interested in the dealership side. It was always rumored that the dealership body shop was completely different than an independent shop, and I always wondered why.

When North Park Lincoln approached me and made me an offer, I figured it would be a good way to learn something new. The change was challenging at first. There’s a chain of command in the dealership world that’s very different; there’s several levels of management you have to go through to get things done. I had to figure out how to present these ideas in a way that they would be understood and accepted.

“[It’s] difficult; you’ve got customers, insurance claims, customer pay, and car dealerships. You have to make everyone feel important.”
—Jack Ivey, North Park Lincoln Collision Center

What I also found was that nine times out of 10, the dealership doesn’t like their own body shop. When I came on board, the relationship was quite strained. This particular body shop had a reputation of being very slow to get cars done. It goes back to when warranty paint and body repairs were more prevalent. Those repairs often got pushed aside because they weren’t as profitable. Once that happened, in the dealership’s eyes, things take too long and they can’t get along with the body shop.

Once somebody loses trust in you, that’s a difficult thing to bring back. It took about two years for me to repair that relationship with the dealer, and nine years later, that work is still ongoing. The key is to make anyone and everyone who comes into this shop with a vehicle that needs repairs feel important. That’s difficult; you’ve got customers, insurance claims, customer pay, and dealership cars. You have to make everyone feel important.

It’s going to sound so simple, but the process was one car at a time. I started by meeting the people at the dealership that were responsible for dealing with customers and building relationships with them. I still have meetings with various dealership people every day to help maintain that relationship. It was a process of focusing on the cars that came from the dealerships and showing the dealerships that we can get the cars done just as quickly as we can get anybody else’s car done.

The first thing I did was dedicate a service writer and a technician to handle all the dealership work. I wanted the dealerships to have a single point of contact, and for the first year, I wanted everything to come through me too. I’m the first one here in the shop in the morning; that’s one of my things. I want people to come here and see me here. I review the prior days’ business and start to plan out the day ahead.

Repairing that relationship with the dealership was a real culture change for this shop, and there was a lot of pushback from employees at first. But people are people and it’s how you address them, present the information, and include them in your decision that allows things to work.

STARTING SMALL: It wasn’t easy for Ivey to repair the shop’s standing with the dealership. He started by having all the dealer work go through his desk to ensure quality. Photo by Alexander Aleman

Every day I meet with my service writers—who I consider managers—in the morning. We meet for 30 minutes and we discuss problems, solutions, we go over all the cars in the shop. My personal goal is to try to figure out some way to have them leave my office laughing. I want them to walk out of here lifted a little bit.

Between my five managers, our combined years of experience is well over 200. That’s a lot of information and a lot of knowledge. I’ll be the first to tell you: I don’t know everything. But I have enough good people around me that we can be king of the hill. I always spend the morning going out and making a round through the shop. I want to see how everything is going and talk to all of the employees.

Like I said, the reputation of the shop was that it was slow, so I’m always trying to come up with ways to increase efficiencies. I needed to come up with a way to get those small hits—two- and three-day jobs—done in that amount of time. I knew that it was those little bumper jobs and fender benders that were getting in the way of the big jobs taking so long.

About five years ago, I decided to dedicate a bay just to light repairs, ones that took 15 body hours or below. I chose four body technicians and one painter to work on repairs where there was no side pulling and only minor body pulls. Our customer pay ratio went up drastically and our cycle time dropped from 16 days to 6.7 now.

Then four years ago, I decided to start an intermediate repair bay. That became repairs that were 15–25 body hours. They have their own technicians, production manager, and paint team. Once we broke it down and designated a certain group of technicians to handle certain repairs, it really freed up the severe repairs to be repaired quicker too.

It has worked out tremendously well. The dealership is so excited about it and it really gives us a selling point to go to them with. North Park Lincoln as a whole is very innovative, and they like advanced thinking and people that try things. Most of my afternoon is taken up by dealership meetings. Those can vary from training meetings, weekly department head meetings, or learning about new manufacturer programs.

The majority of our customers are from the dealerships, and so much so, that we’re only on one DRP program. We used to be on eight DRP programs, but we made the decision after regaining the trust our dealership that we could politely remove ourselves from the DRP programs. It was a risk, but it’s worked out very well. When I came on board, sales were about $300,000 a month. Now, they’re sitting at $620,000 a month this year. We also opened another facility about a year ago called the North Park Lincoln Minor Collision Center, which only handles those minor repairs. It’s already paying for itself and adding to our sales.

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