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Summer is over and some shop owners have taken a nice vacation to recharge their batteries. But from what I hear, many others didn’t even consider taking a vacation because of our difficult economy. For many of them, forgoing time off might have been an unfortunate omission as there are other important reasons to take that vacation besides resting up.

With many changes arriving in the collision repair industry—waterborne paint, aluminum and carbon fiber parts, hybrid vehicles—changes are also being instituted in the shop. Not all of these changes are being welcomed by shop technicians and other personnel, so that owners are having to make a special effort to get their staff on board with them in accepting and adapting to new circumstances. I’ve heard more than one shop owner complain that his technicians quickly go back to old ways of doing things if they run into any difficulty in doing things the new way.

“Restructuring a business is like rebuilding a shop facility. It can’t be done while business is going on as usual.”

AN OUTSIDE PERSPECTIVE

I’ve written in the past about the need for lasting change to be structural change. Making superficial changes are like a driver steering to the left to try to compensate for a vehicle out of alignment that is pulling to the right. Only by realigning the steering structure can the driver ever hope to steer straight ahead. Tinkering with changing worker procedures a little here and a little there will never result in getting them to adopt an entirely new structural procedure.

Restructuring a business is like rebuilding a shop facility. It can’t be done while business is going on as usual inside the building. I’ve noticed quite a few shop owners who leased a couple of temporary manufactured buildings to house a few operations while key buildings were being rebuilt. It would seem they realized the importance of maintaining an outside point of view during the process of change. But apart from creating a new physical structure, a trip or vacation may be what a shop owner needs to get a broader viewpoint on how to create a new procedural structure.

THE EDUCATIONAL “VACATION”

Any vacation that gets an owner out of the shop and into a different environment will enable him or her to return to the shop with a different point of view. But a recent study suggests that most people prefer exposure to something that will add to their personal experience.
While one may not list this as a “vacation,” quite a few shop owners have visited shops like Keyes Collision Center in Van Nuys, Calif., to see the team approach to repair in action. This may not be surprising since 87 percent of respondents to a recent American Express study indicated that they expected their travel involving personal interests to predominate over the next two years. And 36 percent of those surveyed said they wouldn’t consider a vacation destination that didn’t help them fulfill at least one personal passion. Shop owners returning from a trip involving in-depth observation of a shop using procedures they plan to introduce, will almost certainly implement much of what they have seen when they return.

TRAVEL TO AVOID DISASTER

In this age of terrorism, security concerns and high fuel costs, many people are staying closer to home or traveling by car and train rather than flying. It might be hard to imagine traveling to avoid a disaster, but I recently spoke with a shop owner who hadn’t been exposed to information or training on aluminum repairs and the equipment needed to perform these repairs. Unfortunately, he took on a repair job on a BMW that he discovered was impossible for his shop to do, and lost a small fortune in the process.

There’s a very good chance, if he had gone to NACE, he would have seen demonstrations of aluminum straightening, adhesive and welding systems that would have alerted him to the dangers of attempting aluminum repair without proper equipment and training. But he never took the trip. Once again NACE is right around the corner (Nov. 5–8 in Las Vegas, Nev.), but many shop owners may be thinking they can’t afford to take the trip and the time away from the shop. In reality, that trip just might provide the information they need to avoid a comparable disaster!

And quite apart from the educational aspect or even the disaster-aversion aspect, travel to NACE, a CIC meeting, or other industry functions gives a shop owner an opportunity to exchange views with his or her peers, and perhaps to have that additional fun needed to charge the batteries before returning to some daunting restructuring tasks.


Tom Franklin, author of Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth, has been a sales and marketing consultant for more than 40 years.

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