More than 12 years ago, Chuck Anderson and his business partner, Benny Mahoney, began working toward their dream.
They had worked together at a Buick dealership in Richmond, Va., making their way through the ranks. Mahoney became the body shop manager, and Anderson the service department manager. They took their passion for cars and the collision business, and bought the body shop from the dealership owner in 1999. In 2000, they changed the name of the facility to Precision Body Works.
In the next five years, the operation became a $6 million, two-location success. Anderson and Mahoney wanted to keep the company’s momentum going, but they also planned to retire in the next several years. They knew that if they didn’t make a succession plan, all of their hard work could go to waste.
So Anderson opted to take a chance on nontraditional talent—he hired his daughters, Katie Fox and Nikki Jones, who each have teaching backgrounds. Their training prepared them well to take over the family business, Anderson says. They have a penchant for planning and sharp organizational skills. Fox came on in 2010 as a staff liaison, collecting data such as car count and cycle time, handling communication with DRPs, and coordinating information between the shop and the office. Jones started as an office manager in 2009, and now her role also involves accounting.
They each hit the ground running. Thanks to better data collection and analysis, thorough planning, increased communication, new technology, lean training and other changes, touch time went from 1.6 hours to 3.4 hours, and cycle time dropped from 11 days to 6.4 days. In 2011, they also moved the Richmond shop from an 8,000-square-foot side street to a 25,000-square-foot building on a main thoroughfare where each day, 55,000 cars drive by. Revenue from the first quarter of this year was up 25 percent compared with the previous year.
Overall, the culture has become more collaborative, and the staff seems to feel happier and less stressed, Jones says.
“They do a really good job of pre-planning,” Anderson says, joking about how happy he is that he paid for their college education. “I’m starting to see some return on investment.”
After Anderson and Mahoney accomplished their dream of building a successful collision repair business, they needed a succession plan. They also needed some fresh blood to infuse the company with new ideas so the company wouldn’t lose its momentum.
Jones had worked as an elementary school teacher and has a master’s degree in special education. Fox had completed some college coursework in education and business. Neither was happy with the direction of their careers, so after talking with their dad about coming to work for him, they realized it would be best for everyone to take on leadership roles in the company.
—Chuck Anderson, co-owner, Precision Body Works
“Our dad has always been in the car business,” Jones says. “It’s always what he has done. We’ve been around cars our whole lives, and we went to car shows. It’s always been something we’ve been interested in because of our dad. Our business is a family business. One day our parents will retire, and we want to know everything we can so we can continue to grow.”
Voice of Reason
As Fox and Jones took their roles more seriously, the shop began to evolve. Fox handles insurance communication and Jones took on information technology and accounting.
As a teacher, Jones says, she had to map out lesson plans and present them. So that’s how she and her sister approach their roles. They are thorough planners.
For example, they noticed that the process for how cars were being checked in was not efficient, and not every car’s damage was getting documented. So they sat down in a conference room one day to talk with Mahoney, Anderson, an estimator, and a few other shop employees. They talked as a team about what was working and what wasn’t, and got others’ input. Based on that discussion, they mapped out a standard operating procedure for how to check in cars.
They did this for other processes as well. They now have a checklist for cleaning cars to make sure that the windows, tires, mirrors and door jams get cleaned during the process. And they got shop employees’ input while creating those processes.
Anderson says his daughters’ thoughtful and inclusive approach to managing the shop has made for a more efficient team. Before, he used to just delegate orders or do the work himself. But Fox and Jones bring a voice of reason to the business, he says.
That voice of reason has contributed in numerous other ways to the shop’s efficiency and growth through their knack for planning and organization, Anderson says. “We’ve had more changes in the last year than in the last 12,” he says.
Here are some examples:
Data collection. Jones says they now collect more data and let that drive decision making. They consistently analyze the car count, and look at where bottlenecks might be happening.
“All that data is really powerful,” she says.
For example, they noticed that they needed to do a better job with leveling out scheduling so as not to be backed up with too many cars by Friday. So they started using CCC ONE management system and Google calendar to schedule appointments for estimates, drop-offs and pick-ups. Touch time has increased because of this, and “everybody’s a lot less stressed,” Jones says.
Visual tools. They installed a big dry-erase board in the shop that shows the goals for car count, how many cars were painted and delivered the day before, how many cars are in administration, disassembly, reassembly, detail, parts, metal, and paint. The board shows the average number of days that the cars were in each department. The shop also has a 36-inch TV screen that shows an updated production schedule and where the cars are in the process. Touch time and cycle time immediately started improving after these tools were installed because staff was held accountable with the visual aids, and because they had goals to shoot for. And the constant stream of information shows how repairs are going.
Team system. Earlier this year the shop switched to a team system. They had previously assigned vehicles to individuals who repaired a car from start to finish, but now the shop is split into paint, metal and detail departments. Each person specializes in different duties, and cycle time has decreased because of it. “All hands are on deck, from start to finish, and everyone knows what’s going on,” Fox says.
Constant communication. Each week, the shop has a management team meeting, and every other week the estimators meet. The entire staff meets every morning, which is an improvement over the noon meetings that used to take place. Meeting more often and earlier has smoothed out communication and increased productivity. People are also encouraged to be honest at these meetings about what is and isn’t working.
Going lean. As Anderson puts it, “we’ve gone hook, line and sinker with PPG on going lean.” In December 2011, they sent eight people to the PPG Green Belt training to learn lean. The following month, nine more staffers were trained in. “It’s part of our personality,” Jones says of how she and her sister have embraced lean processes. “We like to 5S our houses.”
‘It Feels Like Family’
Anderson says he feels good about where the business is headed, thanks to his daughters’ initiative. He feels confident the shop will be successful long after he and Mahoney have left.
“We’ve gone a long ways in a short period of time,” Anderson says.
He says the morale and culture at the shop have improved because of the many changes that Jones and Fox have made.
“They help, they listen, they talk to people out in the shop,” he says. “We’re very fortunate with the people we have overall.”
PPG visited the shop to interview employees who had been to the Greenbelt training. Anderson says they were impressed by how the staff said they felt included in decision-making processes.
Jones says it’s important to include others’ input—another sign of a former teacher at work. The employees often have the best ideas, she says.
“It feels like family,” she says. “All the staff and everyone who works with us are invested in how we do as a business. It’s not just the owners that care.”