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Implementing management software offers clear benefits for a collision repair shop: reduced cycle times, job profitability data and many more at-your-fingertips key business drivers. So why aren’t more shops using it?
Jason Bertellotti, vice president of repair solutions for Mitchell International, estimates that fewer than 10,000 body shops use a management software solution. “Small shops don’t think they need it yet—they think it’s only the big shops,” he says. “But I’d argue that without [management software], it’s very difficult to become a big shop.”
Size isn’t the only concern. How do you choose the right product? How do you implement it with minimal disruption to your business? And how do you get your employees to embrace a new way of doing business with new technology?
The three shops featured here successfully answered those questions—and their businesses are the better for it.

Crawford Body Shop, Burley, Ida.  10 employees. 12,000 square feet.
The Software: Mitchell’s ABS Enterprise Express

Before attending NACE in 2008, Crawford Body Shop co-owner Tracy King and shop manager Clayton King considered management software too great of an investment for their business. “We’re not big by any means,” Clayton King says. “So justifying a cost like that and the additional IT investment to buy a server and provide internal IT support would be difficult.”

Still, the Kings recognized the good that a software solution could do the shop. After all, without one, Crawford wasn’t tracking cycle time and Clayton King frequently found inconsistencies in parts prices. “We wanted to know where every penny was going and where every penny was coming from,” he says. “With today’s economy we wanted to track everything.”

“We wanted to know where every penny was going and where every penny was coming from.”   
—Clayton King, shop manager, Crawford Body Shop

So when Tracy King talked to Mitchell reps at NACE and discovered ABS Enterprise Express, which is designed for first-time management software users and is hosted by Mitchell—meaning a reduced IT expense for Crawford—the Kings felt the $225-a-month investment would be worth it. Last December, they made the switch from spreadsheets to software.

ABS Enterprise Express includes core capabilities such as repair order management, parts management, job costing, payroll, labor allocations and marketing. Another plus: The software interfaces well with Crawford’s accounting program QuickBooks and CCC Pathways Estimating System.

Making the switch was easy, says Clayton King. Crawford used the software for a few weeks prior to the official three-day on-site training, which gave the employees time to develop questions. “We jumped in with both feet,” King says. “You can’t benefit from a system you have purchased unless you force yourself to use it.”

Having used ABS Enterprise Express for just a few months, King hasn’t had time to grasp all the software offers, but says he fully intends to explore every feature. He’s already seen a return on investment. One example: Improved cash flow because supplements are billed out faster—one to two weeks faster, on average—than in the past. “Last year I had a supplement that was outstanding for four or five months,” King admits. “The insurance company had no incentive to pay me because the car was already gone.” Pricing inconsistencies on parts get noticed immediately, rather than after a job is done. And now, no job is started without a work order.

“Quite frankly, having used the system, we don’t really know how we were able to keep things organized without it,” he says.

Extreme Auto Body, Shelton, Wash. 
13 employees. Nearly 11,000 square feet.
$1.2 million gross annual revenue.
The Software: CCC One Total Repair Platform

Until about three years ago, Extreme Auto Body was a small shop of two employees in 4,000 square feet, and the business focused more on restoring street rods than it did on collision repair. But that needed to change for the business to grow. Extreme’s owners hired an employee with experience in auto body and insurance management, who helped the shop grow from having no direct repair programs (DRPs) to winning more than a dozen DRPs. But that growth brought its own challenges.

“We grew too large to sufficiently handle the volume of work we started getting,” says marketing manager Andrew Pierce. Extreme had already invested in estimating software from CCC Information Services. Last October, Extreme added CCC One, the company’s new management software. “We chose CCC for our estimating and management systems because it’s known for being the best for transporting estimate data, and [because of] their work with insurance companies and the insurance companies’ DRPs,” he says. “The whole [CCC One] package impressed me.” The $1,000 sign-up fee and $1,000-a-month charge was also affordable for the shop.

“We grew too large to sufficiently handle the volume of work.”
—Andrew Pierce, marketing manager, Extreme Auto Body

A CCC rep spent a week onsite to train Pierce, who then trained the shop’s other employees. That training time also served as the company’s transition period, Pierce says. “We spent the week putting as much information into the system as we could so that we were ready for a smooth transition.”

Like some other shops new to management software, Extreme hadn’t before tracked things like cycle time and job profitability, says shop co-owner Rodney Pierce. But he expects that to change. “It’s easier to keep track of your dollars and cents if you’re able to monitor it on a regular basis,” he says.

Andrew Pierce is quick to point out the benefits that Extreme is already seeing. “We tried to document every call and conversation with insurance companies and customers, but when it was all hard copy documentation it was difficult to do and to organize,” says Pierce. “With CCC One, we document everything in the management system notes section.”

Given the troubled economy, Pierce expects the software to become a vital component of Extreme’s business. “I see other local auto body shops in the Western Washington area, and the economy has really hurt—if not bankrupted—their businesses. Thanks to a good business plan, having good equipment like CCC One, being respectful and willing to work with the insurance companies and the customers, and treating employees in the same way we expect to be treated, we have not felt the effect of the economy nearly as badly as many other shops.”

Smail Collision Center, Greensburg, Penn.
30 employees. 28,000 square feet. 250 vehicles repaired each month.
$5.2 million in gross annual revenues.
The Software: Accelerate SchedulerPlus

When John Fagan joined Smail Collision Center, he knew the shop’s performance needed improving. “Our store was scheduling eight repairs a day manually, using a paper scheduling calendar,” he explains. “Workflow was poor, cycle times were 12 to 14 days, and touch times equaled less than one hour per day. We needed to become a performer in our market.”

Fagan, the general manager, began researching scheduling and management software, and found what he was looking for when he discovered Accelerate SchedulerPlus. The product, according to Accelerate co-founder (and body shop owner) Al Kollinger, is a scheduling system that helps collision shops smooth out their workflow based on the shop’s existing capacity, staff and systems. “SchedulerPlus assists collision shops with scheduling a work mix that enables them to increase the number of repair jobs by not loading the shop with a lot of big jobs or a lot of small jobs on the same days,” Kollinger explains.

“We needed to become a performer in our market.”
—John Fagan, general manager, Smail Collision Center

Smail began using the product in April 2007. To prepare employees for the change, he made sure everyone understood the objectives of the transition. He also scheduled daily lunch break meetings during the first three months to discuss what was and wasn’t working. One big change for the shop was holding back vehicles that weren’t truly ready for production.

“We’re a flat-rate shop, so when we started holding jobs back, that created a little bit of animosity, because [the techs] wanted to go to work,” Fagan says. But within the first 10 days of working only on cars that could be completed, “we could see it was going to work.”

After six months, Smail had reduced its average cycle time to eight days; today it’s six. Net profit growth has exceeded 57 percent in the 24 months since implementing the software and consulting, making it well worth the several-thousand-dollar investment in the software and the $500 monthly subscription fee. “We’ve grown significantly,” Fagan says. “Life is less chaotic, and our customers and our insurance partners are happier with our performance.”

Selecting Management Software

Jason Bertellotti, vice president of repair solutions for Mitchell International, offers some advice for making management software work for your shop.

Evaluate. Finding the right software solution should begin with an evaluation of your
business: Define your objectives, and know why you’re considering software in the first place. Efficiency? Revenue growth? Market share?

Research. Once you know your needs and goals, research potential vendors. Make sure the vendor is one you trust,
one whose product meets
your needs.

Engage the Vendor. After narrowing your list of vendors, ask specific questions about the training and support the company can offer, and about the return on investment your business might be able to expect—and just how long that may take.

Negotiate. Finally, negotiate price and terms.


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