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Renewing Passion for the Business

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The Feasel family has always been a tight-knit clan.

“We’ve never had a babysitter,” says Rick Feasel.

As the owner of Feasel’s Frame & Collision Inc. in Tiffin, Ohio, it wasn’t uncommon for Feasel to turn his back office into a makeshift nursery for his son and daughter. As he grew older, his son, Jeff, traded the crib for a broom, helping out around the shop every day after school. Even after graduating high school and heading off to New York City for college, the father-son pair still talked nearly every day.

So it’s no surprise that when the 57-year-old Feasel started to tire of the ins and outs of day-to-day business ownership, Jeff jumped in to help. What they weren’t expecting, though, was for Jeff to find a passion for the collision repair industry—and for Feasel to renew his own.

“We’ve personally gotten even closer,” says Jeff. “He leans on me and I lean on him. It’s just worked.”

In just a year and a half, the two have set about implementing numerous changes in the 7,000-square-foot shop that have not only guaranteed its staying power, but have also accounted for an increase in annual revenue from a stagnant $1.5 million to $2 million in 2013.

A Fading Interest

Like his son, Feasel was born into the repair industry. His mechanic father got him his first job in a body shop at the age of 15, before he went on to work for a local dealership after high school. Only a year into the job, the body shop manager quit and a 19-year-old Feasel was named the new shop manager.

“It was supposed to be temporary, but 10 years later, I was still the manager,” Feasel says.

In 1984, a local body shop went up for sale, and Feasel purchased the business, renaming it Feasel’s Frame & Collision.

But 30 years and countless hours logged in the shop later, Feasel was no longer as excited about coming into the shop every day. He entertained selling the shop to eager buyers, but decided instead to look for a general manager to relieve some of the day-to-day duties.

“To be honest, there wasn’t a day that I did not want to come into work, but there were days where I wanted to go home,” he says. “Dealing with customers in a bad economy is bad. They expect a lot more than you can mentally and physically give.”

LOOKING LEANER: One of the changes the Feasels made to their facility was installing a drive-through paint booth that allows for better shop efficiency. Photo by Morgan Cole

As luck would have it, Jeff was looking to make a change, too. After studying broadcast journalism in college and working for CBS in Ohio and NBC in Florida, Jeff was ready to settle down and start a family without the threat of relocation every few years.

“Through discussions with my dad, I knew he was starting to seek a buyer,” Jeff says. “The smell of thinner and Bondo came back to me, and I said, ‘What do you think about me taking over as manager?’”

Feasel treated the offer seriously, even flying down to Florida, where Jeff was still living, to interview his son for the position.
“Even if he wasn’t my son, he still would’ve been my top choice,” Feasel says. “He’s a people person, and I think this business needs a people person. He had the skill to manage people.”

Jeff and his family moved back to his hometown and he slowly started working his way back into the business.

Easing Into Leadership

Rather than immediately jumping in, Jeff started by reorganizing the parts room and even washing cars.

“I didn’t come in with the almighty, my-name-is-on-the-building-you-listen-to-me attitude,” he says. “I don’t know how to do their job and I never pretended to. You can never fear asking for help.”

During this time, he also went back to school to earn his MBA, which increased his knowledge of the numbers, and marketing, and taught him about managing, which Jeff says he also learned from his time in broadcast.

“The one thing I do take from working in the world of television is knowing how to deal with people,” he says. “You have to deal with all different kinds of people all day, every day. Working in the office, you’re working with people who are experiencing different levels of madness.”

Eventually, he moved up to working in the office, dealing with customers, writing estimates, ordering parts and posting jobs, while Feasel was able to concentrate on his favorite part of the business, running the back.

“Ultimately, we both knew that I was coming in to replace him in the office,” Jeff says. “He has 30 years of smarts and know-how in the back.”

A Renewed Passion

As Jeff was learning the ropes, Feasel says he was immediately surprised by the effect Jeff’s arrival had on Feasel’s own attitude towards the business.

“It made one heck of an improvement as far as running the operation,” he says. “When he came in, it was all renewed. It made me realize this is one heck of a business to be in.”

THE OLD STAND-BY: With son Jeff managing the shop, Rick Feasel is no longer worrying about the business’s future. Photo by Morgan Cole

That’s when Feasel decided he wanted to give the shop a facelift, starting with the biggest bottleneck in the place: his paint booth. While his old booth was adequate, the constant moving of cars cut down significantly on his cycle time.

“With our old booth, you had to park a car in front of it to sand, then you had to move it and back the car out to bring another car in,” says Jeff.

Feasel decided to make the switch to waterborne paint and invested in a Blowtherm drive-through paint booth. To accommodate the new booth, which features doors on both ends to eliminate backing cars in and out, Feasel and Jeff designed a 1,500-square-foot addition. The new system has reduced their cycle time from 5.5 days to four days, and allows the painter to complete two additional cars in the course of one day. The addition has resulted in the shop being named as a top shop for cycle time by several insurance carriers.

A Leaner Approach

After reorganizing the parts room, Jeff attended several lean manufacturing classes and quickly implemented many of the practices, as well.

“What I realized was that my dad was already accidentally lean,” he says.

Jeff went about reducing inventory, making sure everything had its proper place, going paperless in the office, working with the painter to create a streamlined paint process, and creating more of an assembly line when it comes to handing out jobs. Instead of stacking the jobs, the repair orders are now handed out one at a time. The new drive-through paint booth also means that the cars are being pulled to paint, which Jeff says has also increased efficiency in the shop.

“For the numbers we put out, our shop is pretty small, size wise,” he says. “That’s part of the fun because we don’t have the open spaces that new, modern shops have.”

Recruiting for the Future

While the shop has always had very little employee turnover, Feasel was also starting to realize the technician shortage that he was facing.

“It’s hard to find somebody good,” he says.

To help foster and recruit new talent, Feasel started working closely with the local vocational school, which his painter had graduated from.

“During the course of the school, when they’re in session, we take between two and four students at a time for two or three hours a day and put them all to work,” Feasel says. “I’ll give them to my frame tech or alignment specialist, and they’ll stay there and help them. The school teaches them the basics and when we get them, we teach them what we expect from them.”

Since beginning the mentoring program, Feasel has hired numerous graduates from the school, including his painter and one of his body techs.

‘A Fresh Set of Eyes’

To maintain communication, Jeff and Feasel make it a point to do go over all the jobs for the day together every morning and go out for lunch at least once a week. Feasel now works primarily in the back, overseeing production for the shop.

“We’ll sit down and basically talk about what we can do better,” Feasel says. “Because at the shop, it’s hustle and bustle most of the time and it’s hard to communicate.”

With nearly two years under their belts, the two are considering the next steps for the shop, which includes expanding to a second location.

“I’m very optimistic,” Jeff says. “I see room to grow. I see room to expand. I don’t have the tunnel vision that maybe you have if you’ve been in the same business for too long. I have a fresh set of eyes.”

For Feasel’s part, Jeff‘s arrival has meant he’s able to focus on the parts of the business he most enjoys, work more flexible hours, and take off on the occasional fishing trip.

“I’m only 57, so I’ve still got a few years to go,” he says. “But Jeff will definitely take over 100 percent. We’ve had two offers from bigger shops who said, ‘When you’re ready to sell, let us know.’ Now that Jeff’s on board, there’s no way that will take place.”

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