Advancing Technician Training in Hawaii
There’s a simple word in Hawaiian that Spencer Nash kept coming back to: ohana. The word translates to “family,” but more than that, it refers to a concept of taking care of the community at large.
As the general manager of Auto World Specialists (AWS) in Honolulu, Nash knew all too well the challenges that local shops in Hawaii faced daily. Lack of training, few resources, and difficulty getting parts meant that the more than 250 body shops in the city were having difficulty advancing.
In fact, Nash says that before 2008, there was only one I-CAR Gold Class shop in the whole state. Today, there are fewer than a dozen shops in Hawaii that belong to the Gold Class Program.
“When people come from abroad they see that our state offers high-end retail stores, but when they go to a collision repair facility, people say that we’re behind the times,” says Nash. “That was getting frustrating. No one in the collision repair industry was going forward to question: What can we do for our industry here in Hawaii to make it better across the board?”
Tired of the plateau, Nash decided he could be that person. Over the course of five years, Nash sought all the training he could for the staff at AWS, and slowly accumulated contacts within the industry.
Now he’s on the cusp of creating his own in-house training center that will serve the entire Hawaiian collision repair industry.
“I saw that need for someone to be a representative from Hawaii,” Nash, 36, says. “I want to make sure that all of the information out there is available to other shops.”
Growing for the Future
Auto World Specialists has always been a shop on the “up-and-up,” Nash says. When he first started working as a detailer for his uncle, shop owner Eric Nash, in 1992, AWS was an 8,000-square-foot facility. Since then, the shop’s facility has doubled in size every eight years.
Cut to December 2012, and his uncle moved the business into a larger space boasting roughly 100,000 square feet. Today, about 68,000 square feet of that is utilized, with the potential to expand dramatically into the additional 31,000 square feet this year.
“In our local market, space is at a premium because the cost of space here is probably one of the highest [in the country],” Nash says. “We had a unique opportunity where we were able to take on a lot of property, but it needed work. So we put a lot of work into it over the last couple of years.”
The business now occupies multiple buildings. The expansive lot has allowed the shop to create a separate building for detailing, parts, storage and in-process vehicles. There’s also an indoor customer lounge area, Enterprise vehicle rental office, vehicles stored on site, a GEICO office, and separate mechanical and body shops.
His uncle appointed Spencer as general manager in an effort to continue pushing the shop forward and to ensure that the business continued succeeding in the changing industry.
“Right now, there’s a generational shift, I would say, from my uncle to me,” he says.
The “new generation” of shop owners in Hawaii, Nash says, is dealing with issues previous generations never had to think about—insurer focus on key performance indicators such as touch time, cycle time and rental-car days making up a large part of it.
To help, Nash started by getting involved with I-CAR, becoming an I-CAR instructor in 2010 and having his staff take the necessary training to become an I-CAR Gold Class shop. Nash also flew to California to take part in PPG MVP Green Belt training, which allowed him to implement several new lean processes, including blueprinting and the use of parts carts. According to Nash, the shop has gone from a 12-day cycle time down to seven days.
The shop also switched over to using tablet devices, which has allowed for more efficiency throughout the enormous facility.
“It’s a night-and-day difference from writing things down, going back to your computer, updating the schedule,” says Nash. “By using a tablet device, you can just update as you go through the lot.”
Nash also made it a point to build relationships with the local dealers and parts vendors to expedite the parts ordering process and reduce cycle time.
“Everything has to be flown or shipped in,” he says. “So, whereas in the mainland, you could get the part in two or three days, here you’re probably two or three weeks out.”
Nash spent time personally visiting the dealers and vendors to build relationships and expectations.
“We’ve been able to get on the same page where we can say that we will only use a specific dealership or vendor,” he says. “We want expedited services to ensure we receive parts as soon as possible, and in return, we give them our undivided loyalty.”
Nash says building those relationships has played a role in the shop’s decrease in cycle time, its ability to take on more accounts, and it being named the top shop for the Geico ARX program in the state for several quarters.
Addressing the Need
Although Nash was able to make a number of improvements to the shop, eventually he hit a wall. Since the only consistent training available in Hawaii was I-CAR, he was quickly running out of resources. He became particularly frustrated after buying a new measuring system and receiving no training.
“We’ve had the machine for going on two years now and still have yet to find someone that does training on the machine,” he says.
Nash eventually decided to cut his losses and purchased a measuring system from Chief Automotive, a company he had a prior relationship with. Chris Stoffel, Chief’s sales service and training representative, flew out from California to train the staff on the new machine.
“When I got out there, I couldn’t believe that people had kind of left him high and dry,” Stoffel says of the area’s educational opportunities. “I’d heard that that was happening with other people in Hawaii; they were buying equipment and people were doing either an abbreviated version of training or no training. It’s a nice shop and I could see that he was in a growth state. We were looking for not just solutions, but long-term solutions.”
From there, Stoffel set up a meeting for Nash with Bob Holland, Chief’s director of collision, and Ken Boylan, training and specifications manager at Chief. Nash flew down to The SEMA Show in Las Vegas last year with his jobber to meet with Holland and Boylan and the NAPA management team for a round-table discussion about getting the proper training.
To Nash’s delight, the discussion with Chief resulted in a commitment to help AWS receive the proper training.
“We’re committed,” Stoffel says. “They liked his attitude. Ken thought it was refreshing and complimented him on the fact that it was unusual and refreshing to see that people were taking the right attitude. He’s committed to come out and do training at his facility, as well as do a ‘train the trainer’ class for Spencer.”
In turn, the shop would act as a training center for other shops looking to receive Chief training.
“Any time anyone from the island purchases Chief equipment, they can come over here to get free training and then they’ll send a Chief trainer to their shop, as well,” Nash says.
Nash continued to have similar discussions with other companies, including Eagle Abrasives and Pro Spot Welding.
“I’ve talked to the management team of pretty much every company and told them about the need for training here,” he says. “Several companies have agreed to do whatever it takes between me, them and the jobber to make sure training is available in Hawaii. They’ve all made a complete commitment that it’s going to be here and it’s going to be at our facility.”
Growing Your Own
Starting this year, AWS will offer weekly hands-on training, as well as facilitate PPG White and Green Belt training for other shops. Nash currently teaches three monthly I-CAR classes at the shop, and expects to increase that number.
“With Spencer having that kind of a presence, especially at a facility as significant as the one he and his uncle have developed, that’s an ideal location for a lot of hands-on training,” says Gene Lopez, national field operations manager for segment development at I-CAR.
Nash says the training will not only help other shop owners, but will also help grow the local technician population.
“We want to make sure that, first of all, our local techs have jobs,” he says. “Because their family is here and we want to make sure they can take care of their family. And the only way we can do that is by getting them training to the level that they need to be. It’s easy to place an ad on the Internet and hire well-trained technicians from the mainland, but then you’re forcing a local candidate who didn’t have an opportunity to get that same training as the person on the mainland, out of a job. And that’s the last thing I want to do.”
To spread the word, Nash and the staff at AWS have been working with PPG and NAPA to create a campaign advertising the availability of the training to other shops, high schools and colleges.
“Everyone here is faced with the challenge of finding good employees,” says fellow Honolulu shop owner Rob Collins, owner of SH Fender Shop, who will be participating in the training at Nash’s shop. “By having more people available in the workforce who are more experienced and better trained, the selection becomes bigger. Instead of us competing with [other shops] for employees, building up a pool of competent people we can draw from is the ideal situation for everyone in the state.”