Managing 40 DRP Relationships
Body shops are in the business of rebuilding and repairing automobiles. But what about when the improvements needed aren’t for a wrecked car, but for the body shop itself?
That’s the situation that Waikem Auto Family president Chip Waikem found himself in several years ago. Having recently received his college degree after what he describes as “35 years of spring break,” he decided to undertake the challenge of improving Waikem’s Massillon, Ohio–based body shop.
“We had an above-average shop … but decided we were leaving too much business on the table,” he said. “I instructed our general manager to find someone with experience [who was] energetic and ready to move to the highest level possible in our market.”
That someone was Jim Shreve, a veteran body shop manager with more than 35 years of industry experience. In the six years he’s been with Waikem, he has helped grow the body shop’s gross annual revenues to $6 million. But that’s just one of the numbers in the shop’s success story.
Like many newly installed managers, Shreve arrived at Waikem intent on learning what was working at the body shop and changing what wasn’t. Any staffers who weren’t willing to adapt were welcome to find new employment; as it turned out, all but one of the 12 body shop employees Shreve inherited ended up leaving. (In fact, one quit during Shreve’s first week on the job).
“I knew what needed to be done that first month, from talking to local adjusters and technicians, and looking at the facility,” Shreve says.
What he discovered was a shop that, in his mind, hadn’t evolved from the 1960s, and a staff that lacked accountability. The shop’s six technicians each had a helper—a mix that Shreve didn’t like because one person wasn’t following the job from start to finish. The shop was dirty and disorganized. Cycle time “didn’t exist” and production was low—just 10 to 15 cars were repaired per week.
Revamping the shop “was a total rebuild from the inside out,” Shreve says. “It was a slow progression.” Over the course of three to four years, and with the owners’ blessing, Shreve replaced the shop’s set-in-their-ways technicians and brought in new, team-oriented employees recruited from his own list of industry contacts. “I kept giving people chances, but if the quality [of their work] or their work habits weren’t what I wanted then it was time to draw the line,” he says. Today, the shop has 15 employees who work in the shop’s three-building, 21,000-square-foot facility and repair an average of 200 cars a month.
Business is based on relationships, not transactions, Shreve believes. So he’s worked hard to develop relationships that benefit the shop. For Waikem, that means participating in direct repair programs with 40 insurance companies. He accomplished this through a two-pronged approach of education and marketing.
In his third year at Waikem, Shreve became certified to teach the continuing education courses that local insurance agents needed to maintain their licenses. Developed by his then–paint supplier, the eight new courses Shreve taught quickly built a following, attracting more than 100 attendees. In addition to the appeal of new material, Shreve’s courses were held in a banquet hall over catered breakfast or lunch. As part of these classes, agents were also brought to the body shop to see cars in different stages of repair and to learn about the process. “It was the first time a lot of them had ever been in a shop environment,” Shreve says. “It showed how concerned [we were] about safety and their clients’ cars. They could see the efforts we were [making].
The courses helped lead to the DRP arrangements. “I had a lot of insurance agents speaking to their superiors and asking, ‘Why isn’t Waikem on our list?” Shreve says. “That helped build a rapport. Then the adjusters themselves came in and saw the change, saw that we were such a high quality shop. It was a natural progression.”
Several years ago, Shreve also hired Thomas Kluba of Top Shop Marketing in Titusville, Fla., to market to insurers’ direct repair programs on Waikem’s behalf. “He has an in with every DRP manager around the United States,” Shreve says. “Tom came out, looked at our shop, and he’s helped me grow a lot of the smaller DRPs. We pay him a monthly fee [of about $150], and it’s well worth the money.”
Kluba estimates he’s helped Waikem snare 8 to 10 DRPs, but insists that Shreve is a partner in the effort. “We search out different insurance companies that are looking for shops in a certain area; but a shop still has to meet the criteria to get on the program and has to shine above the rest. Jim is always good about doing the follow-up he needs to do.”
In addition to the dozens of DRP relationships Waikem chooses to maintain, the shop draws business from another built-in customer base. “We represent 11 new-vehicle franchises and are the largest dealership operation in the area,” Chip Waikem says. “With that, we are able to ‘feed’ our body shop a large supply of customers from our own customer base.”
Shreve calls that a win-win. “Most newer-car owners want their cars repaired by the dealership [that] has all the knowledge and equipment to repair these cars,” he says, noting that it can be difficult and costly for independent shops to keep up with the required tools and training for so many different motor companies. “We are certified by all 11 franchises.” Admittedly, Shreve says, “It takes a lot of work to keep up with the training.”
6.7 Average Cycle Time
Before Shreve arrived at Waikem, improving cycle time—or even focusing on it—wasn’t a priority. Shreve estimates that the shop was among the worst in the Akron area, with cars taking “maybe 20 days” to get fixed. Today, thanks to Shreve’s influence, the shop has an average cycle time of 6.7 days. By Shreve’s estimate, that’s better than 90 percent of its competitors. Shreve attributes the improvement to changing the staff and the shop mentality. “It’s a way of thinking, and developing your team to think,” he says.
“I started putting a clock on each car without the tech knowing; as the job progressed I kept time on the various cars and techs,” he says. “If we were more efficient at our processes we could cycle more cars through our stalls one car at a time and then move to the next one.”
It’s a huge improvement, but Shreve isn’t satisfied, and he notes that Waikem’s cycle time is still short of the 3-day cycle time that some top industry performers have attained. “I’m not at that level yet, but I’m striving for it.” To get there, Shreve plans to alter the way he deploys his manpower; for example, putting two techs on a vehicle with damage to both sides rather than having one handle the entire job.
4 Professional and Community Organizations
Other business-building relationships come through professional and community organizations. Shreve’s membership in the Canton Freemasons and the Scottish Rite (another Freemason organization); his participation in community groups like the Jackson Township Sports Organization and the Boy Scouts; and his listings in Cambridge Who’s Who Registry and Presidential Who’s Who Among Business and Professional Achievers have helped him. They increase his visibility in the community and provide networking opportunities.
“Several vendors and suppliers have come to me wanting to know what I’m doing different to be on these lists,” Shreve says. What he’s doing different, he says, is constantly changing things up, striving to improve his shop. “If you want to be a groundbreaker,” he continues, “you have to be recognized, and touch as many people as you can.” People talk, Shreve says; customers, techs, vendors, insurance agents—they all share information, and that has led to Shreve being nominated for membership into these various organizations. His participation in those groups, in turn, supports his business.
1 Best-of-All-Worlds Business Philosophy
Shreve describes himself as a man with a quest for knowledge that’s never satisfied. So it makes sense that his business philosophy and management style have been influenced by everyone from self-help and spiritual gurus like Stephen R. Covey and Deepak Chopra to leaders in the collision repair industry like Dave Dunn, managing director and co-founder of Masters School of Autobody Management, and Sterling Autobody. “The original Sterling, before Allstate purchased them, was a leader in production management theory,” Shreve explains.
The overarching philosophy for Waikem is that “the customer is number one, we want to be honest, we want to produce the best quality product out there, and we want [customers] to return to us,” he says.
A key element to that philosophy is what Shreve calls Dunn’s mantra: If mediocrity is the perception, then price is the only differentiator. “I will not let my shop or myself fall into the trap of being mediocre and price being the only [reason] a customer chooses my shop,” Shreve says.
Flexibility is another: “My mindset is [that] nothing’s etched in stone,” he says, noting that just because something works in someone’s shop doesn’t mean it will work in his.
And then there’s the element of teamwork. “I think a key ingredient in Jim’s style is in promoting teamwork by sharing information and including everyone in both positive and negative results,” assistant manager Mark Ali says. “Jim stresses accountability, but also issues praise when deserved. Jim has shown me that while a great manager does not need to know everything, he should be able to find the answer quickly or delegate to someone who does know how to complete the task.”
Shreve, who says that he and Ali can practically finish each other’s sentences, echoes that sentiment. “The key to our success is [that] we work as a team,” he says. “I don’t have to have all the answers—I have to surround myself with people who do.”
Jim Shreve's Recommended Reading
For a man who is "constantly reading three or four books" at a time, picking favorites is a challenge. But here are Jim Shreve's three essential reads:
1. The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra.
“I start my morning with this every day and re-read it constantly,” Shreve says. “[The book] is a daily meditation and a very small book that fits into life well. Chopra balances my whole life spiritually and mentally. I draw from his wisdom mostly on how to deal with stress at work, and he inspires me to think out of the box and to long for continued improvement in work and life.”
2. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.
“This is a very powerful book to put your house in order and open [yourself up] to new levels of behavior and thinking. It helps me to practice what I preach and walk what I talk.”
3. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell.
“I love the chapter titled ‘The Law of Empowerment,’ which says that only secure leaders give power to others. That’s my biggest challenge. I have always had a problem with delegation, but I learned that to grow my business I had to let people make decisions.”