14 Green Business Ideas to Make the New Year Bright
If you haven’t yet started going lean or green, or stepped out of your shop to do some networking, the new year is a great time to start. It’s easy to do—probably easier than you think. The changes you make might be small, singular improvements, or they might be the start of an ambitious transformation. Here, industry experts and body shop owners alike offer their ideas and experiences for making the new year bright.
Going green is top of mind these days. Maybe this is your year to do it. You can start small, and go big later. Or maybe you’re after a deeper shade of green. Check out these ideas, tips and strategies for achieving more green at your collision repair center.
Mind the Basics: Recycle At minimum, commit to recycling. It’s easy and inexpensive to provide bins for sorting materials into recycling categories, says Jacques Andres, owner of Clean Green Collision in Oakland, Calif. “Going green mostly means energy and waste. I’m not the biggest advocate of energy [strategies]. They’re beyond the capabilities of most small shops. The biggest changes in pollution control and the landmark of the corrections that are needed have to do with waste.” A shop can make a little extra money by putting a metal recycling bin outside the shop, and selling that metal to a metal scrapping company. Search online for contact information for your county’s recycling office.
Tell Your Customers Put up a sign telling customers and vendors that you’re going green in 2010. You’ll likely get plenty of feedback and interest, says Mike LeVasseur, COO of Keenan Auto Body Inc. in Clifton Heights, Pa. That’s what happened when LeVasseur’s company started the transformation to waterborne paint products last year. He got lots of ideas from customers and offers of help from vendors.
Ask For Feedback As part of his 2009 green initiative, LeVasseur revamped his company’s website, and he made sure the shop’s green transformation played prominently. He included a contact form on the website, providing an obvious way for visitors to give feedback and commentary.
Catch the Basics Research grants and tax breaks available in your area for various energy-savings upgrades. LeVasseur cut the cost of his solar upgrade by more than 85 percent through federal and state energy grants. That eliminated the last of the doubts he’d had about moving forward with the plan to go solar. Visit the website business.gov to learn more about federal, state and local programs that help businesses become more energy efficient.
Paint the Picture Tell your paint supplier that you plan to go green. Many suppliers have a wide array of offerings to help, from small investments to large transformations. Keenan’s paint supplier DuPont, in addition to working with waterborne paints, was able to help LeVasseur with his transition to solar power.
Make News If you’ve already started the greening process, whether through the conversion to waterborne paint products, energy alternatives or recycling initiatives, tell your elected officials about it. Because LeVasseur kept his representatives in the loop on his shop’s improvements, they were treated to a ribbon cutting ceremony with representatives from the governor’s office to celebrate the switch to solar power. That kind of thing is great for employee morale, LeVasseur says, and can lead to positive public relations.
Another big topic among shop owners and consultants is eliminating waste and becoming a lean shop. Like going green, going lean can seem—and be—overwhelming when you look at it as an all-or-nothing proposition. But it doesn’t have to be that way, says Marcy Tieger, principle of Symphony Advisors in Irvine, Calif.
“Lean has this mystical quality, but it’s really just about continuous improvement,” says Tieger, adding that shop owners shouldn’t be intimidated by it.
Judy Lynch, manager of the collision repair design service at Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes Corp., summarizes five basic principles—the 5 S’s—to help you leap, lightly, onto the lean conveyor belt, gently. These ideas, taken individually, can improve your shop’s efficiency bit by bit. Or you can use the 5 S’s as a lean toolkit for initiating a complete conversion.
Sort Your Equipment Define which pieces of equipment are used regularly, and which are not. Use red tags to label those pieces of equipment that aren’t needed, and move them out of the way. Make it your goal to keep only what’s needed in the work area.
Straighten Your Equipment Give each piece of equipment a home, and use labels and color coding to easily mark where that is. Remember the shadow boards your grandfather had in his garage to mark each tool’s spot on the hanging board? Make one. Adopt the old adage: a place for everything, and everything in its place.
Shine Your Workspace and Equipment Make a cleaning schedule, and stick to it. Determine what will be cleaned, how often and by whom. Make it part of your shop’s culture to maintain a work space that looks, feels and smells clean.
Standardize your Operation Create a flow chart to help employees visualize the distinct roles people play in the organization, and where they fit in. Resist the urge to develop rules no one will follow. When you do create a rule, make it your goal to enforce it. “By holding people accountable, when you have success, you can really see how it impacts the shop,” Lynch says.
Sustain Your Shop’s Improvements Talk often about the improvements your shop is making, and make sure that everyone from the technicians in the shop to the administrative staff are part of the new system. “It’s important to educate the staff to keep them on board,” Lynch says. Newsletters, seminars and regular conversations can help keep the information flowing.
Interacting with people inside and outside the collision repair industry is a great way to learn best practices without having to reinvent the wheel, says Tieger. Here’s how she sees successful shops getting out into the world, and learning from it:
Try Your Local Trade Association—Again Go back to the local trade association you wrote off five years ago, and revisit it with an open mind. “People are dismissive of a group they might have had a bad experience with years ago. But things change over the years at associations,” says Tieger, adding that local trade associations are often inexpensive to get involved with, and can be a font of ideas and information.
Talk Shop With Someone Who Knows Nothing About Collision Repair Take a local businessperson you admire out to lunch and pick their brain, even if they’re from another industry. One of the most successful adoptions of lean principles Tieger has seen at a body shop came after that shop brought in consultants from the banking industry.
Talk Shop With Someone Who Knows A Lot About Collision Repair Take advantage of a lull in business to call up a noncompetitive shop that’s doing something cool, and ask if you can visit for a half-day to learn more. This can work with lean principles as well as other operating strategies, Tieger says. “When business is slow, sometimes that’s the best time to consider a new approach.”
Jennifer Niemela is the managing editor of FenderBender.