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How I Work >> Dan Hunsaker

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Dan Hunsaker owns Dan’s Paint and Body in Tucson, Ariz., a $4 million-a-year, 26-employee shop. He’s built a successful business that can run on its own most of the time, thanks to the people he’s brought on and the culture he’s created.

I surround myself with really good people. I probably have the best group of people I’ve ever had. Surround yourself with successful people, and you free yourself up to do what you need to do.

What you have is you have big-picture issues, and you have daily issues. I extract myself from the daily issues. Once our procedures and policies are in place, it’s easy to track and look at the numbers. I go to the numbers and get the real answer.

It’s not just a numbers performance; it’s an emotional performance. For instance, we put up $500,000 per month, but if I have dissatisfied customers, then I’m not happy. You don’t get the customers back. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. You cannot afford to lose one customer, period.

I think my biggest key to success is maintaining a steady workforce. And having good employees. We have very little turnover. The only time I have turnover is in a down economy. We were down 40 percent in the recession. That was across the board. No lie. A lot of guys in the industry are liars.  Everybody was down 35–40 percent. Collision shops, dealers and others had to let people go. Administrative people had to take a big hit.

We have learned, all of us have learned, to do more with less—and to do a better job. That is the bright spot with the economic downturn. It’s the only bright spot I can come up with.

I’m up at 4 a.m. or 4:15 a.m. The sad part is, I do the same thing on the weekend. I’m just geared that way. I slept the other day until 5:30 a.m. and thought I’d died and went to heaven.

I start at 100 miles an hour. I wake up and sit down to get my coffee. And then I come in early because that is my quiet time with no distractions. That’s when I review all the numbers. I look at the vehicles, the paperwork that says where the cars are, and whether it coincides with what we projected. I look at how many cars were delivered, how many cars we projected but didn’t deliver, what do we have in the pipeline, what do we have scheduled out. Key performance indicators are the bottom line. Without knowing that, it’s pretty slim pickings.

We also plan a lot out. I don’t plan for today. Today has been planned three or four days behind us. We’ve done ‘today’ already, but we keep on task.

We have our morning meeting with office staff every morning around 7 a.m. The production manager is there, and he handles everything. We have our customer service representatives, too. The meeting revolves around whether we’ve got a parts delay or back order, or if we are ahead of schedule.

If I have something to say about running the shop, and it probably happens twice a week, it happens in the morning meeting. I’m there, I’m in the middle of the meeting, and I make a few comments, or step on someone’s toes, or make a joke. But I don’t tell anyone to do anything except maybe twice
a week.

Our production manager runs the entire shop. Everybody is 95 percent on track already. He just confirms that and makes tweaks or changes.

In the morning I check and see what the production and general managers do. Accountability is a wonderful thing, and if you “catch” people, you can teach them. We’re all little kids. Your employees have to understand that you are looking. They have to know that you know what’s going on. All it takes is a conversation with the managers, but they have it all under control. They have the discipline, intelligence and training to do quality work.

I also talk with my production and general managers about the economy. I live and breathe the economy. Once a week I go through the Wall Street Journal. I read Business Week, sometimes Time, and newsletters that come through the shop. I read industry publications and reports from Mitchell. I also talk to other shop owners locally and nationally. For example, people stopped driving recently. Shops in Phoenix were down, but winter birds were still around, school was still in session. I can’t pinpoint one other reason besides fuel prices.

I’m in a 20 Group, and that’s very helpful. I also have a large network of business people with whom I exchange emails. Maybe 15 of the 60 or 70 are body men. I’m an avid hunter, so probably 30 of them are hunters. Hunters and fishermen. It really gives me a diverse look into multiple opinions. At this juncture we’re extremely divided by political lines.

These are small things, but I have time to look at the nuggets of information. I may have read 50 articles in a day, and then follow a thread of research from any one of the articles. From a historical perspective, when I got into the collision business in the early 1970s, you couldn’t call up another shop and get the time of day. You couldn’t get any information out of anybody. I now know where I can extract information from, and where I can’t.

I’m 65. I’ve been in this business for 40 years. I now take four months of vacation off each year.  I really started doing that probably about seven or eight years ago.

I’m looking at the end of the road for myself. As you get older, time is more satisfying than money. That’s the philosophical nonsense.

Taking time off is one thing, but taking time with confidence is a whole different thing. I can be gone for three weeks and not blink an eye. They know how to get ahold of me if they absolutely have to. But don’t call me if the place is burning down while I’m in Africa. What am I going to do about it?

I had to wean myself off the drug of work. It’s not because my staff wasn’t confident. It was me. I had to become confident. I was always sticking my nose in the business. I said, what about this, what about that. I basically ran the shop. Once I started weaning myself from it, I realized, gee whiz, the shop was still here. Things were OK. There were maybe a couple little fires to put out. That wasn’t bad.

I go to lunch, and then field calls coming in from people in the industry. I deal with industry issues, like trends and patterns with the insurance companies, and questions from shop managers about where I think the business is headed.

Then basically I’m pretty much on free flow in that point in time. The shop knows how to contact me if I’m needed. I’ll give customers a ride home. I’ll hop in my truck and bond with my customers.

I find that very interesting.

Most of the time the customers don’t know I’m the owner. We’ll talk about the business, politics, or their kid’s swimming class. Whatever they want to talk about. A lot of times I pick up customers and we’re chitchatting. They will say, “Thank you for the ride.” We get to the shop, and greet the receptionist who says, “Hey Dan, you have a call.” Then the customer says, “You’re Dan?” Yes, there is a Dan. He’s not dead.

I like being at work. It’s self-functional. But if anything comes up, I deal with it. I also have four or five other business endeavors that I work on each day, including real estate and investments.

I don’t just sit up here with my feet on the desk. It kind of sounds like it. I typically leave at 3:30 p.m. or 4 p.m. What’s going to happen in the day has happened. Shop owners should aspire to do this. That’s the goal—to do whatever it is that you want to do.

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