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A Lesson in Shop Efficiency

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Mike Minutillo doesn’t understand the whining—and he hears it regularly from some shop owners. The collision repair industry is better today than it’s ever been, says the 34-year shop owner. He’s not sure why he hears so many say otherwise.

“Equipment’s better, processes are better, vehicles are better, pretty much everything is better,” he says. “It’s an exciting time to be in this business. It’s really heading in a great direction.”
Ever-changing technology, larger involvement from insurance companies, an increased focus on key performance indicators—they aren’t obstacles to overcome, he says. They are tools to help collision shops operate more efficiently.

At least that’s the approach Minutillo has taken with Master Auto Body, his $5 million, three-location MSO in southeastern Florida, a business recognized as one of the most efficient, if not the most efficient, collision repair facilities in the entire country by many of his direct-repair program (DRP) partners.

Through his four decades of working in the collision industry, Minutillo has seen plenty of change, and he’s made sure his operations change with it. The same goes for Tom Martin, owner of Sidney Body CARSTAR, also considered by many to be one of the country’s best.

Neither shop owner claims to have all the answers to success in the collision industry. But a strong focus on operations, and how those operations affect the repair and the customer, has led them to extreme levels of efficiency.

“Any shop can do this,” Minutillo says. “It’s an ongoing process; you’ll never be perfect, but every shop can make these changes, regardless of size or financial issues. And in today’s industry, you have to.”

Martin and Minutillo spoke with FenderBender about what makes their operations stand out.

Blueprinting Success

Photo by Todd Acker

Tom Martin
Sidney Body CARSTAR,
Sidney, Ohio
Size: 8,800 square feet
Staff: 15
Monthly Car Count: 80
Annual Revenue: $2+ million

Martin was hired by Sidney Body in rural Sidney, Ohio, at just 15 years old. He was brought in as a painter.

“Well, they paid me and my friend to paint the building,” he says with a laugh.

He hasn’t worked for another company since.

The business, though, has changed dramatically. The shop, which opened in 1942, was a small “back-alley” operation when Martin first started doing odd jobs for owner Ropy Stone in 1979. Stone took Martin under his wing and “taught me everything” about the industry, Martin says.

“He was like a second dad to me,” Martin says. “He was really old school, and one day, he asked my goals, and I told him I wanted to own the place. We shook hands, and he said if I helped him, he’d help me, and he’d sell me the business when he was through running it.”

Martin officially took control of the company in January of 2002. At the time, the shop was doing a respectable $650,000 in sales out of a cramped, three-building facility, totalling roughly 3,000 square feet. Up to that point, the business had operated as a true mom-and-pop shop, Martin says; their reputation and sales were built largely on a foundation of customer service.

Martin had the benefit of taking over an already profitable business. But he had goals of improvement, and a vision for the company to operate as a leader in the modern collision industry. And the next several years were a whirlwind of changes: He joined CARSTAR in 2003, moved to a new 8,800-square-foot shop in 2004, and continued to grow throughout the recession.

The shop’s sales came in well above $2 million in 2012, and Martin says it increased again in 2013. He credits much of the success to a focus on lean operations, something that’s helped his shop average a cycle time of 6.3 days on all levels of repairs. That’s key to key, including weekends, he says, and the shop’s touch time is 3.6 hours per day.

“You’re only as good as your procedure,” he says. “Processes are what save you.”

Disassembly for Repair

Martin credits his shop’s recent boom in business and its stellar efficiency numbers to a focus on revamped procedures focusing on disassembly for repair (DFR).

“Having everything prepared and ready to go before repairing the vehicle is so important,” he says. “DFR is one of the most important things you can do. It’s the key to cycle time.”

The goal of the DFR process, Martin says, is to blueprint each and every repair, ensuring that all damage, parts and necessary repairs are noted and included in the estimate before the actual repair begins. The exact process may change slightly from vehicle to vehicle based on the extent of the damage, but Martin says his staff follows the same general standard operating procedure (SOP) on each repair.

Before You Start

This is, essentially, the fourth step in Martin’s repair process. When each vehicle is dropped off for repair, Martin’s staff starts with a “preinspection” with the customer, where they walk through all the damage and check things such as power locks, lights, vehicle mileage, etc. Then his staff washes the vehicle, before his production manager does an initial mapping of the necessary repairs.

This pre-DFR work allows the technician performing the disassembly process to understand what the perceived issues are and the areas of the vehicle to focus on.

What You Need for DFR

Photos by Todd Acker

Parts carts. Martin says his shop has 50–60 mobile carts for parts. The shop doesn’t use benches, boxes or any other storage units.

Containers. Each specific part, whether it’s a headlamp or body clips, has a labeled container for storage during the repair process.

Specified employee(s). Some shops have staff members whose sole job is DFR, but Martin says he uses a body technician.

The DFR Process

Step 1 The technician starts disassembly by taking apart the damaged portion of the vehicle.

Step 2 As the technician removes portions of the vehicle, he or she takes a photo and measurement of the damage.

Step 3 Each part, whether an entire fender or a simple molding clip, is organized and placed on a specific parts cart for that job. The smaller items are placed in containers and labeled.

Step 4 With the damage photographed and measured, the technician then works with the estimator to create the final estimate and outline the blueprint for the repair.

Quick Tips for Better Efficiency

Only Accept Complete Parts Orders

Minutillo will never accept parts from a vendor until every item for a repair is included. “If you have two orders for one car, and you’re doing 150 cars per month, you’re actually checking in 300 orders, instead of 150,” Minutillo says. “My data entry person is doing double work, my person checking in the part order is doing twice the work.”

Trial and Error is Essential

No change should be set in stone, and no process is perfect, Minutillo says. So, don’t be afraid to tweak things. Your shop can always become more efficient, and you should always be looking at where bottlenecks are and how you can adjust.

One Step at a Time

Minutillo made adjustments to his shop over the course of two years. Then, he spread those changes to his other shops. Attack one area first, he says, then move on to the next. Don’t take on too many things at one time.

You’re Still Only as Good as Your Staff

Both Martin and Minutillo agree: All operational changes need to be made with employees in mind—and taking in their input. “Everyone needs to buy in as a team, or it’ll never work,” Martin says. Minutillo has two meetings each week with the office staff at each facility; he meets with each shop’s technicians every other week.

Use Insurers to Benefit Operations

Both Minutillo and Martin have their businesses affiliated with a number of DRPs. The requirements can seem daunting, Minutillo says, but they also can help you strengthen operations. His shop is part of Geico’s express program, among many others, and Minutillo feels DRPs “can keep you focused” on the task at hand.

Don’t Forget Your Customers

The end result of any operational change should be providing more value to customers, both shop owners agree. Both are recognized among the top of their respective DRPs in terms of CSI rankings, and they say that’s because they keep regular communication with customers and are transparent with their process.

Lean–and Seeing Green

Photo by Katrina Elena

Mike Minutillo
Master Auto Body,
Three locations in south Florida
Size: 8,000–26,000 square feet
Staff: 45
Monthly Car Count: 300
Annual Revenue: $5 million

Five years ago, Minutillo asked for an honest assessment of his business from one of his regular jobbers.

At the time, he felt confident in his shop’s success. His lone Master Auto Body location at the time in Boynton Beach was doing roughly $1.5 million in sales with just six employees. He was also an I-CAR instructor, so he felt his team was well-equipped for all facets of the repair process.

“I was teaching a class for I-CAR on cycle time, too, and that efficiency aspect of it was my favorite to teach,” he says.

And it was something he obsessed with in his shop—hence the question posed to the jobber in 2008.

“I figured we’d be above average, doing pretty well for ourselves in our space,” he says. “That wasn’t the case.”

The jobber did a thorough examination of the business, pouring over financial and production numbers and comparing it to other similar-sized facilities. Bottom line: Minutillo’s shop fell way short.

“I was shocked,” he says. “He just pointed to all these different areas of waste in the business—wasted space. We had three bays for each tech. The shop was fairly cluttered. We were having too many supplements and things. I was floored by it all.”

That moment was Minutillo’s first step toward lean operations, and it led to a two-year, complete overhaul of his shop’s processes.

The results: His Boynton Beach location has more than doubled its production, and sales were on pace to top $3.5 million in 2013. The shop hasn’t added any physical space to the building, which measures 26,000 square feet including the space for offices, parts storage and the waiting room. He’s also added two more smaller, 8,000-square-foot locations—one in Delray Beach, and the other in Fort Lauderdale—each of them sharing the same lean principles.

For the entire company, cycle time—key-to-key, including weekends—is 7.8 days for nondrivable repairs, 2.5 days on drivable ones.

Cycled Through

Minutillo designed his repair process with the Theory of Constraints in mind: He focused on eliminating each and every bottleneck that was limiting his business. And, he found, there were plenty.

“There are a lot of things that can get in the way of production,” he says. “The key to lean is wiping away all the unnecessary waste and [streamlining] the process.”

Before You Start

Photos by Katrina Elena

1. Clean your shop. That’s the first step, Minutillo says. He rid the shop of any garbage, old parts, etc. Then he tossed out all the workbenches, which were serving as unorganized storage areas, and replaced them with mobile carts.

2. Organize Workflow. Minutillo then reorganized the layout of his shop, and sectioned off the different segments of the process—a disassembly area, an area for body work, another for reassembly, etc. He painted lines on the floor to demonstrate the separation.

3. Organize Equipment. Every tool and piece of equipment has a precise place in Minutillo’s shop. Larger items that don’t fit on carts have their outlines traced on the floor in white lines—that’s everything from a MIG welder to a garbage can.

The Repair Process   

A breakdown of Master Auto Body’s lean workflow

Step 1
Master Auto Body starts by checking in the vehicle, doing a walk-through with the customer and creating a preliminary estimate.
Step 2
The vehicle is then brought into the shop, where it is marked and checked in. Each vehicle is labeled with its repair order number, the name of the technician assigned to it, the date it came in, and the date it’s expected to be finished.
Step 3
DFR. This process mirrors that of Martin’s. And Minutillo uses mobile estimating units for his technicians and estimators to create a thorough and accurate blueprint.
Step 4
Once the vehicle is disassembled as outlined in Martin’s process, Minutillo’s staff moves the vehicle to a covered area outside. The mobile cart carrying all the parts goes to a “parts-receiving area,” where it waits for the parts orders to be filled.
Step 5
 When the parts arrive, the vehicle goes back into the shop, along with its accompanying parts cart. It starts with bodywork—either to a pulling rack or to the body repair segment of the shop.
Step 6
When all necessary body work is completed, the vehicle then goes to the paint-prepping area of the shop, where it is sanded and prepared to be painted.
Step 7
Paint the vehicle. Minutillo is very strict that no vehicles are to go into the paint booth, or linger in it, unless they are ready to paint. He does not want it to turn into a storage area.
Step 8
The vehicle is then taken to the reassembly area.
Step 9
After being reassembled, the vehicle goes through detailing and a final inspection before the repair is complete.

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