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Leading the Convoy

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Although the collision repair industry continues to evolve and grow, one area remains critically behind: the heavy-duty truck (HDT) segment. In fact, the way Dean Hancock sees it, it’s a completely different world.

Coming from a more traditional collision background, Hancock was struck by how badly the HDT world was lagging when, in 2006, he bought the heavy-truck-focused Bob Johnson’s Body Shop in Cayce, S.C. He quickly realized that the entire HDT segment operated like the light-vehicle segment did in the early 1980s.

There was a lack of support, few technicians, difficult parts procurement, less detailed estimating software, and fewer management software options, not to mention little information about key performance indicators (KPIs).

After early struggles at his shop, Hancock decided to take matters into his own hands and has pushed to not only improve his own business, but also the industry at large. He has become a leader in the heavy-duty truck segment, developing his own KPI standards, adapting lean processes for truck repair, and creating an HDT 20 Group and estimating class, both of which are the first of their kind.

Need for Growth

Hancock got his start in the collision industry doing bodywork in high school. He eventually became a painter, and then worked in paint sales for nearly two decades. It was as a paint representative that he first met Bob Johnson, founder of Bob Johnson’s Body Shop.

Seven years ago, Johnson offered to sell Hancock the business. While the shop has always worked on all vehicles, Hancock estimates that 80–90 percent of its work is in HDT, and Hancock wasn’t sure if he wanted to take on a truck shop. Johnson decided to act as a silent owner and let Hancock run the business for two years before making his decision. 

Although adapting to the mentality of the truck world was a challenge, Hancock found that he liked the truck segment more than traditional car collision repair.

“The biggest obstacle was getting used to the fact that on the truck side, you have to go back in time to the early days of the car side,” Hancock says. “You still have handwritten estimates, you have to call for parts prices, you panel paint.”

Hancock says that although there are many trucks on the road, they are still heavily outnumbered by cars; the need for growth hasn’t been as pressing. In Hancock’s market, there are only three other truck shops, while there are close to 275 light vehicle–focused collision shops. Hancock also points out that insurance companies aren’t as familiar with HDT work, so they haven’t driven that segment forward as they have the rest of the collision industry.

A Group of Peers

Hancock knew he needed to start tracking his KPIs, but without any recognized, industry-wide HDT information, he was on his own to create the standards.

First, Hancock used an old spreadsheet of KPIs accumulated from his days working with shops as a paint rep, and used the light-vehicle numbers to create his own in-house KPIs. Then he joined a regular collision 20 Group, which provided some insight into other shops’ KPIs.

But the car-focused numbers didn’t add up for his business.

A WHOLE NEW GAME: The heavy-duty truck (HDT) segment is very different from traditional collision repair. Hancock found out the hard way the difficulties of running a profitable HDT shop. Photo by Joshua Moore

If he was going to gain some real insight, he needed to find numbers that pertained to his shop’s work. Hancock contacted some former coworkers who were now with Axalta Coating Systems and asked about starting a heavy-duty truck group.

It took nearly two years to put the group together, but it now counts 11 shops as members, meeting once a quarter with well-known facilitator and consultant Mike Anderson.

“Connecting with other companies that are in the same business helps because you have a network of up to 20 other people who you can email or call,” says Holly Hoglund, owner of Hoglund Bus & Truck in Roseville, Minn., and a member of the group. “It’s an invaluable resource to have peers in the industry. This is the only one that I know of that’s available to the truck industry, so there’s a big need.”

Axalta created an online portal for the shops and other truck companies, such as the Rush Group, to enter their monthly numbers, allowing the group to create KPI standards.

“We review the numbers when we go to the meetings and we talk about them when we get back to the shop,” Hoglund says. “When something comes up throughout the month, you can go back and say, maybe we’re having an issue with this, what do everyone else’s numbers look like?”

The group also tours member shops, which “isn’t designed to point fingers, but to walk through with a different perspective and go, ‘If it were me, I would do this differently,’” Hancock says.

Adapting Lean Processes

Around the same time, Hancock found himself stuck at home after a surgery, and used the downtime to study up on the Toyota system of lean processing: “I started highlighting, and wrote down everything that I thought would be important in helping us become leaner.”

He started by getting rid of his old white-board system, found a shop management system, and began tracking his parts return ratio. He quickly found that six out of 10 parts were being returned, primarily because the terminology in the catalog and in the vendor’s systems were all different.

“You’d just sit there and wait for parts forever because what [the vendor] calls a gusset, I call a bracket, and the parts people called a support,” he says. “We never got the right part.”

Armed with this information, he approached his local vendors and asked if he could go into their websites and look up his own parts. Now Hancock and his staff look up all the necessary parts themselves, email a quote sheet to the vendor, and upon receiving the confirmation, attach it to the job order for the parts department.

RECOGNITION AS REWARD: Since making the improvements to his business, including a drastic drop in cycle time, Hancock’s shop is picking up more and more work from new clients. Photo by Joshua Moore

“The parts return ratio has gone way down,” he says. “Usually if a part gets returned, it’s because it’s a damaged part.”

Hancock then started work on the production space. The shop maps every truck, uses a barcode system for all of their hardware to track supplies, and went completely paperless. And, due to the size of truck parts, Hancock built his own parts cart, which is now used to keep track of all the old and new parts for each job.

Since the production space is roughly 27,000 square feet, Hancock also found that time was being wasted walking across the shop floor to get the production manager. To solve that, he installed a light switch in every stall in the shop, which turns on a light in the production manager’s office.

“So if you need something, you turn the light on,” Hancock says. “The light switch can only be turned off from that stall. Once he goes down there to see what’s going on, then he can turn the light switch off. That cut down a lot of steps.”

Looking to the Future

Hancock says the new processes have paid off dramatically. Cycle time decreased from 13 to seven days, then down to five days.

The decrease in cycle times has been critical for landing clients, as it can cost a truck owner or a trucking company up to $1,000 per day every day the truck is down.

“It’s not like you can go get a rental car and go to work,” Hancock says. “Those trucks are what they’re making their living with and now those guys are sending us more work because we can get it done quicker.”

As Hancock continues to work to improve his shop’s processes, he’s also looking toward the future of the industry and training more technicians. Hancock is partnering with Axalta on the first heavy-duty collision estimating class, which will take place at NACE this year. The presentation will then be made available on the Axalta website in hopes of creating interest for more classes.

The HDT 20 Group’s membership is also increasing, and Hancock hopes to see more groups in the future.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” he says.

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