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PHOENIX MOTOR COMPANY (PMC) is the oldest Mercedes-Benz dealer in Arizona: It started selling the luxury autos in 1964 after 30 years of operating as a Packard and Studebaker dealership. Considering how firmly entrenched it is in the Phoenix market, you could forgive this granddaddy of a dealership for being a little set in its ways. Complacent, even.

But in the past year PMC—and in particular its collision repair shop led by forward-thinking manager John Jury—has gone through some big changes. The shop recently doubled its size from 5,000 square feet to about 11,000 square feet, invested in high-tech equipment, and changed the way its technicians work and get compensated—changes that have enabled it to significantly reduce cycle times.

The expansion of the body shop—there’s now a stand-alone facility in the back parking lot in addition to the original, dealership-connected space—required three years of planning and construction and opened in October 2007. It added 16 stalls, “giving us more room to be flexible and not be right on top of each other,” Jury says. In the original space, eight technicians worked in 10 body bays, and the painters worked in two paint booths. As Jury says, “It was really tight.”

“Now, when cars come out of paint, four guys might be putting the same car together, and it only takes an hour and a half instead of half a day.”
—John Jury, Body Shop Manager, Phoenix Motor Company

The new space allows the body shop to handle additional work. In fact, Jury expects to double the number of cars the shop repairs over the next year, thanks to the opening of PMC’s newest dealership, the sustainably built Mercedes-Benz of Arrowhead. (The body shop at the PMC location serves both dealerships, which are located 22 miles apart.) And, inspired by its new green sibling, the body shop is even starting to incorporate some of its own eco-friendly business practices. The result is a body shop that’s embracing the future.

OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW

Overseeing these changes is Jury, PMC’s 35-year-old body shop manager, who started his job with next to no experience. Jury joined PMC in 1995 as a detailer while studying for his business degree at a local community college. His plan was to transfer to Arizona State University and become a Mercedes-Benz salesman, but things didn’t quite work out that way. He was promoted to the position of internal service advisor, then customer service advisor. In 1998, he was asked to fill in while the body shop manager was on vacation. (The manager’s assistant had just quit, removing the most logical choice for the job.) Known as a fast learner, Jury got a two-week crash course in collision repair. That training proved to be more important than he ever imagined: A week after returning from vacation, the body shop manager quit, and Jury was given the job. He was just 25 at the time.

Those first few years were tough. “It was a big learning curve,” he says. “To be honest, I had no business being a body shop manager at that time.”

Jury found himself in charge of a shop that was losing money and dealing with bodymen who took advantage of him by asking for more time on repairs than was necessary. Insurance adjustors also tried to take advantage of him because he was new and inexperienced, he says. “I felt like it was an uphill battle everyday.”

But Jury quickly shook his newbie status, and as his management confidence grew, he began weeding out the “complainers” and hiring his own staff. “When you inherit people it’s hard to go your own direction,” he says. “Once we got rid of the old guard with the bad attitude, we really were able to get productive.” Today, he oversees 21 employees—none of whom are holdovers from the previous manager—and runs a profitable shop for the dealership.

SHAKING THINGS UP

When every aspect of your job is new, change is something you have to embrace, and mixing things up has become a hallmark of Jury’s management style.

Most recently, he shook up the status quo by changing the way his employees both work on repairs and receive their compensation. Rather than having each individual technician work on a car from start to finish, Jury now has two teams—one with three workers, the other with five—that each handles a repair job as a unit. The teams were put together based on personality types, skill sets and experience levels. “The key is to get buy-in, and put the right mix of people together,” Jury says. “Personalities really come into play. I [teamed up] employees I really thought could communicate well together.” Divvying up skill sets is crucial too: Two of Jury’s workers can do glass, so he separated them to ensure each team’s survival.

Although the system is just a few months old, Jury is already seeing benefits. For starters, it has reduced the body shop’s cycle times. PMC’s average cycle time in August was seven days, compared to 11 days back in June, before the system was implemented. Touch-time was 4.9 hours in August compared to 3.8 hours in June. “Now, when cars come out of paint, four guys might be putting the same car together, and it only takes an hour and a half instead of half a day,” Jury says. That increased efficiency will enable them to handle the additional business that Jury is expecting to come from the Arrowhead dealership.

The team system has also reduced points of contact throughout the shop. Now, the team leaders are the only ones who communicate with the writers. “One person does the supplement for the team, and the writer gets used to dealing with that person,” Jury says.
Furthermore, workers get to capitalize on their strengths by focusing their repair work on the elements they like best, rather than having to do everything. “When you’re doing stuff you like, you work faster on it,” says Miguel Angel Ruez Preciado, one of Jury’s team leaders.
The team system also promotes ownership by encouraging everyone to work together toward shared goals. “They hold each other accountable,” Jury says. Indeed, one tech was recently let go after his teammates decided he wasn’t pulling his weight.

Jury implemented the plan after growing frustrated by the slow pace of repairs. “We weren’t busy in June and cars still took a long time to put together,” he says. “When [employees] are on individual commission, they’re not going to help each other, and I didn’t want cars to sit.”
To compensate the teams, Jury adds up the total hours per pay period that a team worked on cars and multiplies that by a set pay rate ($18 per hour for body work and $25 for mechanical work.) Each worker then gets a percentage of the total dollar amount, with percentages based on skill and experience level.

The new system made everyone nervous at first. “In the beginning people didn’t know how it would work,” Ruez Preciado says. “But now everyone is happy and we’ve reduced the time it takes to get the cars done. It’s absolutely working for us.”

New technology is also playing a role in the body shop: In August 2007, Jury implemented a new enterprise management system that lets him view the real-time progress of all the cars being repaired. In April he added wireless estimating equipment. Writers now use a hand-held emulator—which costs $1,800—that allows them to do estimates right at the car. “It makes [the process] more efficient,” Jury says. “It’s like having your computer right in the shop instead of at your desk.”

GOING GREEN, SAVING MONEY

Another change has been the addition of PMC’s new dealership, Mercedes-Benz of Arrowhead. Opened in January 2008, it is billed as being the first luxury car dealership to earn the U.S. Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

The dealership boasts myriad environmentally friendly design elements, including the use of recycled asphalt, steel and concrete in building construction, high performance insulating windows, a south-facing design that improves light infiltration and harnesses solar energy, roof extensions and canopy shades that maximize shade in summer and heat in winter, rooftop parking to reduce land use, roof-mounted PV solar panels that generate up to 35 percent of the building’s power during off-peak hours, low-energy lighting systems, and high-efficiency mechanical and water reclamation systems that increase energy savings and water conservation. (For example, water from the retail center’s car wash is filtered and recycled to irrigate plants and landscaping.)

The eco-elements extend to employees, too: Showers and lockers are available for employees who bike to work, and there’s a shuttle service to public transportation.

PMC owner Chuck Theisen was inspired to build a green dealership after visiting a friend’s sustainably built home several years ago. The biggest challenge, he says, was finding people with the skills and knowledge to do it.

While the PMC dealership and body shop don’t share the same state-of-the-art sustainable features, Jury and his peers have been inspired to do their part for the environment. An aggressive recycling program for metal, plastics and paper has been put in place, and Jury estimates it has reduced waste at the body shop by 80 percent. That, in turn, has reduced its waste management costs: Waste pickups have been decreased from about 10 times a month to four, saving the shop $1,500 a month.

In October, the shop also switched to a waterborne paint system. Taking his cue from California’s regulations, Jury says, ”I figured we’d get ahead of the curve.” To his awareness, there are just two other shops in the area that have already made the switch to waterborne paint.
As a rule, however, Jury doesn’t pay much attention to what his competition is doing. “You’ve got to analyze your business on a daily basis, satisfy the customer, and understand the insurance companies’ needs,” he says. “Then the business will come to you.”

Erika Rasmusson Janes is a New York–based freelance writer. She wrote about California-based Pride Auto Body for the cover of FenderBender last month.

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