Committing to a New Culture
About five years ago, the leaders at Pohanka Collision Centers in Virginia and Maryland were tired of having the same problems every day.
Parts would go missing; a tech would start on a car, but couldn’t finish it; and employees were regularly frustrated. Those problems led to poor cycle times and low customer satisfaction.
So they decided to change. The 270-employee, 10-location group of collision centers started blueprinting to create more efficiency. Managers worked to create open and honest communication, and in less than five years, cycle time decreased from 10 days to 8.5 days, and customer satisfaction index (CSI) scores topped 95 percent.
“It’s an absolute commitment,” said Mike Moore, regional manager for the collision centers. “Once you decide you want to run your business differently, [you hold yourself and others accountable].”
Chris Pohanka is the owner of Pohanka Collision Centers. Its parent company, Pohanka Automotive Group, runs dealerships that have been in business since 1919.
Pohanka took over the collision center more than 20 years ago, when they had just one shop. Since then, that side of the business has grown to a total of 10 collision center locations. Last year, the business acquired Alexandria, Va.–based Wagonwork Collision Center.
They knew they needed to implement blueprinting, or the development of a complete repair plan, if they wanted to become more efficient and profitable, and to advance their reputation. So they implemented a blueprinting process five years ago, and have since made other key changes, such as hosting daily meetings at which employees discuss what’s keeping them from doing their jobs better.
Moore says the company is successful because in all of its pursuits it constantly strives to improve. “Daily, we work on improving our business,” he says. “And that’s what we develop into all of our people.”
Pohanka says he doesn’t know everything, but he’s got great people he can rely on. “It’s a matter of years and years ago, somebody embedded into my head, utilize your resources. That’s what I’ve done, and that’s what we’ve done,” he says.
Here are several of the ways Pohanka has paved and traveled its road to success:
Team Restructure. Once they began blueprinting, they needed to restructure the shop to operate as a team, which saved time and money. Techs used to work on entire cars. Now employees have task-specific jobs in departments including blueprint and disassembly, parts, body, paint, trim-out and cleanup.
—Mike Moore, regional manager, Pohanka Collision Centers
Blueprint Audits. In January 2011, the collision centers began a blueprint auditing process. Each month, blueprinters—employees who disassemble a car and write a repair plan—meet to audit each other’s work. Each shop employs up to three blueprinters.
They look at the written plan for a vehicle, as well as the vehicle itself, checking for accuracy and providing feedback on what their colleague might do differently. Each blueprinter has their work audited at least once in a year’s time. Moore says employees hold each other accountable by providing honest feedback. This drives consistency and better repair accuracy. As a leader, Moore had to facilitate accountability at first by making his own observations. Over time, though, “it’s really taken off,” he says.
“Everyone can learn,” Pohanka says. “As an organization, we’re pretty darn open. Everyone’s pretty good at leaving their egos at the door.”
Training Materials. One of the ways the collision centers enhanced their culture was by setting standards for new hires. The shop made training materials so that new employees could understand how the company and its departments work. For example, they put together a PowerPoint presentation containing best practices for disassembling, trimming-out and painting vehicles. Pohanka says this sets expectations early. “We have dedicated processes, and our most successful stores follow them to a T,” Moore says.
Daily Meetings. Each day, department leaders in every shop host a 15-minute meeting to talk about what is working and what isn’t. Basically, Pohanka says, they talk about what’s stopping vehicles from moving through the shop. This opened communication and provided a channel for clear feedback that helps each employee and leader make changes. It also transformed the culture, Moore says. Every person on staff is now engaged in improving the business.
Pre-painting. Moore says common parts such as mirrors and bumpers are prepainted, which helps decrease cycle time. Parts have color codes that match vehicles, and the customer can browse and choose the right one. This especially helps with smaller repairs that customers can wait for at the shop, because a fix like that takes so little time. “You can have a tremendous impact on your cycle time [by prepainting parts],” Moore says.
Call Center. About a year and a half ago, the business added a call center that standardized and streamlined communication. Based on customer feedback, as well as internal feedback from estimators and customer service representatives, the center has made a significant impact on customer service. “It’s been extremely successful,” Moore says. “There’s an open line of communication.”
New Website. The company launched a new website that includes accurate and up-to-date customer testimonials. All Pohanka collision shops work with an outside company that completes customer surveys a few days after a consumer’s repair is finished. The positive comments—accompanied by a name, location of the repair, year and make of the car, and price of the job—appear on the website immediately after the survey is completed. Moore says the comments have helped strengthen the shop’s reputation.
Breaking Bad Habits
It takes commitment and discipline to change, Moore says. The shop improved because people broke bad mental habits.
“That’s extremely hard,” he says. “Because we run our businesses based off habit. If you don’t break the habit, you won’t be successful.”
For example, if someone starts one task but doesn’t finish it before starting another, Moore says they’re more likely to make mistakes. Take a painter who is halfway through his job and takes a break to smoke a cigarette. That person is neither focused nor disciplined; they’re distracted, he says.
Not everyone is willing to change; those people didn’t stick around. Moore figures the company lost about five people in the last five years, especially as employees received feedback about their work during blueprinting audits.
“What we deal with is facts and reality. It’s not about hurting people’s feelings,” he says. “That takes huge personal growth. People that can’t take it don’t stay.”
The mental commitment to doing things differently has led to daily actions that lead to continuous improvement.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about your own pride,” Moore says.