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The Paperless Shop

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Peter Latuff has accomplished the seemingly impossible—and yet he says it was actually a pretty painless process. The owner of Latuff Brothers Auto Body in St. Paul, Minn., went completely paperless at his shop in March. The switch has turned out to be a big time and money saver. By using a digital management system, Latuff now stores files and photos for each repair order electronically, cutting down on printer, paper and ink costs. Not only does he expect to save between $6,000 and $8,000 this year, he’s also managing a much more organized shop where important information for each repair job is just a mouse click away.

GOING FOR IT

Frank Terlep, president and co-founder of Summit Software Solutions, came up with the idea of designing Summit—the company’s body shop management system featuring complete digital capabilities—after studying other businesses that had already gone paperless. “I studied industries outside of ours and spoke to other small businesses, and there has been tremendous improvements in workflow and productivity,” he says of companies such as dental and law offices that switched to a fully electronic way of storing files. “I thought, ‘Wait a minute, this could work for us, too. It was like a knock in the head,” he adds. “We have paper everywhere in our industry.”

“We used to waste a lot of time looking for files. Now, they’re all in one spot.”
Peter Latuf, Owner, Latuf Brothers Auto Body

Latuff realized just how much paper he had lying around his shop while closing files one day with his son. “He asked why I was printing reports, and I said, ‘We’re following procedure and leaving a trail,’” Latuff remembers. His son then asked him if he went to the computer to access old files or to obtain needed information, and Latuff responded, “Yes.” That was the moment, he recalls, when something clicked. “It started the wheels turning,” he says. Realizing he could store and organize files electronically on his computer, Latuff did research on Summit’s digital software and discovered he had the option to go completely paperless (Latuff was already using Summit management software at his shop but without the digital capabilities). That’s when Latuff made his decision. “One day, I just came in and said, ‘We’re going paperless,’” he remembers. “I ripped the [paper] off the wall and said we weren’t going to have files anymore.”

THE COST OF PAPER

Buying new software may seem like a big expense, but using paper probably costs more—in both time and materials—than you might imagine.

“An actual file is touched 10 or 15 times a day. It amazed me when I came at this number,” says Terlep. All that attention to paper adds up to real money. “On a typical repair job, it costs $50 to find paper, use paper, print paper, copy paper, file paper.” Since the average cycle time for a job is 10 days, Terlep says, that’s “five dollars a day, really, for a job.”

“On a typical repair job, it costs $50 to find paper, use paper, print paper, copy paper, file paper.”
-Frank Terlep, President and Co-Founder, Summit Software Solutions

Latuff estimates a typical shop has about 30 pieces of paper in any given file, and they probably print another 30 that are eventually tossed. “Probably at any given time, there are 60 sheets of paper in a file,” he says. Each one of those sheets costs money.

So far, fewer than 50 shops in North America are close to being paperless, says Terlep, but those that have made the switch are happy they did. “They say, “Frank, I can’t believe the difference!” he says. “It saves them a lot of time, a lot of money, not only in paper cost and filing, but in terms of getting the information you need for a repair.”

FIGURING IT OUT

So, how does going paperless work? Surprisingly, it’s a lot easier than you may think. Though Latuff was able to make the switch in only a day, Terlep says it may take other shops longer, depending on their familiarity with management software.

The first step is to overcome the fear of change. “It’s a cultural change in the shop,” Terlep explains. “You have to be willing to do it, but there are tremendous benefits to at least investigating going paperless. The cost to do so is not as great as you think it is.”

Once you’ve made the decision to make the switch, choosing a digital software system and a scanner is up next. (See sidebar a range of prices). After you’ve made your selection and installed the software, Latuff explains, you’ll need to outline the specific procedures you’ll follow and organize files that track the different stages of the repair process, such as estimate, supplement one, supplement two and final bill.

Creating files—or particular tabs—within the software is as easy as figuring out what you’re printing now. “Sometimes, there’s stuff in a file that you really need,” says Latuff. “Sit down and keep asking, ‘Why do we have this in the file?’ Once you’ve narrowed it down to bare necessities, you start building your procedures.” For example, Latuff created individual tabs for images, scanned documents, PDFs, and videos.

Terlep says the software is equipped to organize anything you may need. “Every type of file [a shop] would keep in their office today—assignment files, estimate files, repair files—is electronically created in our system.” From there, he says that each component of a particular file can be located by customer name, VIN number or by the repair order.

While the learning curve is different for every shop, Terlep says, it typically takes about a year to master a new software program. He also points out that shop owners often underestimate the training required to get everyone on board and comfortable with the new system. Hiring a consultant is a smart idea if you or your employees are not very tech savvy. A consultant can ensure the implementation goes smoothly and that you and your staff are able to navigate the software.

MORE PERKS

For Latuff, the biggest benefit of going paperless has been becoming better organized. “Before, with paper, some people were writing on papers inside the repair order jacket and some notes were in the computer. Papers would get lost. We used to waste a lot of time looking for files,” he says. “Now, they’re all in one spot. That’s helped us quite a bit. I think we’ve gained greater production capabilities.”

Sending information to insurance companies is also easier for his shop. “If we need to send a supplement to an insurance company, we just click on it, email it, and it’s gone,” Latuff says. “Before that, we’d have to look for the invoice and actually make copies of those copies and then email them or fax them or mail them to the insurance company [wasting] money and effort.”

Another perk? Having the ability to send more complete and thorough files. “A lot of the time on big jobs, we’ll have 100 pictures of the car. Before, we never took that many in-depth photos,” Latuff explains. “That many photos at different stages of the job makes [us] much more trustworthy to insurance companies—they can see exactly what’s going on.”

That extra $6,000 to $8,000 Latuff is expecting to save this year is nice, too. “If you’re not printing, you’re not buying printers, toner for printers, drums for printers, and you don’t need to replace them,” Latuff says. “You don’t print photos, don’t copy invoices—it’s all digital.”

Like Latuff, Terlep says going paperless is a win-win situation. “Office personnel will be much more productive. They can share better documentation with customers and insurers, they no longer have to buy file cabinets, and the cost of paper will go down,” he says. “There’s actual real dollar savings.”

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