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Failure is Not an Option

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Jim Kronick stood at the head of the room. His first day on the job as manager, he wanted a way to show he could be a leader, guide his team to victory, turn a fumbling shop around. So he held up a coffee mug.

Written on it: “Failure is not an option.”

“That was my theme for the first few years,” Kronick says. “I told these guys: ‘This is an aircraft carrier, and you’re going full steam in the wrong direction. It takes 20 miles to turn an aircraft carrier around, so we need to start turning right now. It’s going to take quite a while, so hang in there.’”

Hoffman Auto Body’s West Simsbury facility, located in Canton, Conn., part of the Hoffman Auto Group, was performing modestly when Kronick arrived, with a monthly car count of 100. But with a focus on lean principles and standardized processes, Kronick has managed to triple revenue and increase car count to 225 in six years—all by adding just three employees to the former staff of 13.

I start my day by leading morning meetings, where we go over everything we need to accomplish that day. But it’s also about keeping everyone up to date.

They’re never blindsided by a decision I make. You can’t just come in and say, “OK, this is what we’re going to do tomorrow.” You’ve got to get everyone’s opinion. You just have to ask for input, and sit back until someone speaks up. I like opposition, because opposition makes you think of things you weren’t thinking about. I encourage people to speak up and disagree with me. And now they’re used to it and will chime in without hesitation.

So many ideas come from those meetings. For instance, we were losing time on priming. I turned one of the tech stations into a prep station with an open-faced paint booth. So any car that needs priming now goes through the dedicated primer, which has been very successful because I don’t have my A-techs priming. That increased our production by 18 percent. Now the guys are getting more done and making more money. They’re addicted to improvement.

It’s important to have a plan. If you don’t have a plan, then you can’t mark it down and you can’t measure it. So that’s what I do for a living—I measure everything I can.

I’ll use meetings as an opportunity to educate everyone. I always want to do things bigger. I think I can do it the best, so I want more people to come here. All of that stems from networking and educating myself every day: seminars, magazines, online articles, industry people. I always want to pick the brain of someone who’s smarter than me.

I want my team on that level, too. I want them to not just understand, but also be thirsty for what the next big thing is in this industry, to be looking forward and envision where we can take the business. I want to see what’s coming, what we can do next year. This year’s plan is already set. I’m already looking toward 2017 for a game plan. It takes that long to implement.

What we’re working on now and discussing at meetings is aluminum certifications. This aluminum industry is coming on strong. You can’t ignore it. But you have to have a game plan to get into it. So that’s what we’re preparing now: space, tools, equipment, personnel. It’s quite a challenge, but it’s also another avenue of making more money.

After that meeting, I’ll come back into my office, review all the emails from the day, and then I’ll go out in the shop and meet with each department individually, just to make sure the wheels keep moving forward.

I’ve trained everyone to be accountable and independent. I’m blessed to have these people. It’s amazing how competent they are, and it’s because I give them enough power to make decisions. When they get into a jam, they know to come to me and we’ll discuss it, rather than just jumping into it. That’s important, because you can bounce ideas off each other.

LEADING TO SUCCESS: To produce work efficiently, manager Jim Kronick starts every morning leading an all-staff meeting, where everyone discusses what needs to be accomplished that day. I concentrated on lean principles with management, manufacturing and parts with my Six Sigma training, and I learned about the importance of elimination of waste. One thing I’ve done is eliminate horizontal surfaces. What do you do with a horizontal surface? You put something down on it. If you get used to putting something down wherever, you’ll never put it away properly. You’re just teaching them how to live and keep things organized. So when they go to work on that next vehicle, they’re not looking for where they put something down—they’re looking in their toolbox.

We have SOPs for everything we do, even something as simple as how the file jacket is laid out so the invoice is at the front, then the estimate, then the supplement. If you pick up a file from two years ago, it’s laid out the same as it is today. On each parts rack, the top rack is for things you’re keeping, the bottom rack are things we’re going to throw out, and the middle rack is the overflow of either one. So when our parts department is going to go match a part, they know which ones they’re matching.

After I make sure all the invoicing is done—which takes about an hour, since we’re delivering eight or nine cars a day—I move into the afternoon. Between 1 and 3 p.m. I’m able to research and read what’s coming down the line. I set up the men for training, which means sending them to I-CAR or the Toyota training school.

I look for other avenues of education, as well. Maybe twice month I’ll run training videos, from my laptop in the break room. We have a big screen TV in there, and I’ll run a Honda or Toyota webinar.

Then from 3 to 5 p.m., we’re delivering cars. I’m meeting with customers and making sure we’ve covered everything on the schedule.

I like to use the end of the day for self-education. A lot of times I would bring industry magazines like FenderBender home on the weekends and I never read it. When I went on business trips, I would fill my briefcase with magazines I needed to read, but then I slept on the flight. So now what I do is, when we close at 5 p.m., I’ll stay until about 5:30 or 5:45 p.m. and read the articles I’ve highlighted throughout the day. Because it’s quiet time and it’s right at the end of the day, you can start thinking about stuff you could implement tomorrow.

You talk to a lot of smart people in this industry. If we could patent our thoughts, we’d be very rich. We all know what to do and how to do it. It’s just a question of implementing it. From networking and reading, I’ll hear good and bad stories, and one day that story hits your shop. At that time I’ll be prepared on how to handle it because I’ve heard it before. Those stories are worth a lot.

Developing a Farm System

While adding three members his staff has helped keep up with increased business, Jim Kronick has also relied heavily on helpers that have been recruited through what he refers to as his “farm system.”

I’m on the advisory board at the local college here. We go there for career fairs and entertain kids who want to be in this industry to come and join us. When they come join us, we pay them about minimum wage, but we give them bonus plans and incentives.

The important thing is they're working with guys who have been doing this for 20 years. What better way to teach them than to work alongside someone who’s been doing this very well for a long time?

And then we school the heck out of them. I-CAR classes, Toyota training. We invest money in them, we pay for their schooling and education, we give them incentives to get better.

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