Uncorking a Growth Spurt
Brian Eve is a confident man and, as director of a massive dealer-affiliated collision shop that has grown its revenue by more than 80 percent in the past year, he has every right to be.
Gwinnett Place Honda Auto Body is Eve’s flagship location, the largest of three collision repair shops he oversees in suburban Atlanta under the Hendrick Automotive Group umbrella. Located next to a modern Honda dealership, the 42,000-square-foot Gwinnett Place Honda Auto Body is in a separate, equally contemporary building with 22 body technicians and a total of 66 employees.
Eve took over the facility in September of 2010. At the time, the location averaged roughly $550,000–$650,000 in monthly sales. By 2012, monthly revenue topped $1 million. The shop did $15.5 million in total sales in 2014.
Achieving such heroic growth required a reshuffling of his roster of technicians, bringing in new shop technologies, and maintaining the shop’s razor-sharp focus on high-quality, truly OEM-grade repairs.
“We’re an extremely quality-minded shop, and in the interview process, I always tell [technicians] that this place is not for everybody,” Eve says about his exacting quality standards. “You have to repair cars back to factory, as close as you possibly can, to replicate what you’re replacing.”
While his speedy turnaround at Gwinnett Place has earned him respect from his superiors, Eve has several additional challenges at hand, including a significant addition to the flagship store, getting the newly-acquired Rick Hendrick Toyota Sandy Springs Certified Collision Center off the ground, which the company acquired in October, overseeing management of the 11,500-square-foot Buford Collision Center northeast of the city, and assisting with an aggressive business plan that calls for as many as 50–70 additional Hendrick collision repair locations in the coming years.
“My reputation will bring the work,” Eve says, recalling the moment he explained his turnaround plan to his staff. “It’s up to all of us to keep the work, and we have to do it better and faster than everybody else.”
Directing a staff to deliver timely, OEM-quality repairs is one thing, but actually making that happen down to the slightest detail required firing a handful of technicians and replacing them with the best-available technicians in the area and paying them at or above the regional average.
Eve doesn’t look for technicians who jump from job to job, but rather those who are comfortable with Hendrick’s repair standards and the team-based mentality that he says is the key to maintaining those standards long term.
They are paid on a flat-rate basis for their work. Cooperation among techs, he says, comes from an intense focus on a symbiotic culture during the interview process, and evidenced every day in the shop.
“My technicians look after one another. If they have a technician that just starts, they’re more than happy to help them out,” he says. “What they don’t want to have happen is for a new tech to send something out of here that’s not right, so they police themselves and their neighbors so they can put out a good product to the customer.”
That team-based approach ensures that everybody is working toward a common goal, and always willing to help co-workers when needed.
Hendrick’s corporate-wide repair standards dictate that every last detail is accounted for, whether it’s a specific type of cavity wax, using identical clip fasteners throughout a job and even applying the same characteristic squiggle pattern in sound deadening material that’s done at the factory.
If a product or tool doesn’t exist to exactly replicate OEM-quality levels, Eve and his team of techs have invented tools or procedures to match even the smallest detail for all of its repairs.
“We have made tools to put sprayable sound deadening on floors, on both the top and bottom sides, that rake [the material] across to make it look like the factory,” Eve says. “The under-hood covers have a mist of olive green or tan or grey that goes over it, and we mist that color back on so it doesn’t look like you have a hard line in the floor to the rear body panel—whatever the case may be, it looks like it did prior to the [accident].”
Training new techs to meet the shop’s repair standards, as well as the intricacies of replicating each OEM’s specifications, is done on an individual, one-on-one basis with seasoned technicians to supplement their previous industry education.
“Our folks are very helpful to one another, especially with new technicians and the repair procedures,” Eve says. “As a whole, we understand those repair techniques, but somebody who’s coming from an independent shop wouldn’t have that information readily available.”
All throughout the repair process, each successive department is checking the work of the previous, before signing off and continuing with its portion of the task. At the end, a quality control manager goes over every inch of the car looking for defects, and convenience items like a low-tire-pressure light or door that might have been improperly aligned from the factory.
Keys to Service
With such a fine attention to the little things, one might think that car count or cycle time wouldn’t be a high priority at Hendrick Collision. However, Eve says he keeps a close eye on on the “key-to-key” measure at all his stores.
Eve says his average key-to-key cycle time at the Gwinnett Place flagship is currently 6.3 days, and has been as low as 4.1 days. His long-term goal for all locations is five days.
The Buford Collision Center, which has recently adopted policies from Gwinnett Place, recently reduced its time to the “low 9s,” while the Sandy Springs store is just getting up to speed with Hendrick standards and doesn’t yet have accurate numbers.
Those cycle times, he says, are better than comparable shops in the geographic area, and that he’s “not worried about cycle time or key-to-key in our facility—we’re a lot faster than most.”
He partially attributes the quick turnaround times to being an early adopter of technology throughout every step of the repair process, including tablets, smartphones, laptops and software such as DuPont’s ProfitNet management system and CCC ONE Touch mobile estimating.
Eve has the same approach to new materials, processes or products that can be used throughout the shop. Regardless of experience level, he encourages his staff to alert him to any ideas, procedures or new products that could improve the workplace or its repair processes.
He also has charged his vendors with a similar quest to alert him to any new tool or technology that can improve the shop’s quality and speed, all in an effort to further distance themselves from regional competition.
“Anything that we can do to improve, whether it’s a tool that’s come out or a paint system, my vendors have the understanding that if something comes out, I’d like to take a look at it,” Eve says. “If it’s something that we’re interested in, we’d like to demo it. If it’s something that works for us, then we’re going to use it.”
Vindication for the team’s approach has come in a CSI that consistently exceeds 97 percent, and three continuous years of winning Mitchell’s AutocheX Premier Achiever Award, which recognizes collision shops that provide exceptional customer service.
With efficient and modern equipment and procedures in place, Hendrick Automotive is looking to aggressively expand its collision repair footprint, with plans to open 50–70 more body shops in the coming years.
While some locations will ideally be tied to dealerships acquired by the dealership side of the corporation, others will be standalone collision shops like the handful Hendrick has recently added in areas like Kansas City, Mo., and Raleigh-Durham, N.C.
“I would say that we’ll double in size within the next two years,” he said, adding that other expansion opportunities may come through “mom and pop” shops looking to exit the business during the current wave of industry consolidation.
Eve says the number of shops in the Georgia market that he oversees will likely expand as the corporation adds locations. His role will be going into new locations within his territory to help them adopt the standards that have been so successful at Gwinnett Place. The final tally of stores he manages remains to be seen, as the company eyes its next moves.
He and his team are currently testing their expansion skills at the Sandy Springs locations, which is still in its transition period. While he takes pride in its early success, and the improvement at his other locations, Eve repeatedly calls out the efforts of his entire staff who he says are all the keys to making a store-wide system function.
“It’s not anything that I do, because it takes everybody to buy into the process, and if you don’t have people buying into it, then you aren’t going to see the benefits,” he says. “The benefit is to continue to grow the business, and if you’re not doing something right your business is going to go somewhere else. We’ve been fortunate that our business continues to come back.”
Eve underscores his point about the necessity of teamwork, by explaining how a simple delay in a parts order is enough to throw off the entire system, and significantly add to cycle times.
As Hendrick Automotive Group executes its growth plan, Eve sees even better metrics ahead.
“The quality that we do, to me, is unprecedented and speaks for itself,” he says. “We’ve gone from a small group of people to, now, a large group of people all pulling in the same direction—that’s pretty gratifying.”