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Kirk Hicks was facing a decision he says many shop owners inevitably confront.

PLANNING FOR GROWTH: Kirk Hicks has grown his company from one location to a five-location, $10-million-a-year business that also includes a glass division (below).His business, Craft Collision Center, had just expanded to its second location in Lynchburg, Va., in early 2014, and he had plans to expand further. Hicks credited some of that growth to Guardian Auto Glass—a local glass repair operation that easily conformed to his production schedule.

But when Guardian was bought out by a larger company, a choppier communication process for subletting his glass work gradually increased Craft Collision’s cycle time by 1.5 days by the end of 2014.

And that’s when Hicks had to ask himself that imminent question:
Should I bring glass repair in-house?

“A lot of shop owners won’t do it because it’s hard to turn a profit,” he says. “For us, it was about making things more convenient. And if I could turn a profit too? It would be a win-win.”

Not only has establishing a glass unit at Craft Collision streamlined the glass repair process, but it has, indeed, turned into a profit center for the company, as well as a whole new mobile glass repair business for Hicks. In a year where he opened two more collision repair shops and set up a new glass repair facility, overall sales doubled to $10 million in 2015—$700,000 of which was credited to glass. And that cycle time increase? Gone. Cycle time dropped back to Hicks’ previous standard of 7.5 days.

The Background

For many years, Hicks’ body shop was never able to top $1 million in sales. But when Craft Automotive Group bought his business, it kept him on board as the shop operator and moved him into a larger building in 2005. He immediately experienced a surge in business. With sales eventually topping $2 million, he once again moved the business into a larger facility in 2014 and built up enough momentum to open a second shop.

Concurrent with Hicks’s success, Marie Crawford’s business was thriving, as well. As district manager for Guardian Auto Glass, she had formed profitable relationships with several local collision shops for sublet work, including Craft Collision.

But just as Hicks readied to open his new, second location, Guardian made a deal, as well. Following the glass company’s buyout, Crawford was demoted, and Hicks now was left to arrange his sublet glass work through a call center.

The Problem

With a middleman between Craft’s estimators and the mobile glass company’s technicians, scheduling became a huge hassle. Guardian’s staff would consistently be on-site the same day, while the new company held up production.

“It took way too much time for my estimators to be on the phone, trying to schedule glass work,” Hicks says. “And then it was never the same day, or ever the next day, they could get there to do repairs.

“On top of that, a lot of times they would come in there with the wrong piece of glass, making it take even longer.”

While only 5 percent of Craft’s workload involves windshield or glass replacement, Hicks relied on his glass repair company for standard inspection procedures, as well. “If we needed to pull the glass out to put a quarter panel in, or if we needed to pull the back glass out to do the roof, we were basically just sitting around waiting for them,” he says.

All of this combined to raise Craft’s cycle times by 1.5 days to almost nine days total.

It also led to Crawford officially joining Craft’s team. Fed up with the service environment, Crawford came on as Hicks’ assistant manager, and instantly began to work with him on starting his own glass repair unit.

The Options

Hicks had to decide between hiring his own glass team or choosing a new company with which to partner. But because of a lack of options locally, Hicks says he was stuck with the new glass company.

That made his partnership with Crawford all the more intriguing: She knew how to manage a glass shop and she could pull together a team of trained glass technicians equipped with the proper tools.

While an investment in glass can be substantial, Hicks saw an opportunity for minimal investment. He didn’t need to search for or train a glass team, he didn’t need to invest in glass repair tools, he could integrate the glass process into his CCC ONE management system, and because he had moved his original Craft Collision into a bigger building, he could move the new glass business into the vacant facility.

Hicks’ biggest investment would come from purchasing vans for a mobile glass unit. Luckily, once again, Crawford knew what would work best and worked with her techs to find a vans that could be outfitted with the proper tools.

The Solution

With Crawford in charge of the new glass unit, she worked with Hicks to develop a process that would not only establish a new mobile glass team, but also eliminate his subletting issues and address cycle team concerns.

With three glass technicians scheduled to perform around seven mobile non-collision jobs per day, Crawford integrates their schedule into the management system and now blocks out time for glass removal, repair and reinstallation at the four Craft shops throughout the week.

“Estimators handle their own scheduling at the body shops,” she says. “If they need something removed tomorrow, they’ll call and tell us, and we’ll schedule the reinstall for the drop-off day. We keep track of it all on our own board.”

For the glass business itself, Hicks’ $250,000 investment involved three main parts:
The Building. Not only had Hicks opened a second location, but he had just moved his original shop into a larger facility—leaving a 5,000-square-foot building open for glass repair.

Although the building has four stalls for customers who bring their vehicles in for glass work, the building is mostly used to house parts and equipment.

The Staff. The team is made up of three mobile technicians, one customer service representative scheduling mobile glass repair visits, and Crawford, who works with estimators at each Craft location to set up glass appointments.

The Mobile Unit. The largest chunk of Hicks’s $250,000 investment came with purchasing vans for mobile glass repair, and outfitting each van with the proper equipment. Although his glass technicians already owned some of the tools and equipment, Hicks purchased the following:

  • Inverters to power tools from the van
  • Vacuums to suction air from the damaged area
  • A glass rack
  • Equalizer Express tools to remove glass
  • Sika adhesive products for installing glass
  • Various rivet guns for door glass
  • Mirror wrenches

The Aftermath

Within six months, the glass shop had become profitable. Of the $700,000 in sales, only about $100,000 came from performing non-collision glass work at Craft facilities.

“It’s a very small portion of the income,” he says. “The convenience factor of the reduced cycle time was a driving force behind getting it set up.”

Over the course of 2015, a simpler scheduling processes allowed cycle time to drop from just under nine days back to around 7.5 days.

Hicks says the shop’s customer service has improved, and that Craft can now truly be a one-stop shop for repairs.

“Often, we would have a customer with a separate glass claim not related to the collision repair. We would have Guardian’s competitors come into our shop to want to replace this windshield while we had it on a separate claim,” he says. “This helps eliminate a lot of confusion there is with our customers.”

Also, as an extra bonus, the glass repair team offers an opportune way of marketing the business.

“It doesn’t hurt to have three vans running up and down the road with the Craft logo,” he says. “It’s a big moving billboard for us.”

In early 2016, Hicks opened his fifth collision center, putting the company at six facilities today.

The Takeaway

Hicks says he learned that not every business decision needs to drastically increase sales. While a return on your investment is crucial, he says risks can pay off in other ways.

“It’s not a huge profitable operation for us,” Hicks says. “Very rarely would you hear a business owner say, ‘I’m glad to break even, or make a slight profit.’

“But it’s a win from the convenience point of view. We’re of the mindset, ‘If we can break even, raise the convenience factors for our customers, and make a little bit of money off of it, it’s a win.’”

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