Creating a Sustainable Business
When Jay Givens first opened Givens Collision Repair in 1999, he wanted to create a shop with a foundation of environmentally sustainable business practices. But his cramped and inefficient facility never allowed it.
That changed in 2009, when Givens designed and built his new 17,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art sustainable facility. The new building led to 28 percent revenue growth in its first year while cutting many of the shop’s operating costs in half.
Although I’ve been in this industry since I was about 14 years old, I worked as a paint rep for Sikkens and then as a wholesale account manager for AkzoNobel for many years. I learned a lot from Akzo. I was able to visit a lot of shops around the country and see a lot of places that were doing the right thing and a lot of places that were doing the wrong thing.
That was the beauty of the job and that’s where I got my first taste of sustainable business practices. That has always been a huge focus for the company and I saw the benefits.
I was working full-time during the day for Akzo and repaired cars on the side, but eventually I realized I really wanted to own my own business. My wife, Jacki, and I had banked some money, and I had equipment and contracts available, so in 1999, we opened Givens Collision.
We started out in a 2,800-square-foot building with just one employee. We kept taking over another thousand square feet and then another until we were at about 8,000 square feet. The problem is that none of the additions were interconnected. You had to walk through doors to get from one area to another, and in some cases, you even had to walk outside. It wasn’t practical and it was very inefficient. On top of that, the building had poor lighting, no cross ventilation, it was either too cold or too hot, and we were constantly pulling cars in and out because of the space constraints.
We came to a crossroads and our only viable option was to build our own facility. As we started plans for the new building, we decided we wanted to include as many sustainable processes as we could. To me, sustainability means that not only are we conscious of the environment and the profitability of the business, but you also have to be aware of the personal ramifications of what you do.
I designed the layout of the shop and mapped everything out. I knew I wanted to include a blueprinting process, as well as huge windows and skylights, a filter system, switch to waterborne and put in an energy-efficient paint system.
I really suggest having that action plan in place. Meet with your staff, discuss the reasons why you want to make the change, and make sure they understand your reasoning. They don’t need to have the same level of passion that you do, but they do have to understand your motivation.
Once I had the design and layout sketched out, I went down to Akzo’s headquarters and we laid it out and talked it through. That was the beauty of Akzo’s help: sitting down and talking through it. They have such a vast knowledge of what works and what doesn’t work. Sometimes you’ve got building restraints but I had a blank piece of paper. So we asked ourselves, if you’re going to build a box, how do you build a box in order to be the most productive and minimize steps? I had a basic idea and they were able to help me and convince me to change a few things.
For example, I originally had the parts room upstairs. My thought was, who wants the parts laying all over the place? Well, that would have been a nightmare moving parts up and down the stairs all day. We put the lunch room upstairs instead.
We also talked about the future of the business. If you’re able to expand, what would you do? In my initial building sketch, I didn’t think I was ever going to expand the business. But after I bought the land, I realized I had room to expand 5,000 square feet off the back. We re-engineered this room containing the compressor room and storage closet to the side of the building. That way, we could expand right off the back if we wanted to. Part of sustainability is thinking about the future and considering how you could make changes in the most efficient, productive way possible.
We moved in 2009 and since then, we’ve reduced our emissions by 60 percent. We were always going to make the switch to waterborne products but it has really increased our production. We’ve also reduced our heating and cooling costs by more than half, all while doubling the size of our shop.
The biggest thing is being able to keep everything under one roof and inside as we work through the full blueprint process. When the vehicle comes in, we do a 100 percent teardown of the car. Meaning, if we’re going to be blending a door, we take everything off that door. We check for how many clips get broken, additional damage on that door. You basically create a blueprint of the repairs.
At that point, you pull the manufacturer’s recommendation. What are the manufacturers requirements? We pull all that information when we write those estimates, so that that information is available to us as we go through that process. That’s also when we pull out the scan tools.
The blueprinting process is a way of minimizing supplements and downtime, while helping to increase productivity and identify parts that are needed in the beginning so that you’re not held up in the repair process. The less time the vehicle is in the shop, the faster the repair is for the consumer, the quicker they get their car back.
At the same time, we also set up five different teams working in the body shop and two different teams working in the paint shop. A few years ago, we put the whole shop on a team system. It worked well for a while, but we lost that sense of competition and it became difficult to manage the productivity of the staff. I found if I did smaller teams, it’s more manageable and you get some competition among the teams.
It has also helped with quality. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Usually on a three-person team, you have a B- or C-level tech who’s in learning mode, a frame tech and a straightener. All of those people are learning off each other and getting better.
This industry doesn’t have as many young people coming into it, so by cultivating the team environment, it helps me get some younger people in and learning the trade. I’ve got a guy working part time who’s in college right now and is looking to go to WyoTech. He’s doing a great job and I’ve guaranteed him a job when he gets back.
Sustainability is about having a nice environment for people to work in. It’s about not having a negative impact on the people or the environment around you. And by environment, I don’t just mean the ground and the water; it’s people.
To get the staff on board, we did some education prior to our move. We’ve always been really big on training. We are a Honda-recognized and -sponsored shop, as well as Toyota and Volvo certified. We are an I-CAR Gold facility and we require I-CAR training for all of our staff. All of my techs who do any welding are welding certified on steel and aluminum.
We have a formal meeting every morning at 7:45. We go over the vehicles and any processes we’re working on and changes we need to make. I’m very active in what we’re doing out there. You have to be there and coach and spend time with staff.
We also do a monthly meeting and we go over where we’ve been, where we’re going and what we’re working on. I also like to focus on a few key items every meeting, which pertain to financials, productivity and cycle time, safety, and two open subjects that we decide as a group.
Not all of the payoff is monetary, though. For example, we have been able to be a footprint shop for many shops around the country. We’ve had shops from all over the U.S. come and look at what we’ve done in our processes and implement some of the same things. That’s something that we’re proud of. No one in our area had done something like that before. We did a seminar for Allstate, who we are not a DRP shop for, on the waterborne product. They brought in people from the whole Northeast area to see how it worked and what the future of spraying looks like. We believe in giving back and we need to move forward and help each other out.