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Improving Shop-Vendor Relations

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Can’t afford the time and money it takes to send your body men and painters off-site for training?

Don’t worry, Steve Wignall has you covered.

Wignall, an in-house body and paint representative for Arnold Motor Supply in Spencer, Iowa, travels to training seminars around the country, learning about new products that he believes will make processes more efficient at body shops. He then visits body shops individually to train them on how to use the latest paint booth filters, plastic welders, clear coat hardeners—whatever product he believes will improve that shop’s workflow.

“There have been days where he comes and helps with color adjustments or shows up to make the shop faster,” says Clemons Collision Center manager Steve Grabenbauer in his FenderBender Award nomination for Wignall. “In the Iowa area he is responsible for many shops successes. For a guy doing just his job, he goes above and beyond to make sure the shop’s succeed with the customers.”

Wignall is now using his years of shop experience as both a technician and a manager to guide his knack as not just a salesman, but also a teacher and a trainer. And his tips on communicating with businesses serve as a shining example of how in-house representatives and shops can get the most from each other.

Show, don’t tell. Since joining Arnold Motor, Wignall has shifted the company’s focus from selling to supporting shops and servicing their needs. He’s emphasized the importance of showing—not telling—shops just how crucial it is to keep up with the latest in technology.

To aid in this, it’s important for shops to ask questions that allow vendors to physically display the advantages of a product. As a 20-year veteran of the industry, Wignall says this helps him establish connections with the body men and managers when showing off a new product and discussing how to improve shop processes.

Do your research. As somebody who constantly monitors the latest in body and paint technology and travels the country to learn how various products function, Wignall says there’s no ceiling when it comes to the importance of training. Likewise, shops should do research on a product so staff members know what kinds of questions to ask.

“Knowledge is a viable asset, and the more you know, the more you’re worth,” he says. “These guys are relying on me to show them new products and inform them. My company is very good about sending us to school so we are informed.”

Conform to each other’s needs. As somebody who spent 16 years as a technician and four years as a manager, Wignall knows how difficult it is for technicians to find the time to train on new products, and how complicated it can be to budget for off-site training.

Depending on how much training is needed for a product and the level of support a staff requires, he can spend anywhere from two hours to two days making sure the shop is ready to function without him. In return, make your shop ready for demonstrations, allowing for the proper spacing and clearing enough time so staff isn’t worried about the workload during training.

“With everybody’s busy schedules, it’s hard to get techs to go anywhere,” he says. “They rely on me for them to go to training and then come back and show them how to use it properly.”

Involve everybody at the shop. From the technicians to the painters to the managers, Wignall says everyone at the shop should gather in a group and learn how to use the product being showcased. He uses the product in a live demonstration, has technicians physically test it, discusses its advantages to improving shop processes, and then sets up the system in the shop.

All the technicians should have questions and concerns ready about a new product. Wignall prepares for those questions during his own product training by evaluating its ease of use, how it improves flow between departments, and the factors it plays in reducing cycle time.

Managers need to be prepared as well, he says, since they are in charge of overseeing the technicians once you leave the shop. Also, they understand the layout of the shop’s repair process and can aid in setting up the new product.

Make profits a priority. “Profit is not a dirty word,” Wignall says. “Everyone is in the business to make money, which is why shops and vendors should treat each other as partners to make it a win-win situation; if the product can make the shop more productive, then everybody can walk away happy.”

“I work for them,” he adds. “The more money they make, the more money my company makes.”

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