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Trevor Horton’s goal as manager at Encinitas Auto Body Repair is to position the shop to repair vehicles as quickly as possible, while leading a team of the most satisfied employees in the industry. As a former estimator who worked his way up through the ranks, Horton has based his goals-driven management style on reducing cycle time, increasing efficiency and avoiding stress. 

His friendly, results-oriented approach has borne fruit during his tenure, with the shop’s cycle time reduced by 30 percent and supplements cut in half. 

There are a lot of body shops around here in San Diego that can fix cars, and do a very good job fixing cars. What sets Caliber apart from the competitors in our market is our customer-first approach. 

The industry is definitely changing. A lot of shops have come to the realization that it is a customer service industry and not so much an automotive industry. Every step of our process, from the time customers come in to the time they pick up their vehicles, is made to keep them informed throughout the entire repair process.

We want them to understand what we’re doing to the vehicle, and we want them to feel comfortable asking us questions if they’re not familiar with a term. We try to give them as much communication so there’s no confusion, and they don’t feel left in the dark or confused about body shop lingo. We try to simplify the process to make it easy for them to come in, drop off their vehicle, pick it up and feel comfortable with what we’ve done. 

We communicate with customers in whatever way is most convenient for them. One of our standard operating procedures [SOP] is to call every customer that we’ve got at a minimum on Tuesday and Thursday. If a customer wants more communication than that, we can  call them every day. If they just want to be called when the vehicle is done, we can do that, too. 

We also do email and text updates with our customers, which they enjoy. A lot of times when we call customers, they don’t even pick up the phone. They want to hear a message, just what’s going on. It’s strange. It’s not so much that they want interaction with us; they want to know what’s going on. If they get those texts or emails, it makes them comfortable that we’re looking after their vehicle and updating them on the progress. 

We really don’t get any callbacks from them at that point. If a customer has a question, they can respond to us in a text or email. When they come and pick up, they tell us they loved the text messages, and that it was very convenient for them. 

The automated text and email service we use is a program called UpdatePromise.com. It’s integrated with our CCC ONE and sends out updates based on certain triggers we control at the shop. For instance, when we select an “in-date” for the car that triggers an initial text, or when we change a status on the repair that will trigger another update. 

We must be very clear when verbally communicating with customers about the same things that they may receive a text or email about. The last thing we want is to tell a customer one thing and then they get a text letting them know something different and creating confusion.

There are definitely some time savings for us versus making more phone calls. Instead of making those calls to the customers, our text and email options are personalized and automated through our management system. If we make any status change to the vehicle—if it moves from body to paint—that triggers a text message or email to the customer, so it saves time with our service advisors and estimators. 

One of our highest priorities is short cycle times. Customers want to get back into their vehicles as quickly as possible, and part of our mission statement is restoring customers to the rhythm of their lives. Any time a customer gets into a wreck and has to come into a body shop, it’s something completely outside their normal schedule. 

Many of our customers are moms and dads with kids they have to take to school, soccer practice or any of the normal things that happen throughout the day. When they have to come in to get an estimate or drop off their vehicles, that throws off their normal rhythm. They’re having to drop off their vehicle and get into a rental that may not be big enough for them. So, the quicker we can get them back into their vehicle and back on the road, the more satisfied they will be. Cycle time is a big focus for us, not only at our shop but Caliber-wide.

SHARED VISION: Horton says his repair team’s goals of quality, efficiency and safety allow them to work together for maximum benefit to customers and the shop. Photo by Katrina Louise

The cycle time that I’m graded on at my shop is based on our Enterprise rental partner—how long that customer is in a rental vehicle. That goes from the day the customer gets into the rental to the day they get out of the rental. So even if I finish a job on a Friday and the customer doesn’t pick it up until Monday, that’s still three additional days on my cycle time. My shop runs at about a seven-day cycle time turnaround. If you’re below an eight-day cycle time, I think you’re doing a good job. 

We speed up our repair jobs by doing complete disassemblies on the vehicles. When it goes into a technician, they’re disassembling the vehicle rather than doing a little now and a little bit later. That helps us write one complete estimate at the beginning of the repair so there are no supplements throughout the process. We’re only ordering parts once during the repair. 

If a car goes to the paint shop and then it has to go back to the tech to de-trim a blend panel, that’s all stuff that we are working on at the very beginning of the repair to minimize any delays down the road. This makes my estimator’s job a lot easier to write up a complete estimate. 

Having SOPs for every department makes it much easier as a manager. We have SOPs that even go down to the detail department. Before they even start washing a vehicle, they’re checking the quality of it and making sure everything operates properly. That way, they’re not wasting an hour of their day getting a vehicle ready that shouldn’t be going home. It benefits all of our other departments. 

A lot of times employees are wary of a new SOP or something that we’re trying to do, but you have to explain the benefits and why we’re doing it, rather than just telling them this is something we have to do starting Monday. There’s always a little bit of caution from employees whenever you try something new in a shop, but as you continue to do it and continue to do it consistently, they do see the benefits over time. 

I’m not a yeller or a screamer in the shop. I trust my guys to get their jobs done. When I let them know what the goals and expectations are, I expect the guys to meet those expectations. 

We work in a very stressful, fast-paced industry. I want my guys to get their job done and I want to keep it light. I don’t like there to be a lot of stress or tension, because that never helps anything else. 

We do lunches and potlucks here at the shop to keep it friendly and maintain a nice atmosphere. We deal with a lot of issues during the day, but if we can make our customers happy and keep ourselves happy at the same time, you get a better product at the end of the day. 

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