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An Eye for Quality

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Brian Ross owns Concord Auto Body in Concord, N.C. Thanks to an overall emphasis on quality—whether it’s in his relationships with customers and insurance carriers, or providing his technicians with the training they need to fix vehicles to the highest standards—Ross has grown his shop from a small facility into the largest independently owned collision repair business in his county.

We opened up in May of 1998. When I purchased the shop, it was a 5,000-square-foot building. The original owner had been in operation since 1968, and I think the best year he ever had, he did $500,000 in sales.

I grew from that 5,000-square-foot facility to where we are today—a 21,000-square-foot shop, which did $2.25 million in revenue last year. 

I’ve done this by focusing on one principle: quality. It’s my technicians’ ability to do quality repairs, the quality of service we give to our customers, and the quality relationships we have with our insurance carriers.

That’s what has helped me grow.

I’m the first one in the shop in the morning, and the estimators do the check-in when the cars come in.

When vehicles are dropped off for repairs, drivable or nondrivable, we have a pre-repair and post-repair check form. This form lets us make notes for prior damage, scratches, dents, dings, etc. The post-repair form is a second checklist that the estimator uses to make sure that everything has been completed on the vehicle and nothing is missed. We use this same type of form with one DRP (direct repair program) that requires us to do a walk around with the customer to make sure the customer knows they have a ding in their door panel or a scratch on their bumper cover.

In the morning, I’ll keep myself up front, in case an estimator or a customer has a question.

I’ve recently made several changes in the front end of my office. I now have three estimators, and I assigned each estimator to work exclusively with one of my three major DRPs. I call them my big three—Nationwide, Allstate and State Farm. By doing this, that estimator really learns the requirements for that program. They have constant contact and are on the phone daily with them. They know what the criteria is on re-inspections. Every insurance company has their own little quirks.

This has helped us tremendously with all three of my big insurance companies. For example, since the switch, we have moved from a tier-two to a tier-one shop with Allstate. Out of 49 Allstate DRP shops in North Carolina, we’re ranked number five. Last year, we did 177 Allstate repairs.

Once vehicles are assigned to technicians during the day, I’ll check with our parts manager and make sure all the parts are here, and see if there are any parts we are still waiting for. By the time I get done with that, it’s usually about midmorning. I then make sure that as the techs disassemble the cars, and if there needs to be a supplement, it gets to the right estimator.

“If we’re going to keep up with the technology that it takes to repair today’s cars, the only way ... to do that is to stay focused on continuing education.”
—Brian Ross, owner, Concord Auto Body

We went to full blueprinting about a year ago, and that has drastically improved our process. It has helped our estimate accuracy and our cycle time. So we know, for example, exactly how many fender liner clips we need. It lets us get more accurate parts orders on the front end, which really helps us project quality delivery dates to our customers.

I learned a long time ago, if a customer is informed, you have a happy customer. They may not want to hear that it is going to be five days rather than four days. However, if you can tell them on the front end, they can make plans, and you’ve got a happy customer. With this in mind, we also update our customers on the status of their repairs as often as possible. My receptionist will send out updates every two days, or more often if somebody requests it. Whether it’s a phone call, text, email, however that customer wants to be updated, we do it.

I want to make this as painless as possible. We try our darnedest to get people’s cars repaired and back to them as quickly as we can. And our customers appreciate this. We’ve won six Mitchell AutocheX Premier Achiever Awards for customer service. AutocheX is a CSI company used by Allstate and Nationwide. They call our customers and ask them a series of questions after the repair is completed. To receive this award, your CSI score has to be in the top 5 percent in the nation.

I go to lunch every day at about 11:30 a.m. I didn’t do this for probably about 10 years. But I found that everyone needs a break.

My wife and I make a habit of going to lunch together. She’s my partner in all this. She does all the bookkeeping at the shop. She’s the best friend I’ve got. It’s just enough time to get away—to break up the day.

When I get back, I do some work for I-CAR. I’m the chairman of the Charlotte zone I-CAR committee. I make sure we’re all caught up on everything. I schedule classes for my guys. I’m the one responsible for all that.

Education is very high on my priority list. I pay for 100 percent of my employees’ continuing education. I think last year alone, I spent close to $10,000 on training for my guys. I recently had three different guys in classes, and we actually host classes here at the shop as well. My employees take courses that are specific to their role. There are nonstructural, structural, refinish and estimating courses. Three of us here, including myself, have taken all the classes available for our role, and now we’re going back to start taking courses in a second role.

I believe if we’re going to keep up with the technology that it takes to repair today’s cars, the only way we’re going to do that is to stay focused on continuing education.

I usually leave around 6 p.m. Toward the end of the day, I try to catch up. I check all of the folders once they’re done to make sure that everything is correct.

We’re the largest independent body shop in the area. I’ve been truly blessed and fortunate to see this business grow to the level it has.

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