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Shop Talk

“Sometimes I’ll have 30 estimates on my desk Monday morning—”

Ryan Marrinan pauses, and then circles back to correct a bit of confusion.

“Sorry, I call my toolbox my desk,” he says with a laugh.

This tiny slip-up reveals quite a bit about Marrinan. After 20-plus years as a body repair technician, organizing his work station like an immaculately kept office has become second nature. It’s to the point where if you ask to borrow a 10mm wrench, he immediately responds with:

“First drawer, middle rack, third wrench back.”

This level of organization extends beyond improving Marrinan’s own stellar performance and has gone on to improve overall shop workflow, says Kevin Lund, co-owner of Fairway Collision & Automotive in Vadnais Heights, Minn.

“Ryan is one of the most talented technicians I have ever seen in my career,” Lund says. “His attention to detail, and his knowledge on the repair procedures and the latest technology changes make him very essential to our shop’s success.”

Marrinan’s contributions have been so impactful that 3M (headquartered in St. Paul, Minn.) tapped the veteran tech eight years ago to help test tools and write repair procedures for those tools, which has allowed Merrinan to explore firsthand the latest and greatest equipment and processes designed to improve efficiency. He’s taken those lessons and applied them to his daily routine.

 

There’s really no one way to do this job. Everybody develops their own styles. I’ve had students that came in and did internships underneath me, and I always try to tell them, You're going to find your own way—I'm just going to show you what works for me.

I think too many technicians are just focused on making a lot of money, and sometimes they mistake making money with getting the job done as cheap and fast as possible. After years in the profession, I’ve learned that it’s best to take your time and do everything right. Once you master that, the speed will come.

 

My schedule varies from day to day. It depends on the size of the car, the size of the job, how many hours are on the job, etc. At any one point, I could have anywhere between 10 and 18 cars in process. Currently, I’ve got 15 cars in various stages—some in paint, some waiting for an estimate, some in the repair process.    

When I walk through the door each morning, I have already made my plan for the day. I spent 15–20 minutes the evening before mapping out my schedule. I’ve gotten cars parked in my stall and have a gameplan in place. 

Everything gets based on deadlines. I work with the production manager to keep that flow going, so there is no downtime in the process. I keep the communication going a couple times a day, checking where cars are at, whether he’s got a couple more jobs to hand out, if something needs a tear down.

 

When mapping out the day, I just try to determine how long each job will take, and if I can double up on anything. If I’ve got a mud job, a really big frame job on a rear body panel, and two reassemblies, I map that out the day before. I’ve already got my mud job staged on my lift; the frame job is already up on the frame rack; one of my reassemblies is on the lift; the tools I will need first thing in the morning are already laid out—I did all that five minutes before I left work. 

So when I come in the next morning, I know I can get the mud job done within the first hour. Then while the mud dries, I can be tying it down on the clamps on the frame rack, and then come back and do my mud work so it’s ready to ship off to paint. Then, because it’s one of my bigger projects, I’ll plan to have the frame pull done by lunch. The rear panel can go up to paint, and then after lunch I can do my reassemblies.

If possible, I also like to do my teardowns first thing in the morning. I stage a couple cars in my stall that need to be torn down, I have all the parts put on a car and labeled and ready. That way, whether the estimator gets to it right away or not, I can move on to the jobs that I already have in process.

 

You have to be able to manage and organize yourself. A good manager will be able to gauge how long jobs will take, but you need to be able to plan your own schedule. That’s why I keep a single-month, dry-erase calendar on the locker of my toolbox. As the cars come in, I tear them down, and then once I get the estimate back, I just write down the car’s due date on the calendar. As soon as they’re ready for paint, I'll put a green checkmark next to them so that the production manager knows as well. That way, if I'm not around or if I’m busy, he doesn’t need to stop and bother me. 

That’s really the key component to my day: to keep everything organized. If there’s a change in the delivery day along the way, whether it gets moved up or it’s delayed, I can quickly mark it on the board. If we get a few small quick jobs that come in and need to be torn down by the end of the day, I can look at my board and tell my production manager whether I can fit them in. I ask where it’s hit, how hard it’s hit—I might even take two minutes to walk out back and take a glimpse before I make that agreement with him.

The organization goes double for your toolbox. Your tool cart should be like braille—you should know where every tool is at all times. If you’re doing it right, you’re focusing more on the work itself than where the tools might be. That’s a huge component in staying efficient. Sometimes that means, on a slow day, you just sort of force yourself to take 15 minutes to put the brakes on and clean up. I’ve gotten to the point where I have so many tools out at one time that I start to feel flustered, and it disrupts everything.

 

Another part of improving efficiency is investing wisely in the tools that will offer the greatest return. It’s good to have several options that serve different functions. For instance, you can have several different blades for one particular cut-off tool. Changing blades doesn’t make me any money, so I’ve got four or five different cut-off tools, all of them are set up with a different style of cut-off wheel. 

I’ve got two file belt tools, too. I got to the point to where I found myself switching belts in the process of doing a quarter panel, and I realized how much time I could save by buying a second one. Same goes for quarter-inch ratchets, which I have three or four of in my toolbox. If one breaks, I don’t have time to wait around. It’s that combination of options that make you more efficient.

SHOP STATS: Fairway Collision  Location: Vadnais Heights, Minn.  Size: 23,500 square feet  Staff:30 Average monthly car count: 300  Annual revenue: $6 million

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