Streamlining and Simplifying Processes
Amy Wolfe felt her father’s growing unease with his business. She couldn’t sit by idly any longer, as people took advantage of the owner of Trubilt Collision Center in Eau Claire, Wis.
That’s why Wolfe started working full-time for her father, Jerry Salter, in 2008. It’s the same reason her brother, Luke Salter, started working alongside Wolfe in 2010.
“I saw my dad working so hard for something for so long,” Wolfe recalls. “I wanted his dream to succeed—and have us be a part of that.”
When FenderBender spoke with Jerry Salter in early 2012 (“Back from the Brink,” March 2012), his shop was recovering from hitting a sales plateau. Nowadays, thanks in part to a jolt of adrenaline provided by his children, Trubilt boasts solid KPIs such as paint and materials as a percentage of sales; that metric, which strongly indicates how thorough estimates are, has improved from around 9.5 percent of total sales in 2011 to 12 percent currently.
The implementation of streamlined processes played a large role, but taking a big-picture view, the operators of Trubilt noted three key factors in their surge in sales. The moves weren’t all elaborate, but they paid legitimate dividends. As a result, Wolfe and Salter would make the following suggestions to shops that have stagnated:
IMPLEMENT SPECIFIC PROCEDURES.
Trubilt began using lean practices in 2009, when the shop’s staff began working with Axalta (DuPont at the time) in an effort to reduce waste. The resulting utilization of blueprinting eliminated bottlenecks within the shop.
In 2012, the Wisconsin shop began using single piece flow—an efficient operational method where one product is worked on at a time, in a virtual assembly line manner.
“That really honed in the processes and procedures,” says Wolfe, the shop’s business officer.
The implementation of tighter, consistent procedures has also helped Trubilt avoid an issue that popped up on occasion shortly after Jerry Salter became owner in 1997: employee theft. Luke Salter, who serves as production officer, now handles all invoices for production, and anything bill-related gets handled by Wolfe. Those second and third layers of oversight have made theft a distant memory.
KEEP TABS ON KPIs.
You can’t improve what you don’t measure. Guided by that mentality, Luke Salter measures every KPI imaginable these days. Salter typically uses an Excel spreadsheet and notes such figures as gallons of clear. If a KPI is encouraging, Salter highlights it in green, while run-of-the-mill figures are highlighted in yellow and unusual figures are highlighted in red.
As a result, a shop culture that Salter says was “chaos” early in his career has now improved dramatically, with Trubilt experiencing 20 percent growth for five straight years.
Wolfe says close examination of KPIs offers a shop “a quick snapshot of where you are at compared to where you should be. If there are any red flags, you jump on it and address it right away.”
DON’T HESITATE TO DELEGATE.
A decade ago, Jerry Salter was getting run ragged by his business. Then, he had the foresight to add his son and daughter as full-time employees, and eventually expanded their roles in an effort to take Trubilt to the next level.
Now, the owner has a pair of fully invested family members leading his shop’s ascent. The shop that lacked basic marketing a decade ago has a brother-and-sister team energetically volunteering and attending community meetings two or three nights each week.
And business continues to improve. Trubilt’s sales have nearly doubled over the last five years. The Wisconsin shop has improved its annual revenue from $1.4 million to nearly $2.8 million over that span. In fact, 2016 marked Trubilt’s best financial year yet.
While Jerry Salter still owns Trubilt, he largely serves as a mentor and sounding board these days, letting others control day-to-day operations. And it sounds as if that role suits him just fine.
“Both kids coming into the business truly saved this place,” the owner says. “The kids were the backbone of this.”