A Better Plan
For Eppie Broussard’s first day on the job, it was a “living nightmare.”
“When I walked in, everything was in a stack on his desk,” she says of the mess of estimates and parts order forms strewn about at Gordy’s Paint and Body. “He knew where to find everything, but I was at a loss.”
For the self-described “fanatic” of organized systems and processes, this just wouldn’t do. So on that first day, she did exactly what made sense to her:
“I started organizing everything.”
For all the emphasis placed on improving body repair and paint processes in an effort to improve cycle times, Broussard, office manager for the New Iberia, La., shop, wants to make the case that it all starts with improving repair planning. After encountering that behemoth stack of papers, Broussard—who knew nothing about collision repair—began to implement the systems and processes that made sense to her as a lifelong accountant, and the changes over the past two years have resulted in drastic improvements to not just cycle time (which is currently 6.1 days), but also rose overall gross profits by 38 percent and virtually eliminated supplements and delays.
Gordy’s Paint and Body is a bit of a staple in the community, Broussard claims. Its owner, the 70-year-old Gordy Babineaux, has been fixing cars in New Iberia for over 40 years, and carried his old-school ways into the 21st century.
“Gordy would do everything—and when I say everything, I mean everything,” Broussard says, referring to the fact that Babineaux would fix cars, write estimates, order parts, update customers, and pay the bills. “It got to the point where he just couldn’t do it anymore without some office help. He would be working late into the night trying to do everything.”
In steps Broussard, who was hired to help coordinate Gordy’s Paint and Body repair planning processes due to her background in bookkeeping and tax preparation—the kind of profession that absolutely requires organization, she says.
“I just have systems,” she says. “Everything has to have a place or I just can’t function.”
On the surface, everything seemed fine at Babineaux’s shop: eight employees, an average monthly car count of 50, and annual revenue of $1.2 million.
Gross profit and cycle time, however, were hurting, Broussard says. And while a host of factors contributed to those poor numbers, she says it could be traced back to the shop’s lack of pre-repair organization.
“The organizational part of it all is half the battle,” she says. “Because if you don’t have it all together, then it’s not smooth and workflow suffers. You can’t find one thing, which leads to this delay, then another delay, and before you know it, you’re constantly in catch-up mode.”
Broussard described the old system as “off the cuff.” Babineaux would arrange for 12–15 cars per week at the shop, but post-drop off, pre-repair inefficiencies caused work to pile up and creep over due dates. Multiple supplements, a poorly kept inventory, sporadic customer updates and lost files were raising cycle times—the cost of which was exemplified by the amount Babineaux was paying each year for rental vehicles, Broussard says.
“Gordy was actually paying my salary in [rental] vehicles,” she says. “When jobs went over schedule, the shop would have to pay for customers to keep those [rentals] longer.”
By intensely focusing on inventory control, payables and receivables and scheduling, Broussard was able to arrange and organize repair orders and information in a streamlined, itemized fashion.
For Broussard, that started with controlling the inventory and better managing returns and supplements. That meant as soon as the parts were shipped, she marked off each part on the repair order. Then, as technicians perform repairs, if any parts aren’t used or if a bad part is discovered, they are to report to Broussard immediately.
“Before I got here, extra parts would sit in storage for six months, and then we couldn’t get credits for them,” she says. “That’s a lot of money just sitting in inventory. Having an extra $736 bumper practically cancels out the entire job.”
One of the main components of this organization has been a color-coded system that allows Broussard to know if anything will be holding up a job.
When the car is dropped off, Broussard attaches a folder to the vehicle and marks the drop-off date and time. With the parts already ordered, she then checks off when each part is available and highlights the folder with a bright-green sticker.
“If that folder is sitting in the rack and it’s got the green light, we all know it’s good to go,” she says. “If it’s not, I know something is missing, I address what we’re waiting on, and then we go from there.”
Broussard’s colored system also helped tackle the shop’s out-of-control rental car costs. If a customer had a rental car out, Broussard would mark those repair orders with a bright-orange lightning strike.
“If they're a folder in [the technicians’] files that has a an orange flag on it, they know they need to be working that one first,” she says. “That’s the one they need to be making sure they're doing everything they can on before they start another.”
And then, if there’s a vehicle that’s awaiting a supplement, Broussard marks that folder with a blue sticker.
“So that way, if the insurance company or the rental car company calls and says, ‘Hey, what’s the status of this car?’ I see the blue flag and I can let them know without having to read in detail what’s happening on that order.”
The improved parts process has virtually eliminated supplements at the shop, and, thanks to the shop receiving money for returns, increased gross profits on parts by 38 percent.
And thanks to an organized system that addressed issues up front, cars were more easily able to flow through the shop, Babineaux says.
“It’s made all the difference in how fast these cars are moving out,” he says. “She completely reshaped our company’s outlook regarding workflow.”
Although the company did not track cycle time beforehand, Babineaux assures that it’s undergone a complete overhaul, as it now stands around 6.1 days. Broussard says the elimination of rental car costs (the shop only paid for two rentals in 2016) shows cars are now consistently leaving the shop on schedule.
In addition, Broussard pitched the shop’s improved processes to State Farm, which had previously severed ties with Gordy’s Paint and Body due to the amount of delays. As a result, more work is flowing through the shop, and both average monthly car count and annual revenue are up to 60 and $1.6 million, respectively.
Broussard says that her lack of collision repair knowledge prior to managing repair planning duties at Gordy’s proves that improving KPIs and profit margins sometimes requires a simple tonal shift in processes and mindsets. Broussard is now researching management systems, which she hopes will make repair planning even easier.
“You could look at the changes I made, and just think, ‘Those are the little things. What’s the big deal with that?’” she says. “But if you add all that together, it makes a huge difference.”
“You can care about the customer and be driven to succeed, but if you’re not organized, it just brings everything to a halt,” Broussard adds. “Now everything is flowing and we’re able to give people the attention and quality they deserve.”
SHOP STATS: Gordy's Paint and Body Location: New Liberia, La. Size: 10,000 square feet Staff: 8 Average monthly car count: 60 Annual revenue: $1.6 million