Larry Baker Breaks Down his Leadership Philosophy
SHOP STATS: Baker Collision Express Location & Size: (Shop 1) Irmo, 22,000 square feet (Shop 2) Lexington, 7,200 square feet (Shop 3) Columbia, 11,000 square feet Staff: 60 total for all shops Average monthly car count: 600 total for all shops Annual revenue: $11.2 million (estimated)
Larry Baker is always looking for ways to work with his staff and improve processes. This comes not only from his desire to succeed as a shop owner, but also from his teaching and mentoring background. He’s not your typical shop owner, either. Apart from owning Baker Collision Express, a three-shop operation located in South Carolina, netting approximately $11.2 million annually, he serves as the executive facilitator for one of Axalta Coating Systems’ 20 Groups.
And, he’s no stranger to FenderBender. Baker spoke at the 2016 FenderBender Management Conference, and other featured shop owners and industry leaders reference him as a shop management authority.
With 40 years of industry experience and 15 years spent consulting, Baker is all in with his business, the industry and his staff. Inspired and adapted from The E-Myth by Michael Gerber, Baker tries to lead by a simple yet impactful code: Work on your business or work in your business. And as it’s played out, he’s actually been able to do both.
I believe there are varying philosophies in leadership; I take it as my responsibility to provide the opportunity to thrive and excel.
I run my shop with the Baker philosophy in mind, it provides a look at how my staff can have a better life. The Baker philosophy is putting family first, pacing yourself, not burning yourself out, not working a second job at night. My technicians work in a shop that considers them family, a place that understands the need to balance home life and shop life. We don’t want our technicians to feel like this is just another job. This is a place that values their time, effort and commitment. And, we value them.
With the Baker philosophy, you can have your life back. Our system allows people to have a much higher quality of life. It’s an evolution of thought. My staff is competent, aggressive and wonderful. They are aggressive because they want to thrive and excel.
And my advice to any shop owner is: Pick whatever system you want to use to run your shop, tweak it and improve on it. Create a culture of continuous improvement.
I start my day around 8 a.m. Before I step foot in a shop, I go online and check scorecards to see how shops performed the day before. I try to do all of my thinking away from the shops, where I can really spend time and concentrate without being interrupted.
I spend approximately an hour and a half traveling between all three shops. I will travel from shop to shop so I can check in with staff and see how they are doing. I will check in with the managers and see if there are any challenges the shop is facing. After that, I will go and meet with insurance company partners or with other strategic accounts the shops are working on.
My shops use a single-piece flow methodology and we don’t have any commission workers, which is different from what 90 percent of the industry does. Single-piece flow methodology is an assembly line methodology, where the car advances through various stations and certain processes happen in each phase. It’s somewhat of a replication of an actual vehicle assembly line that cars are manufactured on.
The car comes into the shop disassembled and we create a blueprint on how it will be repaired, order the parts, and the car is staged. Once the parts come in, they are mirror matched and the car advances to the next phase. It never backs up.
These are rudimentary processes and not being done well in most shops. It averages about one hour per car to go through that process. Some cars take longer, others less. I have two blueprinters that focus on that every day.
Every day is different, I don’t have that much of a routine to where I have my days mapped out. My role, aside from being an owner, would be coach, mentor, trainer and negotiator. If someone is sick, I will fill in for them.
I tend to go where the hotspots are—the shop where there are the biggest challenges or problems and try to do training, mentoring and coaching where needed. The way that I know a shop needs some help is by their KPIs. They are so indicative that I know what the shop needs and how to fix it. Recently, I’ve been providing training on single-piece flow. One shop was struggling on their numbers. It was a great opportunity to get to train that manager on how to best deploy resources so that they could meet their goals.
Training accounts for approximately five hours daily. But that changes, based on who I’m training. And, training can become pretty detailed, depending on the subject matter. I can get really involved in the minutia of topics, such as how to write an estimate, how to blueprint a car, or how to manage the production line.
Knowing how to do whatever it is you are mentoring someone on is imperative because otherwise you do not have credibility, nor do you know with authority what is responsible to expect. You must have the experience of doing it firsthand to be a great mentor and coach. Otherwise, people will try to convince you the job cannot be done or that your expectation is unreasonable. But, if you’ve got it and you know what is reasonable, then there is no way you can be convinced otherwise.
Shops work from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., but my day wraps up around 6. During that time, I review how the day went, review what our challenges are and plan for what we need to change or do differently.
I feel like my career has taken on three distinct and very different roles. You start off learning to be a very good technician and that takes six to eight years to be really good. Then, I made the transition to management where I learned to manage people, and teach them to be really good at repairing cars. And from there, I made the transition to leadership, which is mentoring and coaching other managers.
I think that after doing it for a lifetime, there are no secrets. I feel like everybody is looking for a silver bullet, but there is no bullet. It’s all about rolling up your sleeves and doing the heavy lifting to advance your business. It’s doing 100 little things right that get the intended results people are looking for in that silver bullet.
This is a hard industry and people need encouragement because it is difficult. It’s not hard to provide encouragement. For tasks that are performed well, you can heap on the praise. And, for the record, I believe it’s not for the faint of heart and people should not expect it to be easy. To stay relevant, we’ve had to become more aggressive in marketing and the expectations of employees. That’s why I read constantly and I surround myself with some of the best and brightest people in the industry.