Keep the Focus on Core Values
In a time when consolidation is disrupting the collision repair industry, independent shop owners around the country face the same problem: how to thrive when fighting off multiple shop operators (MSOs) that are closing in around you.
Ernie Bordon, owner of Autocraft Collision Center with two locations in Naples and Marco Island, Fla., has been in the business for 41 years, and when three of the largest MSOs came to town, instead of frantically finding new ways to change his approach, he did something a little unexpected: he focused within.
As Bordon witnessed other shops struggling to retain talent, match the production levels of MSOs, and win over customers, he chose to focus inward and analyze the processes that made his $6 million, two-facility central Florida business successful in the first place.
“I did exactly what I’ve done for 30 years. I really didn’t change anything. I focused on my business,” Bordon says. “Of course you have to keep your finger on the heartbeat of what’s going on out there. You don’t want to be completely blind to what’s happening, but you have to keep the focus on what you’re doing.”
Retain Your Team Amid Heavy Recruitment
With two successful full-service shops, Bordon says that he’s very proud of his over 90 percent employee retention rate, meaning some of his employees have been with the shop for 25 years.
He adds that when a shop is filled with happy employees, employees are less likely to explore other options—such as jumping ship to a big MSO, which is able to offer technicians a clear career path and, often, strong benefits and salaries.
“Let’s face it, if you have an employee that’s unhappy, then you know that employee is going to be prone to look for a better deal or greener grass,” he notes.
A big key to his success with employees is open communication. With 36 staff members, it can be a challenge to get the whole staff together at times. To keep a personal touch, Bordon implemented an open-door policy where he encourages his employees to personally reach out to him if they ever need to talk.
Bordon makes it a point to not have big staff meetings “about other meetings.” He doesn’t think they’re efficient and they just become repetitive. The one-on-one meetings are more personal and can result in better feedback.
“The culture of my shops are light,” Bordon says about the dynamic his staff has with one another.
He also makes sure that his employees know which days he’s at which shops. Bordon says it is crucial to find out how everything is going from their perspective and their cares and concerns.
“Your business shouldn’t be a revolving door of employees; that’s no way to run a shop,” he says.
All of Bordon’s employees are brought into the shop with trust as a result of making it through the interview process, and Bordon says they would have to prove him otherwise to lose that trust. What helps with retaining the right employees has to do with what Bordon is offering, which according to him, is a career and not just a job until the next best thing comes around.
It’s also important to listen to new ideas and proposals from your employees. They may provide a fresh perspective, resulting in both a change implemented in the shop and a happy employee who feels valued.
“Everybody is part of it,” he says. “All my guys are part of this. You know, this is not just a job and they don’t just have an employee number. They’re part of a growing, thriving, successful business.”
Achieve Market-Leading Numbers
It’s important for a shop to first evaluate where it stands in the market. As a rule of thumb, Bordon strives to be in the top of any insurance program, assuring that he exceeds expectations at all times. He also aims to achieve a minimum of 8 percent revenue growth every year.
Since opening in 1985, he has hit double-digit growth almost every year. In 2016 alone, his business grew 24 percent. And with $6 million in revenue and 250 percent efficiency, he’s doing something right.
It comes down to the basics, he says; look at your KPIs with insurance partners. Does your shop have strong quality control? For Bordon, quality control comes from identifying the full scope of damage on a car up front from the moment it arrives in the shop. This process directly correlates to better cycle time, which ultimately gives him not only a three-day cycle time and 99 percent CSI rate, but also occasional same-day turnaround on jobs that would typically take much longer.
If the numbers don’t reflect where you hope to be, change that by identifying the problem, and then working on fixing the small details, which he says can yield a surprisingly large result.
“I’ve always concentrated on plugging up the tiny little leaks, you know, and if you plug up 20 of those leaks, you’ve found the big hole,” he says.
For example, Bordon used to designate a technician to check in parts and match them to cars, but since the process was taking too long and left room for error, Bordon hired a production manager who now takes care of the job, saving time and error for the shop.
Customer service and retention
“The home-field advantage,” as Bordon likes to say, is the advantage of building a relationship with those in your community. It’s those relationships that are very difficult to break.
“The war is won or lost right in the local market. It’s the local relationships. ... It really has little to do with the big corporate deals and a lot to do with the relationships and the people that have been here for 20–30 years,” he says.
But, a shop must build those relationships first, so it all goes back to the value-added services that a customer experiences during a service.
“When these people leave, they are speechless and then when they go out to dinner with their neighbor, they’re saying, ‘Hey, you know what? I just got my car fixed at Autocraft and those guys are crazy. They’re shampooing and vacuuming and checking air and spares and, wow, what an operation,’” Bordon says.
As a beginning step, he recommends asking yourself the following questions: Why are customers coming to my independent shop rather than a large MSO? What am I offering? What are my value-added services? What are they doing that I’m not doing?
“And if I can’t answer that, then I need to start compiling a list,” Bordon says. “Sometimes, it’s little things, but it’s also big things. It’s checking the air in tires, including the spares. It’s checking all the fluids, and it’s doing what we call an ‘active delivery.’”
The active delivery concept, as Bordon explains, involves letting the customer know what exactly happened during the repair. And it all starts with his quality control sheet, or as Bordon calls it, the “hot car” sheet.
The sheet lists specific breakdowns of replacement parts and repairs, and a total of four people sign off on the sheet during the repair process as a way to minimize mistakes. If something was missed in one phase, it will be caught in the next.
The tech will walk through the sheet with the guest at the end of the service, informing them of the staff that signed off on it and the value-added services they’ve added. This makes the guest feel confident that their vehicle was repaired correctly the first time, Bordon says.
Bordon says it’s also important to recognize that if you have a long-time, multiple-visit customer, they are no longer a customer; they become a friend, which builds an advantage in the long run.
Making the guest feel comfortable and taken care of is also a very important key, he says. Bordon came up with the “four alligator rule,” where within four seconds (or four rounds of saying “one alligator … two alligator …” etc.) of entering the facility, the guest must be greeted.
Bordon says that he doesn’t have a preference for what exactly is said to the customer. That could be, “We’ll be with you in one minute” or “Help yourself to a seat and coffee”―the point is that they are welcomed into the shop. He also says it’s everyone's job to greet customers. If the customer service rep is busy, another employee knows to jump in.
To make customers feel a little more comfortable, every service comes with a lifetime warranty and a thank you card from Bordon with his cell phone number to ensure that if anyone has any complaints, they can contact him directly so he can immediately take care of it.
“Give them (customers) a reason to love you,” he says. “We want good customers, but I always say, we want loyal customers.”
SHOP STATS: AUTOCRAFT COLLISION CENTER Location: MARCO ISLAND AND NAPLES, FLA. Operator: Ernie Bordon Average Monthly Car Count: 200-250 per location Staff Size: 36 combined Shop Size: 7,000 sq ft (Marco Island); 13,000 sq ft (Naples); Cycle Time: 3 days Technician Efficiency: 250 percent Annual Revenue: $6 million combined