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Planning for Successful Shop Changes

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When Steve Kendrick Jr. bought his family’s shop, Kendrick Paint and Body, in August 2008, he and his business partner, Keith Brown, had one goal: maintain the brand and reputation Kendrick’s grandfather, father and uncle had built since the business first opened in 1952.

“Simple enough,” Kendrick says now with a laugh. And, really, Kendrick and Brown came up with a simple plan: change everything.

Jump ahead five years, and Kendrick and Brown have done just that, helping grow the business from a single shop in downtown Augusta, Ga., to an eight-facility MSO spanning across the state and into South Carolina.

“Change is a huge word; it can be scary to some people,” Kendrick says. “Something as simple as changing the coffee maker in the office or the soap you wash your hands with can create all kinds of havoc in a business.

“We all get used to things, get comfortable in what we’re doing, and you get that tunnel vision and can’t see outside the box of what you can be and what you should be.”

Simply put: Businesses need to adapt and change to survive. Kendrick and Brown had a clear vision of how they wanted the company to grow, but it was their careful planning and implementation of those changes that led the company to success.

“The key is being able to create that plan and being able to stick with it and carry it out,” Kendrick says. “That’s how you change.”

Kendrick and shop owner and industry consultant John Sweigart outline a process for doing just that.

A Meditation on Change

Kaizen. It’s a Japanese word that serves as the foundation of the Toyota Business System. And Sweigart has it written on a large sign in his office at the True Collision Centers (formerly The Body Shop @) home base in Philadelphia.

The word, as used in business (and with Toyota specifically) refers to continuous change, or self-improvement.

“I like to look at it literally,” Sweigart says, “It’s made up of three Japanese characters. ‘Kai’ is made up of two characters that mean ‘self’ and ‘whip,’ which is read as ‘change.’ The second part is ‘Zen,’ which refers to good or goodness. So, the word literally means, self whip to create goodness.

“It means you have to change you. You can’t change other people, but you can change yourself. And by changing yourself, you can lead people to follow.”

You have to understand that simple concept if you want to create change in your business, Sweigart says.

And Sweigart would know. As one of the collision industry’s leading experts in lean operations, Sweigart specializes in implementing change in other businesses, whether it’s in his own five-location MSO or in the shops he consults with for Axalta Coating Systems.

Similar to Kendrick, Sweigart doesn’t view change as an obstacle. Rather, it’s a pathway to success—if it’s implemented correctly. And, borrowing concepts from Toyota’s problem-solving method, Sweigart says there are eight steps to creating a thorough implementation plan for any change—small or big—in a business.

Step 1: Analyze the gap. In all cases, change is initiated to solve a problem. So, start your plan by analyzing the current situation. Sweigart says to identify the problem in your shop, and then analyze the gap between where you are and where you should (or want to) be. It can be tangible, such as improving gross profit margin on paint materials or increasing revenue. It can also be more intangible (or, at least, less easy to quantify in a number), like switching to a lean production model. Either way, Sweigart says to clearly define how far you are from a standard or benchmark.

Step 2: Break down the problem. There are many aspects of a business environment that can contribute to a problem, or to the creation of a solution, says Kendrick. In this step, Sweigart says to create a list of every factor that can impact your change—from your workers’ tendencies to your local weather—and all the areas of your business that change will affect. Creating diagrams or graphs of current processes can help, he says.

Step 3: Identify the root cause. At this point, you should have a good handle on how your current process works and where it breaks down. Now, delve deeper to find the true, root cause of the issue. Sweigart says to approach it simply: Ask “why” five times.
For example, Sweigart says if the problem in your shop is having to repaint too many vehicles per month, your conversation could go like this:

Why do we repaint too many vehicles? Because the vehicles aren’t clean enough before we paint.

Why? Because we don’t pay our people to clean them.

Why? Because I’m afraid of losing margin if I pay them hourly.

Why? Because sometimes, we run out of work.

Why? Because we don’t schedule accurately enough.

That’s five “whys,” and Sweigart says you get to a whole new understanding of your problem.

Step 4: Brainstorm countermeasures. Kendrick says it’s best to get others involved in this part of the change process. Get everyone involved in the issue together and start throwing out ideas, Sweigart says. Record them all and rank them based on two criteria: cost of implementation and impact on the problem. Based on your grading system, you should reach a conclusion on the best course of action.

Step 5: Set a target. Now that you have a full grasp of the cause of the problem, impact of the change and a method to enact that change, set a “reasonable” target. This is different from Step 1, when you compared your situation to some standard or industry benchmark. This step needs to provide a goal, one that can be tangibly measured and achieved. Above all else, it needs to be realistic.

Step 6: Get it done. Complete your plan based on all the information obtained through the first five steps. Organize your thoughts based on the steps—current state, problem analysis, root causes, countermeasures, and final goal. These are, in a simply state way, the basic foundation of any implementation plan, whether it’s being used to obtain financial assistance from a bank, to encourage those above or below you in a company, or for personal use while implementing a change yourself. Create the plan, and start putting it into motion. (Note: For more advanced planning, financial forecasting may be necessary, as would likely be the case for obtaining a loan. But, for more common change in your business, it wouldn’t necessarily be required.)

Step 7: Keep track. The implementation doesn’t end with the finalizing of the plan, and the plan can and should be adapted later as need be. Analyze how the changes are taking effect in your business. Make adjustments.

“Don’t be afraid of being wrong,” Sweigart says. “You’re going to be wrong at times, but you need to be able to correct your mistakes quickly.”

Step 8: Standardize the change. The final stage, when the change is falling into place and achieving its goals, is to create standards in your business that reflect the new methods or processes you put in place.

Parting Thoughts

It can be a mistake, Sweigart says, to think of an implementation plan as a formal document. There are times when it’s best to present it that way (trying to obtain a loan from a bank, for instance), but more often than not, this plan needs to be about gathering information to successfully create change.

“The only thing you can do is plan it out as much as possible,” Kendrick says. “Take into account all the factors at play, where you want to go and what you have to do get there. Those are the keys—you have to understand that if you’re going to make a change work in your shop.”

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