All the Small Things

Aug. 24, 2023
Not all shop improvements have to be huge undertakings.

In the pages of FenderBender you’ll often find discussions on major topics within collision repair, things that mean huge changes for the way shops operate. But it doesn’t always take a big change to make a big impact on a shop’s bottom line. Sometimes the simplest advice can be the most impactful.

“I don't know that this is good advice or bad advice, just don't be afraid to try new stuff,” says Cam Mashburn, owner of Mashburn’s Collision Center in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee.

And the basis for that advice might not even come from an expert, or not from an expert in collision repair, anyway.

“Kind of what I live by today is Eddie Van Halen,” Mashburn continues, “who said the rules of guitar are meant to be broken. It’s kind of the same thing.”

If there is one thing shop owners have learned over the past several years of pandemics, parts shortages, labor shortages, assorted acts of God, etc., it’s to be adaptable. Big changes aren’t always so easy to make with so much out of your control. So keeping track of the little details can pay off in a big way.

Opening the Door for Customers

Collision repair is a visual business. You can plainly see how sufficiently a car was restored to pre-accident condition. The same goes for running a collision repair business. Take a look around—what’s out of place?

“I love things to be clean and organized,” says Jason Mundy, owner of Mundy’s Collision Center in Lawrenceville, Georgia. “It's like going into a dirty kitchen and trying to cook something; it just doesn't work for me. So, I'm really big on having a really clean environment. That way, things are organized and it's more efficient and you kind of know where everything is, you're saving footsteps because that tool’s in the same place.”

Being clean and organized has positive effects beyond efficiency and safety, too. It helps employees maintain a sense of pride in their workplace to come to a shop Just like presenting a clean home to guests is part of being a good host, the same goes for the shop you present to customers.

Mundy says his shop lobby is so clean that it might remind customers more of a coffee shop than a body shop. The layout is simple and inviting, which is exactly what customers want when they’ve been in a stressful situation like an accident. And if they want to see the environment they’ve trusted their vehicle to, it’s right there.

“A lot of customers want to see our facility, so when we walk them back in our facility, it's something that we're proud of,” says Mundy. “A lot of comments come back to me saying, you know, ‘This is really clean, I did not expect it to look like this when we walked back there.’”

Keeping a shop clean is too simple of a task to let fall by the wayside. The old saying goes that you only get one chance to make a first impression. A customer’s first impression is going to be of a shop’s waiting area, or where they drive in to get an estimate, or even the outside of the building. And the way they think of your business is going to proceed from there.

“When a customer walks in, their first impression of the office, they're going to get the same first impression when you walk into our shop as you do when you walk into our office,” says Mundy’s General Manager Dustin Davis.

Sometimes the best marketing is simply showing your work. Mashburn says online presence is huge for shops, and it doesn’t need to be any kind of complicated marketing. Mashburn recalls his father Mike, who started the business in 1981, was resistant to putting photos of repairs online as he believed customers did not want to see their vehicles in such a mangled state. But to Cam, a demonstration of what collision repair is all about is just what customers needed to see most.

“Be transparent,” says Mashburn. “Don't be afraid to show, OK, this is the worst your car's going to look. And then here's another picture, when it's done, look how perfect.”

Among the simplest things a shop can do is let their good reputation spread the word for them. Customer reviews are a relatively painless thing for customers to complete and all you have to do is ask. It’s easy to offer incentives like entering customers into a drawing for a $100 gift card if they leave a review.

These little things can add up—Mashburn reports that in his area, most shops have less than 20 reviews on Google. Mashburn’s shop, through some of the initiatives described above, was closing in on 100, and nearly all of them were five stars. Given that, Mashburn has faith customers who do even some basic online research will know what to do.

“Where do you think they're going to choose? I mean, that's where I would choose,” says Mashburn. “So. I would focus heavily on the, on the online reviews and things like that, there's ways you can do that to make sure you're building that online reputation, because I think that's important.”

Laying the Path for Employees

It is hard to classify training and education as a “small” thing for shops. It can be a huge investment in both money and time lost from productivity. But in comparison to the return on investment—which is admittedly hard to quantify—it can certainly make the initial outlay look small.

Mundy says that training is something of a win-win. For the shop, it enhances quality and reduces liability. For the technician, it’s a boost to their careers and also helps them feel valued since the shop is willing to invest in them.

“Some of our young guys just want the education behind what they're doing,” says Mundy. “They want the training. And I would definitely say we've been able to pour into these guys. And once they know that you've got their back and you're pouring into them, it just increases their overall production and their love for being here.”

Not all training, of course, is created equal. While the bulk of a technician’s training is going to be hands on and geared toward their specific duties, more shops today are making it a priority to educate the whole person and help them advance their careers in other areas. Mundy’s, for example, has brought in Mike Jones from Discover Leadership to help round out their educational offerings.

“Spending the time and spending the money to take time out and invest in our people and the growth of our people personally, as well as setting a vision for the organization,” has increased efficiency and helped the team set shared goals, says Davis.

Shops of course struggle to find talent and retain the great employees that they have. And much of that is out of a shop’s control—there are only so many techs out there. That is why both shops put so much focus on culture and building a business where employees want to be. And again, it’s a simple formula.

“My dad did this years ago, he kind of instilled that in me you’ve got to treat your people right,” says Mashburn. “You’ve got to give them proper pay, you’ve got to make sure they're well compensated.”

Mundy’s maintains an open-door policy when it comes to employee communication, that way it’s easier for management to learn of potential issues in the shop. The team holds monthly meetings where employees can raise issues and ask questions. They also empower employees to make decisions themselves based on standard operating procedures rather than have to wait for guidance.

“I think that our culture is really what has set us apart created that efficiency and that productivity,” says Davis. “Because there's nobody in our shop that's a one-man band. If anybody needs a helping hand, there's always somebody that's going to go there, whether it's a painter helping a body technician, or a detailer helping a painter, or a body man helping detail a car.”

One thing that is simple to implement but not always easy to do is allowing for the workplace to not always feel like work. At Mundy’s on Fridays, employees can be seen playing soccer in the parking lot or grilling food out back. When those things are happening, employees are building trust, feeling more at home, and that can only make a better workplace going forward.

“We had a meeting probably six or so months ago, and one thing that really resonated with Dustin and I was having the right people not the best,” says Mundy. “And I know that maybe it's a little thing, maybe it's not, but just having everyone working together … building that camaraderie and they're building that culture.”