I think we can all agree that shop flow directly affects a shop's production. An optimized shop layout of the shop results in smoother workflow and quicker production times. We would all love a brand-new shop designed and laid out for the specific purpose of collision repair, but that’s not a reality for most established shops. What do you do if space is a challenge for your shop? I know this has been a huge issue for my shop. As we grow, it is one of the main factors I feel that is holding my shop back.
My shop size, dimensions, and layout are not ideal for a body shop. I’ve struggled with shop flow and production for years. My building is long and narrow with six pillars that run through it. If vehicles are too long, we cannot drive them in and put them in a regular bay, because then we block the drive-through of the shop. We are forced to park them horizontally across two bays if the vehicles are too long. That gives you a bit of insight into the space challenge we are dealing with. Not to mention we only have a 5,000 sq ft building, which includes our paint booth. To grow the shop, I have really had to think about our shop flow and how it affects our production.
One of the first things I started with was getting rid of things I didn’t need. I have gotten rid of anything that we are not directly using for vehicle repairs. If it’s one of my own project vehicles that we are not currently working on, then the vehicle is not at the shop. Scrap metal gets taken to recycling every week. Our trash gets picked up twice a week instead of once a week. We do that because we are constantly throwing things out. The new parts get in, we mirror match them and then throw the old parts out. Yes, we throw the old parts out before we finish the vehicle. Yes, there is a possibility that we throw something out that we needed, but if that happens, the issue isn’t that we threw parts out before we finished the vehicle; the issue is in a breakdown of our process. If we throw something out that still had a bracket or a part on it, then the issue is at teardown/blueprinting. If the part we received is incorrect and we already threw the old part out, then the issue was during the mirror-matching process. If you have a ton of old scrap parts and all the other junk that piles up in a shop, it’s going to directly affect your shop flow—and in return, affect your shop production.
One of the other items we had to do to help with shop flow was to get our parts in order, and we did that with parts carts. Now keep in mind, we didn’t have space for 25-30 parts carts. We were fitting them wherever we could. What we finally did was sacrifice some space outside. We had an area outside at the back of our shop that is gated that could hold five vehicles, and the area was covered. We gave up three of those spaces, enclosed the area, and put in a garage door so we could store out parts carts there. Is it ideal? No, but it has made a huge difference. All the parts carts are now in one area, and my techs find the one they need to pull faster. I need my techs working on vehicles, not searching for parts carts and parts.
I also bit the bullet and hired a parts person/overall helper to help do all the little tasks that need to be done, such as picking up tires, taking vehicles to alignment, washing vehicles, and anything else we need help with. If I had a shop that wasn’t so space-challenged and was laid out better, I wouldn’t need my parts tech. But having the tech has made a huge difference. The main thing I have the tech focus on besides mirror-matching parts is vehicle movements. I let him know what vehicles we are working on each day, what vehicles need to be made accessible, and what vehicles are leaving. That way, when a tech is done with a vehicle, the next vehicle is already accessible and ready to be pulled into the shop. I don't waste a tech's time moving vehicles around in our gated lot, and the tech is able to keep working on a vehicle. We all know that we need hands on vehicles, not just warm bodies in a shop.
Continuing to work on these things has helped me grow my shop to where we are today, but I’ve recently had to make a decision about our shop layout. We have pretty much maxed out what we can produce in our space with the constraints that we have. There just isn’t anything else we can tweak besides the pillar situation. I have come to terms with the six pillars and know if I want to produce $3-4 million in this space, I am going to have to move the pillars. I don’t have the funds to tear down my building and build a brand-new shop. I don’t want to move, because I own the building and land. So, I am spending $40,000 to remove the pillars in the middle of our shop and run steel beams to reinforce everything. At first, I didn’t think spending the money was going to make a huge difference in our flow and production. But after much contemplation, I decided to move forward with it.
I don’t know what my return on my investment will be— it’s a gamble. I have projections of what I think it will do for me, but there is no way to really know unless I just do it. And that’s what I’ve done. I’m gambling on myself that I can move these pillars and will be able to tweak the shop flow enough to be able to produce more.
Ultimately, when thinking about my shop flow and all of its challenges, I could have just let it be. But that’s not how I run things. I know my techs and my shop have the ability to produce $3-4 million out of this space. I just have to continue to learn, tweak, and sometimes spend some money to give them the ability to see the numbers I know they are capable of.