3M says its digitally integrated cabinet realigns the auto body shop business

Dec. 12, 2022
3M RepairStack Performance Solutions helps owners save on inventory and manage insurance matters

One hundred and one years after it shook up the auto body repair industry with Wetordry Waterproof Sandpaper, 3M continues to reshape the body shop sector with yet another new and innovative product.

It’s called 3M RepairStack Performance Solutions - and like that century-old body shop forerunner, the new release is all about reducing friction, operational friction.

“Inventory, invoicing, and analytics—that’s what RepairStack offers,” says 3M commercialization leader, Andy Boyd, summarizing the capabilities of the hybrid toolset he steered through an 18-month-long beta release.

At its core, 3M RepairStack Performance Solutions is a problem-solving performance solutions system comprised of physical goods, including a large, secure storage cabinet, Apple iPod scanner, universal inventory management, material invoicing, and performance reporting all integrated with CCC Workflow / Secure Share. Additionally, the system has a dedicated customer support team.

Together, these systems within Repairstack are primed to help optimize the way repair shops run their business and to help eliminate the inventory churn and waste of materials.

“That operational efficiency is what we’re striving to simplify with 3M RepairStack Performance Solutions,” says Dave Gunderson, president of the 3M Automotive Aftermarket Division, noting that the “customized, connected solution provides the fast clarity and transparency needed to drive optimal value from materials and labor.”

Material issues

The average body shop needs dozens of different types of tapes, abrasives, adhesives, seam sealers, cavity waxes, and paints to take a job from start to finish. Car manufacturers often specify the materials needed to bring a vehicle back to its pre-crash condition according to OEM repair procedures. Ensuring a steady flow of required materials is critical to help shop performance and profitability.

But while everyone can see the detail work a body shop performs on a car, the logistics involved in running a busy shop can be daunting.

“We want to help make inventory challenges easier and help owners optimize their shops,” says Boyd. “Our goal is to revolutionize the way the modern automotive repair shop manages its business.”

As they studied body shop business practices, Boyd’s crew was inspired by another place people go for help: Hospitals.

“When you walk into a hospital as a patient, everything is software-based, and everything is recorded,” Boyd said. “On your wrist, you get a personalized QR code. It gets scanned and matches everything to your electronic record. That code is used to direct bills to insurance or get approvals. The logistics in a repair shop can be handled in a similar way.”

With that in mind, the 3M team got in the repair bay with the pros to explore ways to transform how the modern automotive repair shop does business.

“We have a design research team of five people who go and embed themselves with shops,” Boyd says. “They talk to technicians. They ask, ‘If we’re going to do this, what does it need to be like?’ They take human requirements, turn them into the development requirements for the software teams to be able to build.”

The 3M team concluded body shops could potentially improve their finances by helping to optimize inventory management.

For a leader in manufacturing allied materials, devising a system to help customers optimize inventory and get the supplies they need when they need them is a clear win-win scenario. But 3M realized 3M RepairStack Performance Solutions could add even more value beyond tracking in-stock materials and providing the means to reorder supplies according to just-in-time-inventory principles. It could track the amount of material used per job to help eliminate waste. More importantly, it can gather data, uniting information about product usage, time, and technician performance to analyze operational efficiencies.

Boyd and his team envisioned a hybrid system to drive optimization. To control and monitor inventory, they designed a six-foot high, lockable stationary cabinet (24” deep x 48” wide) complete with louvered panels and multi-sized stacking bins that can hold up to 100 different SKUs.

To ensure tracking of all materials removed from the cabinet, they assembled an Apple iPod Touch scanner, provided Bluetooth connectivity, and assigned QR codes to shop technicians. Every time a technician took a sheet of sandpaper or tube of adhesive from the cabinet, they scanned the item and their ID. That data uploaded and synced with 3M RepairStack’s 3M Performance Analysis Tool and 3M Billables Invoicing software.

“The platform helps solves a lot of issues for our end users and our distributors to help make them more efficient,” says Boyd. “That’s why launching RepairStack and seeing the product in action is so much fun and rewarding. Especially when the data confirms our impact.”

Inventory management equals profitability

For Adan Ibarra, the owner of Leading Edge Collision in Houston, Texas, 3M RepairStack Performance Solutions impact has far surpassed his expectations.

Ibarra joined the 3M RepairStack Performance Solutions beta program in early 2021. “I was having problems with material waste and profitability,” he recalled. “Our ordering process was not good. A technician would tell me, ‘We need a box of 80-grit sandpaper.’ So, I’d order it, not realizing the box of 80-grit we had ordered just two days earlier was in another technician’s bay.”

Over-ordering was costly and frustrating. So was under-ordering, which led to work delays.

“I signed up with RepairStack primarily for the inventory management features,” Ibarra says. “Right away, there was a huge improvement. I went from breaking even or losing money each month to turning a profit. In fact, we have become much more profitable than what the industry standard is.”

Brian Martin, director of auto collision at Florida’s Lexus of Pembroke Pines and Lexus of North Miami, says the return on investment has also been immediate for his shops.

“RepairStack has truly paid for itself,” says Martin, explaining the shop now tracks the materials each technician uses. “We can divide that by how many hours they turn in each week. And that gives us a cost per technician for dry goods. And once the technicians knew we were tracking them, our dry goods costs went down by half.”

Ibarra and Martin are not alone when it comes to 3M RepairStack Performance Solutions transformations that help aide the bottom line. Body shop industry advocate Mike Anderson, owner of the Collision Advice Group, reports the new platform has netted comparable results for other body shops.

“We have seen shops that use 3M RepairStack go from losing money on materials to becoming a profit center, allowing them the opportunity to reinvest in their business,” Anderson says.

Customer-focused innovation

While 3M RepairStack Performance Solutions are new to the body shop sector, Boyd sees the platform as an innovative, best-practice customer-centric systems integration.

3M RepairStack Performance Solutions aims to offer a premium user-experience for the customer. Every subscriber receives an on-site, guided introduction to their new tools and access to online and offline training. The support includes analyzing the type and amount of materials subscribers use weekly and establishing minimum and maximum inventory thresholds.

Ibarra credits the 3M team for working with his paint distributor to compile a list of all the products his shop used the prior year. “Once 3M created the inventory list, they shipped and installed the cabinet. They set everything up, installing Apple iPhone apps to show us how to manage everything and how to scan the materials and QR codes. It’s super simple.”

3M RepairStack Performance Solutions technicians synchronize the system to connect whatever ordering system a shop uses. In the case of Leading Edge Collision, RepairStack connects with the automotive parts e-commerce platform CCC One Workflow Management System and routes orders to Tasco Auto Color, the automotive parts distributor that stocks a full line of 3M collision repair products and solutions.

Improved inventory stability has changed more than just Ibarra’s bottom line. It has helped change his business and his daily life.

“Now that I don’t have to call the paint distributor twice a day, I can concentrate on more important things,” he said, listing customer service, marketing, or managing technicians.

For Martin, one of the most significant benefits of 3M RepairStack Performance Solutions has been using the system’s billables invoicing feature, which is part of the invoicing program. It allows estimators to print invoices for products slated for use. “This is a huge win for us,” he says. “It helps us to get paid by the insurance company. We can show insurance what products we are using, how much, and what we are billing them for. And it shows up on the estimate as a separate line item.”

This last point is critical for body shops, explains Martin. “We need to be able to bill the insurance companies on a separate line for the material and the labor, and RepairStack helps us meet that requirement.”

Pricing options

The 3M RepairStack Performance Solutions team offers customers two ways to access their digitally integrated cabinet.

Body shops that enter a three-year agreement to purchase 3M allied materials receive hardware at no charge and pay a monthly fee of $200 for software subscription.

Boyd stated, “the 3M supply contract allows for a 10 percent exemption window to provide ordering flexibility in the event of backordered items.”

Repair shops that do not want to commit to the 3M supply agreement can purchase the hardware for $11,000 and pay the same $200 monthly software subscription fee.

Installation, setup, and training are included with both models. “We target every installation within 90 days of signing an agreement, including technician, estimator, and manager training,” says Boyd.

“One of our goals during training is to demonstrate how to help recover the $200 per month subscription fee using our Billables Invoicing tool. Part of our pre-installation service is to determine which products need to go into the cabinet and help reduce a shop’s monthly spend.”

More solutions on the way

While Boyd and 3M are clearly excited about the official debut of 3M RepairStack Performance Solutions, the company plans to make the platform more robust and customer centric.

“The rocket ship has launched, but there is much more integration work to be done,” says Boyd. The roadmap for RepairStack includes providing shops with connectivity to all players in the collision repair shop world - from the end-user shop to their distributor, paint scales and portals, and other OEM tools that may enable the end-to-end certification of a repair.

“We have two people that just joined our team from the insurance and collision repair shop industries, which gives a blend of people that can educate,” says Boyd. “Our investments in expert insight will differentiate RepairStack from any other inventory, invoicing and analytics system. Our mantra is interoperability, which we believe is imperative within any shop. This includes our distributor partners, whom we aspire to help make more efficient by reducing hot shots to shops and having real-time visibility to inventory levels via the software interface.”

Adan Ibarra is very impressed by the current platform – after ten months of using it. “I haven’t even scratched the surface of RepairStack’s capabilities,” he said. “Once the inventory management was under control, I started to use it for billing. The actual measurement of the business and the technicians’ performance is what we’re just starting to learn. I’m telling you: I think RepairStack has revolutionized the business.”

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