Looking to Cut Back

Jan. 1, 2018

When you’re constantly focused on the daily operations of your shop, it can be hard to focus on the larger picture. Take a look at areas where you can cut back and assign your tasks to others.

SHOP STATS: Mike's Towing & Collision Center Inc.   Location: Danbury, Conn.  Operator: Mike Tarzia  Average Monthly Car Count: 140  Staff Size: 21  Shop Size: 14,800 square feet (spread across two buildings) Annual Revenue: $4 million   

Matt Tarzia wears a pedometer every day. He meticulously tracks his steps at Mike’s Towing & Collision Center Inc. (the Danbury, Conn., shop he manages), but he’s not doing it to reach the usual 10,000 steps—he’s actually trying to reduce the number of steps he takes throughout the day. This may seem counterintuitive to the reason most people wear a step-tracking device, but Tarzia wants to work on growing his family-owned-and-operated business, which is something he can’t do if he’s constantly walking back and forth between buildings and doing all of the day-to-day work by himself.

“I work out in the morning; that’s when I want to be active,” Tarzia says. “I’m trying to cut down at the shop.”

The shop—which is run by Tarzia’s father, Mike, and also counts his mother, Joan, as a member of the office staff—is always looking for ways to improve and constantly changes the way it approaches operations. Tarzia, who wasn’t allowed to officially work at his father’s shop until he went to college and decided it was what he really wanted to do professionally, says that by participating in training, attending 20 Groups and reaching out to others in the industry, he’s learned processes that have made him a better manager.

In fact, at the time of the interview in October 2017, the shop had overhauled its setup in order to get rid of stress and the frantic mentality it once had, thanks to a more individual focus on getting cars out. Now, duties are more clearly identified with people working in areas that reflect their strengths.

“We’re all about working smarter, not harder,” Tarzia says.

Since the time of the interview, the shop has made a number of new changes to eliminate waste, including moving Tarzia into the main shop [the shop is split between two buildings], which has decreased the need for him to move around the shop even more.  

I usually get in the office between 6:30–7:00, depending on my morning workout. When I get in, I look at what happened the prior day and then I scan the board for the day and see what’s going to be going through body. I’ll walk around the shop and check in with everyone.

We meet on Mondays with the whole staff and talk about the previous week. We hit on the highs and conversely, what could have been handled differently.

Everyone is trying to do a 100 percent blueprint. We’ve overhauled our approach to get better at this. Two weeks ago, we switched up our whole shop. We now have two guys on disassembly all day, two frame guys, two guys doing body work, two guys assembling and two guys on parts. Before, it was all about getting cars out the doors and we were scrambling. We wanted to get out of that stressful mentality. Now, everyone has their dedicated duties and less stuff is slipping through the cracks.

Nelson, the guy that I’m training to do estimates, now has a Goliath Cart, so he has everything he needs at the vehicle when he’s doing the estimate. He now finds things that he wouldn’t have before. Even if it’s something small, it adds up. It’s a whole new approach. Being at the car, you’re able to see things you may have missed if you had to walk back and forth.

We’re focused on bringing the team together and having specific duties. For a while, I would do everything. We’re trying to put more processes in place so I can be less involved in the day to day and can focus more on growth and keeping the customer top of mind.

Switching everything up, there have been some difficulties—but the pros outweigh the cons. We’re doing a better blueprint and calculating a better “day out” for the customer. With parts, we laid out an SOP for how the department should run. We mirror match and we know right away if the part is wrong. Our parts department has two people: one mirror matches and the other calls and verifies that parts are coming in. She does this right away in the morning, so we’re able to update the customer right away if there’s a hold-up.

I handle most of the backend estimates. My dad and I are in separate buildings most of the time. The main building has the detail and paint area and is where the customers come in. The other building has body, frame and disassembly. My dad is in the main building more; he’s more on the office side of things and interacting with customers. We balance each other out.

I make sure to check in where I’m needed, including the other building, to check in with paint. The buildings are only about 300 feet away. I know this because I’ve tracked the distance on my pedometer. It’s not unusual for me to hit over 20,000 steps. Before, I was walking six miles per day. That’s all wasted time that I could have been using to train someone. I’m looking to cut back. This new approach has helped with that.

We put the jobs on the board that need to be painted for that day in the paint department. We shoot for 8–10 hours per booth cycle. I then stop by the detail department and visit them and check in with the office. One of the CSRs is my mom. After that, the rest of the day is dedicated to estimates.

At the end of the day, we start planning for the next day and seal the plans for the morning. We do this by reviewing three production boards—blueprint, body and delivery.  

There’s no set time that I leave. When my kids were little, it wasn’t uncommon for me to stay until midnight—I’m trying to create more of a work-life balance. On Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, I try and leave by 5 to coach my son’s football team. In the spring, I coach baseball, so I adjust my schedule for that. As soon as I get home from practice, I’ll fire my computer up again and look over the estimates from the day to see if there’s anything I missed.

Everything I do is driven by family. Our shop is family owned and operated, so there’s a huge focus placed on that. Our office has family photos in it. I have a wife, Ashley, and three kids—Matthew, Anthony and Giuliana—so it’s important to me to work on having more of a work-life balance. I used to work crazy hours; now, we’re setting the shop up and putting the people in place that will allow us to balance everything and I can work on growing the business.

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