Boosting Efficiency Through the Estimating Process

June 1, 2017

One collision center manager turned the estimating process on its head to take his Colorado shop’s efficiency to the next level.

SHOP STATS: MOREHART MURPHY COLLISION CENTER  Location: DURANGO, COLO.   Size: 12,800 SQUARE FEET   Staff: 10  Average monthly car count: 101  Annual revenue: $3.5 MILLION

Three years ago, when Dwayne Baker first arrived at Morehart Murphy Collision Center as its new collision center manager, he could barely believe his eyes.

“I had guys standing around, not working on cars at all,” Baker recalls. 

“And that creates this huge quagmire of cars. … That’s what I inherited when I got here.” 

Yes, back in 2015, during Baker’s first few weeks working in Durango, Colo., inefficiency was apparent throughout much of Morehart Murphy’s shop floor.

Technician efficiency and productivity numbers dipped to around 80 percent. And Baker insists it wasn’t because the shop’s technicians lacked talent or experience. They simply lacked direction, due to an estimating process that didn’t plot out the repair process thoroughly. In short, the crew in Durango was using an outdated estimating process that had never been refined—simply because that’s the way the past administration had always done things. 

“When I first got here, the guys spent an inordinate amount of time moving cars around, inside of the repair process of a job, because of having incomplete repair plans,” says Baker, a 36-year industry veteran whose past roles included general manager, district manager, and collision consultant.

Eventually, Baker got technician efficiency and productivity numbers to climb—in addition to upping average monthly car count from 76 a few years ago to 101—by implementing a few lean manufacturing methods. But first, his crew required proof of the effectiveness of those philosophies.

The Problem

Upon Baker’s arrival at the dealership body shop, the shop’s repair process was painfully drawn out. 

Back in 2015, for instance, bumper replacements occasionally took as long as four days at Morehart Murphy, largely because employees kept moving cars in and out of the shop for every step of the repair process. The shop largely used a traditional estimating process; customers arrived at the facility unscheduled to get estimates, a staff member would jot down visual vehicle damage on a notepad, then go inside the shop and look over the crash estimating guide and calculate the cost of necessary parts. 

“Allowing potential customers to dictate when estimates occur … removes a shop’s ability to plan or control its processes; the shop is relegated to a take-it-as-it-comes operation,” Baker says.  

Upon Baker’s arrival at Morehart Murphy, the facility begged for modernized methodologies. 

“The biggest flaw was that [employees] would walk out to the car with a pencil and piece of paper, and write down everything, and just say, ‘I see that’s got a dent in the fender’—that kind of thing,” Baker notes. “It was always, ‘Bring the car in on Monday,’ and then you’d have a glut of work on Monday.”

A fervent believer in keeping tabs on KPIs, Baker refused to stand by idly as his shop struggled with performance metrics like 1.5-hour touch times. 

Fortunately, Baker didn’t need to observe his new employees for long to pinpoint Morehart Murphy’s main problem. 

“I’ve always had great technicians. But the front of the repair process wasn’t managed correctly,” Baker says. “So, they just did the best they could … but there was this giant nest of wrecked cars hanging around the body shop that weren’t getting worked on.” 

The Solution

The old-school estimating methods grated on Baker. All too often, he would see an employee bring a vehicle inside to start the repair process, only to discover a previously unnoticed issue like a broken bracket, which brought the process to a halt. 

“Our techs are encouraged to think about ways to repair vehicles that reduce time waste and effort waste,” notes Baker, a long-time student of lean processes. “Tech inspections are one area where we make real progress in elimination of time wasted by identifying damage not normally apparent in a traditional estimate format.” 

Nowadays, Morehart Murphy’s repair plan works like this: the staff schedules estimates, does inspections during the repair plan to document all vehicle damage, schedules when repairs will begin, schedules when repairs are to be completed, and communicates with customers during each phase of the repair process. 

Baker says his shop’s focus on efficiency now allows his technicians to largely concentrate on repairing one vehicle at a time. 

Here are some of the other solutions that helped Baker turn things around at Morehart Murphy: 

Communicating with the crew. “You sit down with a tech and say, ‘OK … we’re going to change some things,’” Baker suggests. “‘We’re going to start taking cars apart before we we start doing anything.’” 

Baker eventually instructed his staff to hold off on starting the repair process for each vehicle until all parts ordered had arrived. Then, technicians could better focus on one assignment at a time, aiding overall workflow.  

Plan thoroughly. Since late 2015, Morehart Murphy’s staff has utilized CCC ONE’s management system on tablet computers. That has helped the staff adhere to another of Baker’s tenets: schedule everything.

If Morehart Murphy’s crew precisely schedules and plans parts orders, for instance (and paints parts as early as possible during the overall repair process), it can make the final stage of repairs go so quickly that a customer only ends up in the shop’s waiting area for around two hours. 

Educate customers. For bumper jobs these days, Morehart Murphy’s crew orders the necessary parts, makes sure painters have sprayouts for all vehicles, and then lets customers know that they’ll be contacted once the bumper is being addressed in the final repair stage.

Baker says customers appreciate the open dialogue. 

“People are used to rolling into a body shop and getting an estimate,” Baker notes. “So, the first thing you have to do is, when they come in and say, ‘Hey, I need an estimate,’ we say, ‘We don’t write estimates. We write repair plans. … You have to come back on Thursday at 3 o’clock, because I can’t see you until then.’ 

“That’s an educational process for the customer,” he adds. “You explain to them, ‘This is why we do it—so we get a complete idea of what it’s going to take to fix your car, so your car is here a minimum amount of time.’ They like that.” 

The Aftermath 

Baker’s approach added up to a multitude of impressive KPIs. 

Technician efficiency and technician productivity, which hovered around 80 percent when Baker arrived at Morehart Murphy, are both nearing 200 percent these days. In fact, no shop had better technician performance metrics among the more than 200 respondents to FenderBender’s 2016 Education & Training Survey.

Touch time is 4.5 hours per day per vehicle, and cycle time has improved by more than two full days to its current figure of 4.9. The shop’s overall CSI score, which was 77 percent at its worst in recent years, is now over 99 percent. 

Additionally, annual revenue has increased from nearly $2.8 million in 2015 to $3.5 million. 

“We’ve seen a marked improvement,” Baker notes, providing an overall assessment of his shop’s performance figures. “We’ve increased our business 5–6 percent every year since I’ve been here.” 

The Takeaway 

His stint in Durango has provided Baker with multiple lessons, like the value of communicating with your technicians and expressing precisely how you expect each element of repairs to work.

“You’ve got to make them part of a big team, and that involves communication,” Baker explains. “And then sharing with the technicians what your goals are for the business, and then making them part of those goals, that makes them feel valued.”

But, above all else, the collision center manager says he has learned the value of thoroughly developing a plan of attack for each work day. 

“What planning does,” he explains, “is it makes you proactive, versus reactive. If you’re reactive to things, that’s all you do all day, is put out fires. Plan everything. That’s the key.” 

Expert Advice: Hiring Top-Notch Techs

Sabrina Dela Rama, the manager at the Tony Group Collision Center in Waipahu, Hawaii, oversees a shop that posted top technician efficiency and production percentages in the 2016 FenderBender Education & Training Survey. She provides insight on how hiring energetic technicians and putting them in the right roles makes a shop’s workflow go smoothly. 

The most important thing is attitude—period. 

If they come in and say, “Oh, I can do this, I can do that,” that turns me off a little bit. Because anybody can say things. But it’s their attitude that really makes the difference. If they have a bad attitude, you have a bad technician. 

If you ask, “Why did you leave your last job?,” and they say, “I couldn’t get along with the manager,” then their whole focus is how they’ve been treated. And that’s going to be their focus if you hire them—“How they’re treating me.” 

If they come in smiling, you know they have a positive attitude, and that’s what you’re looking for. If they have a great attitude, they’re open to training, they’re open to taking things in.

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