Adjusting Employee Relationships

April 29, 2011
After a fire severed Budd Baer Collision Center from its dealership, staff had a hard time adjusting to a temporary space miles away. A strong focus on employee relationships and work quality, along with guidance from a 20 Group, helped create a culture of pride at the shop and boost performance higher than ever.

When Greg McVicker took over as manager of Budd Baer Collision Center in 2005, he acquired a crew still reeling from a destructive fire more than a year earlier.

The blaze, sparked by an electrical problem with the paint thinner recycler, completely destroyed the shop’s longtime building next to Budd Baer’s Buick GMC Subaru Mazda dealership in Washington, Pa. The temporary fix was to run the collision center out of a former machine shop a few miles away. But as insurance battles over fire damage dragged on, the awkward 6,500-square-foot space became a long-term fix.

Production lagged, revenue sank, DRP relationships evaporated. When McVicker joined the business, he says the shop was a mess. Boxes of equipment still sat unpacked, bumper racks and parts bins weren’t installed. The shop—and its staff—showed no signs of staying in business.

“When I started, I noticed everyone was kind of still in a post-traumatic state from the fire,” McVicker says. “The thought was, ‘Let’s not put down roots and not spend money on equipment because we’re going to move.’ Guys were taking it as the situation rather than trying to better it.”

McVicker, a business manager who had no prior experience in collision repair, realized the shop needed a major attitude adjustment if it was going to succeed. By investing in his staff, focusing on quality and getting involved in a 20 Group, he managed to create a culture of pride at the shop and grow revenue beyond pre-fire numbers. (See "Joining and Leveraging A 20 Group" for the benefits of joining a 20 Group.)

And, after years of hard work, the shop finally got its new facility. In July 2010, Budd Baer Collision Center moved into a new 15,000-square-foot shop. It has a staff of 21, repairs roughly 110 cars a month and generates about $2.5 million in annual revenue. That’s $500,000 better than the shop’s last full year before the fire and more than $1 million more than what the shop made during the first couple of years after the disaster.

Repairing a severed culture

The achievement is not lost on McVicker, who has worked for years to repair what he says was a shop physically and mentally severed from its dealership.

Lead painter Rob Lowden describes the shop’s demoralized state following the fire. “In the original shop we were growing and getting busier and busier, starting to outgrow the shop,” he says. “Then we had the fire and had to start all over again.”

The move to today’s new shop was always planned, but getting there took much longer than anyone anticipated. It was a frustration employees had to overcome. “It was something that had been talked about for so long and been an overshadowing goal for so long,” McVicker says.

Before the new facility became a reality, the rookie shop manager was tasked with getting the most out of the awkwardly configured machine shop, which was dark, had one entrance and was not designed for efficient production. “It was in no way what you’d design it to be,” he says.

How’d he overcome the obstacle? Largely by transforming his staff’s mentality. A focus on people power has been key to Budd Baer’s success, McVicker says. Everything else followed. Here’s how the transformation happened:

Turnover. It’s usually referred to as a problem, but not when employees are holding a shop back. After the fire, some employees left; others were let go. “We lost some employees that just couldn’t get it in their head that this temporary location was where they were going to be,” McVicker says.

Employee investment. The shop started hosting employee dinners and outings and offering incentives, such as golf trips, for hitting sales goals. McVicker also started opening those dusty boxes, installing equipment and making new purchases to make life easier for employees. “It was a gradual improvement,” McVicker says. “Once the employees started to feel like we were making an effort to improve their situation, the momentum started to build on its own.”

Quality. No, the facility wasn’t pretty, but a focus on providing customers with the best repair experience possible compensated for that, McVicker says. He urged employees to take pride in their work and in the successful history of the business, which has been around since 1947.

Training. Budd Baer’s staff is I-CAR and ASE certified. Ongoing education and keeping up with certifications is a top priority. Rather than gaining seniority through years, techs at Budd Baer move up the ladder through certifications.

Marketing. The shop put together a brochure advertising its services and started reaching out to insurance companies and reclaiming DRP relationships lost because of the fire. Immediately after the blaze, the shop only had one DRP. Now it has 10.

Reinventing processes. The convenience of the direct dealership connection was gone. Mechanical and administrative services that used to be a step away were now miles down the road. The shop had to start relying on its own staff for much of those needs, and they had to work smarter to maintain cycle time.

The 20 Group advantage

As the shop started to rebound, McVicker decided he could use some help managing the growth, so in 2008, he joined Sherwin-Williams’ 20 Group.

“We were kind of transitioning past the $1 million level and starting to grow,” he says. “There were challenges associated with that growth and we were adding staff then. We were trying to figure out where to best spend money with people.”

McVicker credits the 20 Group with helping him maximize the shop’s space and hone in on issues he could improve rather than what was out of his control. He analyzed his budget and payroll, looked at where the money was going and where the greatest needs were. He changed schedules and employee positions and squeezed as much efficiency as he could out of every employee. The shop adopted a lean strategy; efficiency became king in everything Budd Baer did.

The shop also started using the building’s inefficiencies to make a wish list for the new facility. The new center’s huge windows, open floor plan, inviting lobby, waterborne paint booth and modern features are all things the other building lacked.

“With Greg, he has really become a fantastic collision center manager,” says Brandon Devis, who manages Sherwin-Williams’ 20 Group program, called A-Plus Network, which has doubled in size since 2007.

Devis says McVicker’s ability to work with dealership ownership and his own staff to meet the shop’s needs has been impressive, especially for a new manager without previous body shop experience.

“He’s like a sponge for information and has really taken that back and grown that business year after year,” Devis says. “He’s leveraged the resources of the dealership as a whole more so than they ever had in the past.”

Budd Baer has added 10 employees since moving to the new building and McVicker expects continued success. The learning curve has been a steep one for him during the past several years. In the end, he says, people made the business what it is today.

“I think the key to the successes we’ve enjoyed has been creating a cohesive culture with the staff and making sure we were as loyal to them as we expected them to be to us.”

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