A Well-Supported Shop

Dec. 17, 2009
Ample administrative help encourages business development.

With the continual need for trained collision repair technicians, many organizations have come forward to fill that need. I-CAR, ASA, government vocational training centers, trade schools and even after-school on-the-job training programs have contributed to developing automotive and collision repair technicians. But with this needed focus on technical personnel, one other element of expertise has received insufficient attention: administrative support.


A visit to some of the best consolidator and multiple location shops reveals an abundance of administrative personnel. In fact, this may be one of their greatest competitive advantages. I walk into a typical small-to-medium-sized shop and one of the estimators is running around trying to collect invoices and additional info to do some supplements. Even in some fairly well-run shops, there is often a problem of lost paperwork and specific details needed to close out a job and collect insurance money. The shop with ample administrative support rarely has this problem.

Another value of having these extra admin people is customer information collection. In the typical shop, I see customers putting only the bare minimum of information on the customer information form. Many times even the address is missing and rarely do they answer the referral source question. In large shops with plenty of administrative personnel, a good front desk person collects referral info, insurance agent or broker information, family birthdays, anniversaries, additional vehicles and possibly even employer or employee vehicle info.


Even though we live in the computer age, the old rule, “garbage in, garbage out,” still applies. Come tax time, if all of the client and job information that has been collected hasn’t been entered into the computer, much time will be wasted scrambling for those missing bits to complete those esoteric tax forms. Why don’t more shops have the admin people they need to collect and maintain all of this information? Simply because every employee represents huge costs today, well beyond just the salary. Smaller shop owners figure it’s best to get by with as few employees as possible to just get the work out and do what’s needed to survive.

“With an adequate number of desk people to handle calls... inquiries
and questions are addressed smoothly and completely.”

A well-managed large shop has more phone calls coming in from customer inquiries, prospect inquiries, parts questions, insurance questions and more. With an adequate number of desk people to handle calls, these inquiries and questions are addressed more smoothly and more completely than at most smaller shops where everyone is wearing several different job hats. Handling phone calls may be one of the best ways to learn the administrative flow of a typical collision repair center. A trainee answering the phone will have numerous questions and may initially take up, rather than free up, a shop owner’s time. But once those questions have been answered a few times, the trainee becomes an asset.


While a shop may be willing to take on a tech apprentice or an after-school kid to wash cars and learn the business from the ground up, few consider the possibility of getting low-cost or even free administrative help. In my area, the Chamber of Commerce funds a “Youth-at-Work” program. While young people who are studying computers, business administration or financial record keeping may not think of a collision repair center as a place to practice administrative skills, the fact is the processes of information collection, data entry, billing, collection and tax reporting are similar in just about every business.

With the job market the way it is today, many college graduates are failing to find work. High school graduates have even fewer job options. High school kids with a strong interest in cars may easily be attracted to part-time entry level car-washing and repair prep at a collision repair shop. But the others, with an interest in computers, bookkeeping or other administrative skills, may be just as willing to have a chance to apply what they’ve learned in a collision shop office. And smaller shops with a few more people able to focus exclusively on data collection, phone calls, customer and supplier communications and paper work handling may soon find that their larger competitors have a little bit less of an advantage.

Tom Franklin, author of Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth, has been a sales and marketing consultant for more than 40 years.

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