Reorganizing the Shop Floor

Dec. 17, 2009
Returning to the shop floor helps a Canadian collision center owner increase efficiencies in the family business.

Most U.S.-based collision repair professionals get their start somewhere on the shop floor, then work their way into big-picture leadership roles. North of the border, Marty Reddick, president of Supreme Collision Centre in Ontario, is no exception. Reddick joined the family business—Supreme was founded by his father, Bernie, in 1963—prepping paint jobs in 1980 before moving into estimating and management roles. He officially took charge in 1989. In the last five years, Reddick’s focus (like that of many of his American peers) has been on procuring insurance contracts and adopting lean processes. Reddick was instrumental in getting Supreme involved in the PPG Throughput Performance Solutions (TPS) program. But more recently, in order to further improve his company, Reddick took the unusual turn of going back to the shop floor. Here’s why he did it, what he’s learning and how it’s improving his business.

Shop Floor Wisdom

Supreme Collision Centre is a bustling business: Four locations totaling 24,000 square feet, 300 vehicles repaired per month, and more than $8 million in gross annual sales keep Reddick plenty busy. Three years ago, he added to his workload by beginning the process of implementing lean principles throughout Supreme. The business was one of the first collision repair shops in Ontario to actively implement the TPS process within its facilities.

But last August, Reddick made the decision to go back onto the floor of each of Supreme’s shops—starting with the original location in Thornhill—in order to keep his hand in all levels of the repair process. For Reddick, the reason boiled down to credibility:
“In the last three years, we’ve had different levels of success with the TPS program,” he says, “but I felt that I needed to … have my hands in what goes on at the day-to-day level in order to be successful. When I’m meeting with insurance companies and brokers, I know what I’m talking about because I’m seeing it firsthand, [unlike] someone they’ve just hired in sales and given a 15-minute overview. I live it every day. And it keeps me grounded; it keeps me in touch with the people on the floor and [helps] develop a level of respect. I’m working with them to find solutions.”

That all adds up to a competitive advantage when speaking with business partners about performance, he says. “I am working with all members of the staff to keep up to date on all our processes.” That means working with everyone from the front office manager to the parts department and repair-planning estimator to improve processes with the intention of substantially reducing supplements. Supplements, Reddick says, are the main cause of delays in the repair process and missed delivery dates in all of Supreme’s locations. “They affect our cycle time, [currently 7.9 for all four locations],” he says, noting that it’s a critical KPI in Canada just as it is in the U.S. “We’re performing at a good level but it’s still not where we want it to be.”

“The thing about TPS,” he adds, “is you have to be consistent in everything you do. That’s hard, especially with multiple locations. We needed some direction and leadership, and I firmly believe that has to come from senior management. I felt [our 41 employees] needed to see that we were still committed to the TPS process and that I was coming back in and working with them. It’s about continual improvement, eliminating waste and adhering to the processes we’ve put in place. After three years, I felt it was time for me to get involved again in the process.”

It’s this kind of approach, says Norm Angrove, senior manager of value-added programs for PPG North America, that makes Reddick both a leader and a student of the industry. “Marty was one of the pioneers in the implementation of Lean Six Sigma in the collision repair business in the Canadian marketplace. Getting involved on the floor again is just another example of [how he’s] insuring operational excellence within all areas of Supreme.”

Definitive Action

As part of Reddick’s ground-level involvement in the shops, he is working with Supreme’s managers and front office employees, the parts department, the repair-planning estimators and the technicians. Some of the changes he’s making include:

• Getting managers more involved. Reddick wants to get Supreme’s managers more involved with ongoing repairs and the shop-floor technicians. “It’s critical to walk the floor and know what stage of repairs each vehicle is at and how it is progressing,” he says. “Our managers update what stage of repair each vehicle is at daily in our management system so everyone knows [a vehicle’s status] at a glance. We want our managers on the floor seeing firsthand what is going on throughout the day.”

• Perfecting parts processes. Supreme’s parts department used to order parts without communicating consistently with repair plan estimators. Now, the parts department directs all techs to the repair plan estimator and only orders parts once they receive an updated estimate with a request to order supplemental parts from the repair planner. Reddick is also working with the parts department to make sure part numbers and all other information is being entered properly. Following up on parts credits is a priority, too. “Any outstanding credits need to be followed up daily, as it is essentially our money and it should be dealt with immediately,” he says. And parts need to come in quickly—within 24 hours. “When we go 48 hours, [we need to know,] what’s the delay?”

• Noticing the little things. Smaller parts, such as bumper and grille clips, were being missed when estimates were written. That meant vehicle deliveries were delayed. Reddick is helping repair plan estimators correctly identify all damage. Now, when vehicles are disassembled, all damaged parts are arranged on a table; everything else goes on a parts cart. “So damage is easy to identify,” Reddick says, “and we know that those are the parts we’re going to order.”

• Sticking with the plan. Thanks to the new policies about assessing damage and ordering parts, supplemental parts are becoming a rarity. When they are needed, Reddick says, “the repair plan estimator adds it to the estimate and then emails the parts department to order the part. The repair planner then sends an email to the shop manager to let him know in case the delivery date needs to be changed and the customer notified. This way the file will be easy to close at the end.”

Change Agent

Reddick spends most mornings on the floor and spends afternoons taking care of his “regular” duties. Since his return to the shop floor, he has changed some very specific procedures.

Product Paring. Within weeks of returning to the shop floor, Reddick noticed Supreme’s techs were all using different products and materials—like multiple seam sealers and bumper repair kits—which resulted in waste and inconsistencies in the way vehicles are repaired. “It leads them away from the processes we’re putting in place,” Reddick says, “and it gets outside of what we’re trying to accomplish as a business.”

So Reddick gathered his techs to discuss products that would be acceptable going forward. Now, “if it’s not on the list, we’re not using it,” he says. “We’re only introducing or using products that support our systems and processes, and we make sure our techs understand how to use each one properly.”

By eliminating excess products and providing proper product training, Reddick estimates that repair time will be reduced and there will be a level of consistency in the repair process.
Photo Shop. Another, more recent improvement came in October, when Reddick noticed that the wrong wheel had been ordered for a vehicle. To prevent such a mistake from happening again, the decision was made that all parts personnel would take pictures, using a digital camera, of all unusual or key parts to help parts vendors guarantee accuracy.

“We want our estimates to be completely accurate so when we send it to an insurance company, it’s right from the get-go,” he says. “So if I’m dealing with a local Toyota dealer’s parts department, we sent it to them to verify accuracy. And we decided it’s not good enough to just send the estimate—we send photos too. By being proactive in sending images for the vehicle and all necessary information we’re asking for verification on, there’s no reason why we should get parts that are wrong.”

Talking Shop

Reddick admits that initially, his staff felt some trepidation about his return to the shop floor. “We’re watching what’s going on, measuring,” he says. “But it’s not something that we’re doing to punish everyone. I’m there to help move the process forward.”

Seeing positive results has helped, Reddick says, noting that the changes being made are making their jobs easier by making the repair process more efficient, improving their productivity and reducing stress.

Communication has been a critical component. “When you include them in the decision-making process, you get the buy-in that is necessary to be successful,” he says. “[Without that] it’s just not going to work.”

In addition, Reddick makes sure his employees know the ultimate reason behind each change: “In the end, we’re trying to deliver an exceptional customer experience.”

Erika Rasmusson Janes is a frequent contributor to FenderBender.

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