Maximizing Collision Shop Performance in Busy Times

You have a ton of cars in your shop, but don’t panic. Take a deep breath and proceed one step at a time. The goal is to get work—whether through walk-ins, call-ins, insurance referrals, or from those special customers who are prone to get into accidents more frequently than the national norm (7-9 years). It’s exciting when you get an avalanche of new work, but then figuring out how to do it successfully isn’t always easy.

Like the enigmatic sports announcer Lee Corso, often said. “Not so fast, my friend.”

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“Failing to plan is planning to fail” is another sage piece of advice that’s definitely applicable here. Have a clear, concise blueprint, with a strategy that focuses on processes, procedures, and objectives before the first wrench is turned.

The planets have lined up, and all systems are go. You have the space, all technicians are available with none scheduled off, and there are twenty untouched vehicles on the premises, with three scheduled each day over the next few months.

Many shop owners or managers will simply lower their heads and proceed, but the big question here is—how do we maximize performance when we are busy without abandoning our mission, vision, and values?

The Challenges

These are the five main areas we need to be to be aware of when we’re experiencing maximum capacity. Quality control is paramount, of course, with the DA and repair planning right behind them, and then shortly followed by the SOPs, inventory pressures, and most assuredly tech/employee health.

  1. Quality Control (QC). This one will cripple productivity dramatically and stack up the throughput in very short order. When you have positioned yourself in an untested and ill-prepared high level of productivity, you will discover quickly that you have almost no latitude for quality or comeback issues.
  2. DA and repair planning accuracy. The lifeblood for production, cycle times, cost management, and customer/business partner satisfaction are all included in this category. First, you need to know your limitations, including technician support, and the available space you will need for moving, fixing, and storing the vehicles. At any given time, the volume of vehicles on hold for authorizations from either insurers or customers, (and now newly found parts replacements and/or supplement issues) will clog your production’s arteries. The collective blood pressure of your crew will habitually rise quickly in those scenarios, so being aware of it is always key.
  3. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). As we push productivity, employees unfamiliar with specifics of certain SOPs will find the path of least resistance, omitting a step or process to move production along. Once this corrosive path begins to attack the core of the SOP, the quality of the repair disintegrates, and significant or critical components to the process will stop along with the intent of the SOP.
  4. Inventory pressures. With supply chain issues at an all-time high, access to supplies, materials, and other resources will exhaust many areas of your inventory without an immediate backfill in sight.
  5. Tech/employee health. This relates to not just physical health but emotional in trust and accountability as well. In the end, it will ultimately affect your culture and can create breeches and breakdowns in QC, DA, the SOPs, and the availability of parts.

Tips for Maximizing Performance

Know your business. Know your business from an end-to-end holistic deep dive perspective. Have the five fundamentals listed above in place, tried, stressed, and tested. Leverage solid KPIs that have been met repeatedly and are highly sustainable. Conduct production measurements and analysis on individual or team efficiencies and known maximum output. Look at deliverables in labor instead of in dollars. Know what your team can deliver with the highest levels of quality, adherence to accuracy, and SOPs while maintaining a healthy level of trust and structure within your culture.

Solicit Employee Feedback. Organize team meetings to discuss a concept. Have the frontline personnel critique and build the plan with management guidance and a focus on KPIs. Consider goal and result achievement recognition. Solicit feedback from all employees. With a rough draft, revisit with the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) analysis. Prepare employees for crossover support. Identify skill levels and opportunities to utilize personnel in different ways.

Prepare for the worst. Have contingency plans in all areas. Expect the best but anticipate the worst.

Production pulse pressing. Strategic production needs to increase with de-stressing periods. Press/stress and relieve. Set in a maximum high press time period and release, consisting of two weeks of high volume with a week down. Test and learn. Monitor, measure, and review constantly.

Establish open lines of communication. Your parts manager, office admin, and production manager are going to need to be in communication multiple times daily to provide inventory status. This should also include the primary Ref Tech on liquids status.

Production meetings will need to take place each morning with clear progress objectives for each vehicle after a midday check-in and by the end of the day. Not just ECDs. Incremental daily progress targets.

Install a labor count monitoring system. Know what is on the premises, both in-process and on-hold status in labor. Have a 10-day schedule chart that shows the total known labor for each day scheduled.

You should already know what your weekly labor throughput is. If not, conduct some research and find out. What does your operation produce a week on average? Not tech paid but billed/delivered.

Examine your ARO. Find out what your ARO in billed labor is and add up the vehicles without an estimate to gain some level of projected labor across all areas.

Identify high probable total losses and get them off the labor chart. We need to know what we have and what we are going to receive in labor for us to manage performance during busy times. We leave dollars out of this equation and manage strictly by labor during this stage.

I hope nothing but the best for you here. Caution and planning are always key to almost everything we do.

Non-ATI Members: For more tips on how to manage capacity and maximize performance in your collision shop, check out our shop owner events at www.atievent.com.