David Luehr is the owner of Elite Body Shop Solutions, LLC a collision business consulting firm based in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a 30-year veteran of the collision repair industry and has served on several industry association boards across the USA as well as leadership positions with companies such as Manheim and ABRA. David is an expert in Body Shop Operations and specializes in Lean and Theory of Constraints methods. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dave Luehr teaching a lean blueprinting workshop
When mentioning the word lean, most people in the collision repair business conjure up images of large corporate lay-offs attempting do more work with less people. Others think of lean as an attempt to do car repairs faster, also conjuring up false images of people working harder with less resources. To America’s greatest body shops, lean means something entirely different.
I grew up in a family of artists. Not always the kind of people that come to mind when thinking of the dog-eat-dog business world. As a young man, my own artistic expression found its way into the automotive repair business as an automotive painter.
In a business such as collision repair that is notoriously difficult to manage, a successful leader must have a firm grasp on their time management. With so many distractions every day, a laser focus on completing important tasks that will move the company in the right direction is critical.
Even with loads of lean information being thrust at us for over two decades, our collision repair industry’s average cycle time is still hovering at just over ten days. This is just the average; some shops are running at close to 15 days or more while a small handful of innovative thinkers are able to produce repairs in only four days on average.
For just a moment I would like you to imagine a world where finding problems is considered a good thing. I know this may sound strange, but it is exactly the behavior that is encouraged by companies that have adopted lean thinking.
There are two traits that I most commonly witness amongst the most successful collision business leaders I work with. First they tend to work with a coach or mentor and secondly they engage in what is called deliberate practice.
I find it interesting that after years of being labeled as the “Lean Process Guy” you less frequently see articles by me on the subject of “Lean” as of late. It is not that I don’t still enjoy Lean and Theory of Constraints, in fact I can still “geek out” and talk about it for hours. The fact is, is that I created my business to help collision repairers not only survive in these challenging times, but to thrive, and right now what shops need even more than process methodologies is to learn to get out of their own way!
Even though most collision repair shops understand the importance of creating a positive customer experience, many continue to unknowingly place themselves and their customers in the uncomfortable situations that poor communication commonly creates. I don’t know how many times I have witnessed this scenario; a customer shows up on Friday afternoon to pick up their repaired vehicle and upon being presented with the bill, exclaims, “I didn’t know I had a $500 deductible!” Invariably, these awkward situations always seem to occur with an office full of other customers!
One of the most fascinating career experiences for me was also one of the most difficult. It was called a 360 Degree Evaluation. I thought maybe it was called a 360 Degree Evaluation because when the results were read aloud to me about my management performance, that’s how hot it felt in the room! In those days I was in auto body operations management for a large company that rightfully believed that a healthy culture involved giving all employees a voice. The price for this culture was of course that the employees had the opportunity to evaluate their managers, yikes! The benefit was powerful and has profoundly affected my leadership style to this day.
For those of you that are using your management system to measure your cycle time, congratulations! Too often, collision repair shops don’t measure their shop’s cycle time performance, instead allowing our insurance partners to measure it for us with questionable reliability. Much of the cycle time information that insurers use to measure & judge you by, is derived from rental car length of rental “LOR.” While this outside information can be useful, you are much better off using detailed cycle time measurements that will contribute to your shop’s continuous improvement.