Monday, 20 November 2017 15:08

AkzoNobel Meeting Held in CA to Help Shops Become ‘Repairers of Choice’

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Body shops from across the country recently joined distributors and AkzoNobel employees to share information, learn about best practices in the collision repair industry and conduct a financial analysis of their businesses. 

It was all part of the AkzoNobel North American Performance Group (NAPG) meeting held in San Diego, CA, in September. The meeting is planned twice a year at different destinations across the country, and is an important component of the Acoat Selected program.

Begun in Europe in 1976, the Acoat Selected program was first held in North America in the early 1990s. Since then, national and regional performance group meetings have been planned for shops on a regular basis. 

“What sets our events apart from the industry is our focus on having collision repairers spend time working ‘on their business’ and not ‘in their business,’” said Rick Fifer, North American services manager. “The shops come to our events to work.” 

There were more than 200 in attendance, including 147 body shop owners and managers representing 187 collision centers, 32 distributors and guests. 

During the week-long event, participants spent time in one of the eight performance groups focused on peer-to-peer consulting. 

“We are careful to not put competing shops in the same groups,” said Fifer. “We not only encourage open dialogue, but our consultants are trained to facilitate it so that attendees usually learn more from one another than from us.” 

Whether they are coming for the first time or are regular attendees, Fifer said shops understand that it’s a give-and-take relationship. 

“They come to the meeting prepared to give to their group members and especially the first-time attendees, but know that as long as everyone is giving, they all get to take something away.” 

He said the ultimate goal is to help shops be “the repairer of choice” and “employer of choice” in their respective markets.

In addition to attending the performance group meetings, attendees also had the opportunity to take part in the early-bird training sessions that were offered as well as listen to selected speakers who discussed topics and/or services related to the collision repair industry. They included 3M, Enterprise, Fine, Boggs & Perkins LLP, the American Skilled Labor Association, Estify, Body Shop Nation and Phoenix Solutions Group.

Performance groups associated with the Acoat Selected program include:

BC RPG: The British Columbia Regional Performance (BC RPG) Group consists of Acoat shops from British Columbia, Canada. The group normally meets in Canada, but every two years they choose to participate at the NAPG. 

“The big attraction in San Diego (besides the location!) was the ability to attend the variety of Early Bird classes that are not normally available to them,” said Robert Dubreuil, senior services consultant, Canada. “Most of the members took part in several classes and really appreciated the information.”

Dealer: Approximately a dozen dealer shops gathered to discuss common issues they have in their businesses. 

“Although they are from all over the United States, they do have similar challenges within their own organizations,” said Greg Griffith, services consultant.  Griffith said, for the most part, the performance groups are run the same way, although some spend more time on certain topics, such as financials, processes and marketing. 

“Like the other groups, we help shops set an action plan of what they are going to work on at the end of every meeting and then we have them report back at the beginning of the next meeting,” said Griffith. “Almost everybody follows that up with a financial discussion.” He often encourages shops to get involved in the industry, especially if they want to see changes occur. 

“What we always do in the dealer group is have a couple of shops that are involved in their local auto body associations and discuss what’s going on in the industry to try to get people involved,” said Griffith. Overall, he said, the networking is very beneficial to all of the shops. 

“They are able to reach out to one another, and in between the meetings a lot of the guys have become friends and talk to each other all the time,” he said.

Distributor: James Lamb, business services manager, said the Distributor Group is unlike a traditional Performance Group, but is a great opportunity for distributors from across the country to stay up-to-date on issues and solutions affecting their customers. 

“It’s also a good way for us to communicate new developments from AkzoNobel and discuss, as a group, possible implications and opportunities,” he said. Lamb said that one of the group’s long-term collision center owners, Van Takemoto from Island Fender in Hawaii, spoke to attendees about the value he has realized from participating in Acoat over the years. 

“His sales and his profitability are significantly better than when he started with AkzoNobel over 15 years ago,” said Lamb. “Takemoto encouraged the distributors to push their customers to participate, as he strongly feels it brings the shops more value than they can get in any other way.”

Gold: The Gold performance group is composed of independent shop owners with locations in California, the Carolinas, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Nova Scotia. 

The shops range in size from $70,000--$600,000 average sales per month, and the majority have more than $300,000 per month in sales. Henri Rich, senior services consultant for the east region, said the members have agreed to a charter that focuses on financial improvements. 


“The members rely on open discussions based on the topics presented, as they feel they gain the most from each other at that time,” said Rich. “All members must provide input on nearly every topic we set to ensure all opinions, issues and suggestions are heard.” He has found that the members not only have formed great relationships with one another during the meetings, but also outside of the meetings, which creates a “family effect.” Kryptonite: The Kryptonite Group consists of a mixture of shop types, including independent collision repair facilities and MSOs. 

“The Kryptonite group was started with a very forward-thinking core group of really successful collision repair professionals,” said Ryan Ross, eastern market services manager. “Because of this core group, we are able to really shape our new members’ thinking on so many provable and well-documented business solutions to help them achieve unprecedented levels of profit and sustainability.”

Ross said the open dialogue format creates a more enhanced learning environment where the members not only learn from one another, but also feel accountable for one another to achieve their individual business goals.

Platinum: The Platinum Group is composed of a large number of multi-shop operators, as well as a few single-location operators. 

“They all are above-average, progressive businesses interested in the latest best practices,” said Jim Lovejoy, services consultant. 

He said the Platinum group has always been known to prefer discussions rather than being “talked to.” 

“When Jeff Baker and I create segments for each meeting, our goal is to create more of an outline,” said Lovejoy. “We don’t try and give them all of the answers. Rather, we acknowledge that they are the experts because they are immersed in the business every day.” 

During the meetings, Lovejoy said the group focuses on financial benchmarking and robust discussions about industry topics. Members are also asked to create three action plans at the end of each meeting, and review the results at the beginning of the next meeting. 

“Most 20 group members will tell you one of their most valuable benefits is the opportunity to talk with other business owners,” said Lovejoy. “They can discuss what best practices others use, rather than have to reinvent the wheel themselves.”

RWB Group: There are several new members of the Red, White and Blue Group, which is made up of experienced independent shop owners who share best practices to improve their businesses. Jeff Rhoads, services consultant, said the group is currently focusing on building an improved culture in their respective shops. 

“Our AkzoNobel sales training leader, Adrianna Marino, spent two days with our group and helped describe culture-building techniques, including creating a purpose for employees and some autonomy in doing their job,” said Rhoads. “She also spoke to the group about recruiting new employees and effectively developing them into top performers in the business.” 


During the performance group meeting, RWB members discussed the importance of having the “right amount” of work at the shop and a method of monitoring it to improve production flow and reduce potential problems. Rhoads said RWB members conduct an in-depth goal-setting process at the end of the meeting that helps them develop their individual financial and operational goals. 

“Everyone in the group contributes to the discussion and is actively engaged in helping other group members develop a solid plan for improvement,” he said. 

Titanium: Tim Ronak, senior services consultant, said the Titanium group is the first U.S.-based national Acoat Selected performance group formed by AkzoNobel in 1992, and has been continually meeting twice annually for more than 25 years. Ronak said that collectively, they represent more than $8.5 million in monthly sales volume and approximately $102 million in annual sales. The group comprises 18 independent organizations that currently manage 30 locations and include independent shops as well as several MSO operations. 

The Titanium Group primarily focuses on using standardized benchmarking to create a platform that allows shops to identify where they can improve operationally. 

“The open discussion leads to action plans and goals that individual shops are accountable for,” said Ronak. “The real value is the peer group format that has peers act to hold individuals accountable for specific actions and management goals they have set for themselves.” 

The next AkzoNobel North American Performance meeting will be held in San Antonio, TX, March 14--16. For more information, contact your local AkzoNobel representative or distributor.


NAPG Attendees Share Thoughts on the Benefits of Attending Performance Group Meetings


Paul Cook, general manager of "A" Auto Body in Midlothian, VA, has attended the Acoat meetings for the last three years. Paul Cook, general manager of "A" Auto Body in Midlothian, VA, has attended the Acoat meetings for the last three years. 

“The desire to improve and grow as a business and to know where we stand in our improvement and growth is what made us want to start coming. It's nice to know other shops face the same issues we do. It's also great to be able to set goals to achieve as a company and know that our peers will hold us accountable at the next meeting. It really makes you focus on the business and improve it---not just for us, but for our employees and the customers. It has helped us focus on our processes and improve them so we are able to be more organized and streamline the repairs to be able to decrease our cycle time without making our quality suffer. They are also a great place to share new ideas, and to hear that what works for some may work for us as well. If at any time we have a question, we know we can call another shop in our group and they are there to help us and answer questions.”


Tim Doyle, collision center director at Lindsay Collision in the Washington D.C. area, has been coming to the Acoat meetings for the past 12 years. 


“I originally started when I switched to their paint and was looking for more business solutions. I soon realized how helpful they were for my business, and I never looked back. They have helped me grow from one store to four, and my flagship store produces over 650 cars per month. I would never have been able to process or handle that volume without AkzoNobel’s help. They have helped me with everything from pay plans, shop layout, equipment recommendations, processes and taught me about PCE (process-centered environment) all along the way. It’s always good to get away from your shop and learn from other people. We share financial information with the group and review the good, the bad and even the ugly, but we are all there to help one another. If one shop is struggling in a certain area, the shop that is performing the best shares what they do and we all learn from it.”


Jay Flores, owner and president of Tony’s Body Shop in Oxnard, CA, has been involved in the Acoat program for more than 20 years. He is currently mentoring another shop owner and encouraged him to get involved in the performance groups. 


“I tell him, ‘You’ve been in the dark and trying to run your business and learn things on your own. Now, you’re not in the dark and you get to associate with other good businesses.’ I was a small mom-and-pop shop and wasn’t exposed to other businesses. I decided to attend the Acoat program and what it did was inspire me to learn more about my business. I remember meeting shop owners earning $1 million-plus a month in sales. Over the years, my shop has grown because of my affiliation with the program. I’ve found that the performance groups tend to include shops from across the United States that are also looking to better their businesses. Shops are looking for answers because they are in the dark---they are in their little box, never leaving their towns and wondering why things don’t change. Sometimes we get tired of working in our industry and all the things that come with it. After attending the meetings, I get rejuvenated. I hear other people talk about their problems and solutions and I come back ready to work again and be successful.”


Gabriel Francis, sales representative for LKQ, was a first-time attendee. 

“As a first-time attendee, I think it was very beneficial. I had a chance to see how the groups operate. I had a customer with me and it was her first time too, so she had a chance to share her experiences with me. Also, I had the opportunity to see new products. I thought it was a great experience.”

Eric McKenzie, director of body shop operations, attended his first Acoat meeting in 2007 after joining Park Place Dealerships, located in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. 

“I came on the advice of several AkzoNobel employees who worked with me and recommended the meetings. The knowledge and insight that I learn from meeting with my industry peers twice a year have been invaluable. It is great to be around people who do the same things I do every day in other parts of the country and to be able to exchange best practices and ideas for improving each of our businesses. I have learned too many marketing ideas to count as well, such as ideas for production and personnel management, to name a few.”

Wes Steffen, owner of Elmer’s Body Shop in Elkhart, IN, said that at least one member of the family business has participated in the Acoat program since 1999. 

“I’m the fourth-generation owner of our facility and we’re in our 10th decade. We’ve seen a lot of changes, and we’re going to see more. I’ve looked at the other programs offered by the manufacturers in our industry, and I believe AkzoNobel is the only program that is out there with a dedicated staff to help with business development. They are not a paint rep first and talk about business development second [company]. I think that’s what is unique about what they offer through Acoat. Over the years, I’ve found the interaction with other shop owners has been very beneficial to our family business. The meetings foster ideas you probably wouldn’t have been exposed to by just staying inside your own sphere of influence that you have locally. It can force you to broaden your horizons a little bit and give you exposure to those new ideas. AkzoNobel has brought things to the table several different times that have been game-changers. They are directly focused on having people there who can help you drive your business.”

John P Stegenga Jr., vice president and co-owner of Woodcock Auto Body in Washingtonville, NY, has been studying and implementing the repair planning process with the support of AkzoNobel staff for the past few years. 

“The process has revolutionized our business. The PCE method of thinking has been the biggest game-changer for us. It is more of a journey to adapt such processes to our shop and takes years. Our decision to join the Acoat program and also our selection of a paint provider was based first on how a paint company would help grow our business through training, and second the quality of the product. Although we are focused on the best financial margins with our paint selection, we are more focused on the constant support and coaching that we receive from the AkzoNobel team and our Acoat group meeting partners. Attending the meetings two times a year gives us the time to get away from the shop to work on our business while also allowing us to spend time with like-minded shop owners [and build] strong peer relationships in a non-competitive environment. This environment allows you to open up and share numbers (confidentially) with no fear of a local competitor trying to find your secret sauce."