Monday, 08 December 2014 16:00

A Lean Process Helps Shops Become More Efficient and Profitable

Any collision repair shop across the country can become more efficient and increase its profits by incorporating “Lean Processes” into their business, according to Steven Feltovich, Manager of Business Consulting Services for Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes.

Feltovich shared his knowledge about the benefits of lean processes during a recent SCRS seminar at SEMA: Leaning on Process for Profit Improvement. As a consultant for the past 15 years to top industry executives at collision centers across the U.S., Canada, Central America and the UK, Feltovich often observed a difference of perspective between what a shop owner “thinks their business is” versus “what it actually is.”

He encourages shop owners to ask themselves how to improve their business and then create a strategy to move forward. “The ideal state is what we should be pursuing for the business,” he said.

Most shops have repaired cars the same way for years and when confronted with a problem, Feltovich said owners typically address it by adding people, space, equipment, inventory or data analysis. Instead, he said they should be addressing their process. “Process is just eliminating the traditional models because the leaner the shops get, the better it is for customer value.”

He noted that Greg Horn, VP of Industry Relations for Mitchell International, recently discussed the growing trend toward lean process improvements. Horn observed, “There is continual market place pressure on collision repair centers for increased efficiency and enhanced customer service. As a result, many top shops have begun implementing what is referred to as ‘lean processes or lean management.’”  

Feltovich couldn’t agree more and cited the UK as an example. The average cycle time in the UK is three days versus 10.4 days in the U.S. In addition, 10 cars are painted per day per single booth in the UK and they have a six-hour average touch time per car each day.

In comparison, three to four cars are painted per day per single booth in the U.S. and the average touch time per car is two and a half hours. Shop owners who do not embrace change, even the ones who consider themselves successful, are putting themselves at risk in the future, said Feltovich. “Rely on that old success and tomorrow you will be obsolete, whether you want to be or not -- you will be,” he said. “Businesses become obsolete every single day because they don’t progress forward, they don’t see the big picture.”

At the center of lean process is efficiency, which Feltovich defined as “achieving maximum productivity with the least amount of effort or expense.”

He recommended mapping out how the business operates and asking the fundamental question: how well does the process actually accomplish its intended purpose? Some of the wasteful activities he mentioned that often take place at shops include:
•    waiting for information,
•    checking inventory levels,
•    setup time,
•    locating missing parts,
•    repairing broken equipment,
•    re-evaluating situations due to lack of communication,
•    waiting for job assignments,
•    unnecessary movement,
•    unused employee creativity.

Feltovich used the example of “dead” vehicles just sitting in the production area not being worked on, and encouraged shops to cut back on the amount of time any vehicle sits idle. One suggestion is to detect all of the damage and repair requirements prior to loading the vehicle into the workshop, so there is only one parts order, saving both time and money.

Other strategies he pointed out include bagging all vehicle parts for protection and staging parts for body repairs. “Parts carts” can also help by following the car throughout the repair process.

“Lean processes tie two critical components together – efficiency with effectiveness,” he said. “Now we’re not only doing things right, we’re doing the right thing.”

Throughout his 35-year career, Feltovich has worked with dealerships, independents, insurance companies, OEMs and automotive refinish companies. “Our industry is changing in a very dynamic way,” said Feltovich. “If you’re not getting better everyday, you’re falling behind.”

In order for shops to move forward, he stressed the importance of establishing a culture where all employees are actively engaged in improving the company. “Ninety percent is about culture and 10 percent is implementation,” said Feltovich.

Over the years he has found that middle managers often get in the way of lean process improvement. “The idea of giving up control to employees doing it better than you is a frightening position to be in.” However, in order to create change in a shop, he said it is important to get all employees on board. “Everyone from the detailer to the front office person to the owner should have one common goal – create customer value.”

The lean process was pioneered by Toyota. Feltovich recommends that shops read The Toyota Way, written by Jeffrey K. Liker, for tips on management principles in order to get lean.

“Tables and numbers only show us the result,” said Feltovich. “What we want to do is get ahead of the results and create a process that drives the financial results that we need in order to grow and stay in business.” He said customers want it “fast, free and perfect.”

By delivering value from the customer’s perspective, continuously improving your process and eliminating waste, Feltovich said there are numerous benefits. These include reduced cycle times, higher quality at lower overall costs, better use of machine time and facility space, less internal stress and less inventory on hand.

“Lean process absolutely works. It works in any business. Get it right, it’s incredibly sound. Get it wrong, it’s very disruptive.”

For more information about lean processes, contact Steve Feltovich at steven.j.feltovich@sherwin.com.