Here is a true story from my book, HEY LOOK! I FOUND THE LOOSE NUT, that might spark your interest.
A customer called [my auto electric shop] and said he just purchased a car from the police auction, but it had some sort of strange noise coming from the driver’s side electric seat. It seems every time he moved it there was a strange electrical sound. He thought there was something wrong with the seat motor.
He was coming to me, an auto electric technician, to get it fixed.
“Sure,” I said. “What kind of car is it?”
“It’s a Peugeot,” he answered.
I’m not much on Peugeots, but I told him I could take a quick look at it and see if I could do anything for him.
In the current economy you have two basic choices. You can agree with the naysayers and believe that there will be a couple years of recession to ride out, it is going to get worse, and there is nothing you can do—or you can decide to ignore the recession and take positive steps to maintain and grow your business. That’s right, I said ignore the recession… let me explain why.
When you started your business how many people told you it wouldn’t work, you shouldn’t do it? Did you listen to them? NO! You rolled up your sleeves and built a business of which you are very proud. It’s time for you to revisit the basics.
a. Know Your Metrics
A metric is an indicator of how your business is progressing. Some great indicators are number of calls, invoice count (car or unit count), sales, gross profit, hours per repair order, parts to labor ratio and customer satisfaction.
b. Monitoring Your Metrics
Monitor your metrics more frequently and review your progress more often than usual. Think of it as zooming in on the detail. Look at things by the week instead of the month or by the month instead of the quarter. Don’t wait for the results to play out, look early and often to allow for proactive course corrections to keep your business on target.
Now more than ever, provide excellent customer service. Who determines the level of your service? Your customer does! Ask them how you are doing and what can you do even better to help them during this difficult time. And then respond accordingly within reason to meet their concerns. By all means let all customers that gave you feedback know what changes you are making to help them out.
We are seeing more and more questions about employee engagement during this economic downturn. People are nervous, scared and unsure right now, including your employees. It is your job to keep your employees positive, helpful, focused on the customer and results oriented. No matter how hard you plan, layoffs may be necessary but don’t make the mistake of laying people off too soon. Remember that this recession will end and people are hard to find, especially trained people who know your business. Instead entertain the idea of temporarily cutting back on wages and/or reducing hours per week with the entire staff (including you).
Make sure your business model is a profitable one now! Too many times we start coaching a client to find that their business is geared up for a level of business they haven’t yet achieved causing them to make at best minimal profit and more likely lose money. Don’t grow to profit…be profitable now! Review your business model and staffing to ensure profitability at your current level of business. Then develop a plan to increase your volume and add staffing as volume requires.
Cash is king! Make sure you’re not spending more than is coming in. Take your fixed costs (expenses plus technician wages if paid hourly or salary) and divide the amount by the number of days open in the month. This is your daily breakeven amount. You need to generate at least that amount in gross profit every day to stay positive. It won’t take long when you dip below your breakeven amount to start losing capital and, if unchanged, possibly going under.
“Good times, bad times, there will always be advertising. In good times people want to advertise; in bad times they have to.”
—Bruce Barton (1886–1967)
The first expense cut is typically the marketing or advertising budget. This is the worst place to cut back. In the short term there is no adverse effect, in the long term it is disastrous. We recommend reviewing where the marketing budget is being spent and measuring the results. Every piece of marketing should include a call to action; small businesses shouldn’t be trying to build a brand. Marketing that isn’t bringing in an acceptable return should be reworked or scrapped in favor of other avenues. Your marketing budget should be 8% of sales minus rent to maintain your current volume of business and 10% of sales minus rent to grow your business.
Don’t follow the herd mentality and wait for outside circumstances to change your business. After speaking with customers, use their feedback to improve your operation (within reason of course). Separate yourself from your competition, making it a no-brainer knowing where to bring a vehicle for repairs. Is a dealer closing in your area? Prepare an ad that positions you as the repair solution for that particular carline. Is an independent closing? Call the owner and offer to purchase his customer list and develop a letter together you can send to his customers. Create non-competing strategic alliances. Is there a business that you frequent that has customers that would value what you have to offer? Would your customers value what he has to offer? Develop a letter that he sends to his customers recommending you with some type of offer extended. Return the favor by sending a letter recommending him to your customers.
Look at other industries for ideas that can add value and help build your business. The best advice that I can pass along to you is that you should develop a plan with a crystal clear desired result and then ACT on it! Don’t get stuck on working the original plan until it produces the results. The plan may need to be modified along the way to get the desired result. But the result stays the same. Waiting until you have the “perfect” plan is not possible and ill-advised. You will never think of everything. As Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “The plan is useless, but planning is essential.”
Attitude is so important, especially now. It is vital to your business that you stay positive. Be realistic but don’t let fear take hold. With steadfast determination you will get through this current season of challenge and come out on the other side stronger. You need to feed your attitude daily by reading books on positive attitude.
There are times when a business owner can’t see the forest through the trees. A business coach can be a great investment providing an objective viewpoint, help ground the owner focusing him on what is important and developing next action steps. This process allows you to determine your goals and needs and then build an action plan for getting to your desired results.
Rick White is a managing member of One Eighty Business Solutions (180BIZ), a Virginia based coaching and business solutions provider to the automotive and truck repair industries. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (540) 833-2014.
Web sites can be a very powerful tool to help customers say YES to your businesses. More and more people make buying decisions as a result of research done on the Internet.
You don’t have to look beyond the attention given to automotive spending by companies like Google to see how important web presence is to automotive-related consumer spending. Automotive was, by far, Google’s best performing category in the third quarter of 2009, largely on the back of the government’s “Cash for Clunkers” program.
Nikesh Arora, Google’s president of global sales operations and business development, said he still believes U.S. auto spending is poised for growth, largely because of the age of U.S. fleet and the shift of dollars to the web.
But many collision shops still don’t have a Web site at all, which is a huge mistake, says former shop owner David Moore, founder and president of CollisionBuilder.com, a Web site design firm. According to Moore, more than 80 percent of consumers between the ages of 33 and 54 research online before they buy a product or service, so if you have no online presence you could be missing opportunities.
“They don’t realize how vital a Web site is,” Moore says. “I consider the Web site to be the foundation of any good marketing program.”
If you own a colision repair shop and plan to be in business 5 years from now, you need to invest time creating or reviewing your business website. You should also check out business websites outside of the collision repair industry because you’ll get fresh ideas.
Also, just because the web is a relatively new tool, doesn’t mean you don’t need to remember time-tested basic principles of marketing. Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People is one of the bestselling self-help books ever and is just as useful today as it was when it was first published in 1936. It has sold 15 million copies globally. Cargengie’s book and courses teach basic common sense techniques to help people win friends and influence others. The same techniques apply to the web today. Your website can use the same simple and common sense approach to make it easy for potential customers to say YES to your collision repair shop.
Few people take the time to research a collision repair shop in advance. Your web site must gain the trust of visitors, quickly and easily. How might you get some great ideas and exposure at the same time?
Look around. High school students are very web savvy these days. Invite some students and their teachers to help you. Give them a tour of your shop explaining the entire process of repairing a car. Show them your equipment and how it works. Explain how the procedures your shop takes to be environmentally friendly. Explain the challenges with aftermarket parts vs OEM parts. Explain the challenges you encounter with insurance companies. Invite the students to bring their high tech cameras and video recording technology so they can then share the information with others so as to allow input from lots of people. Most high schools have a student newspaper and of course they would be invited to cover the event.
You might invite the students to find a worthy cause to help in this project. Possibly there is someone in the community such as a wife and family of a veteran in Afghanistan and they have a car in need of repair. Possibly there is someone in the local community that is experiencing a financial hardship and their car needs some dents fixed and a paint job. If you invite some enthusiastic young people to get involved in a project that will help someone in their local community, there will be payback.
Figure out a way for everyone to win. As the project progresses post the progress on your site. Include lots of photos of those helping you. With a little imagination and enthusiasm you can see how someone can take an idea like this and position themselves very favorably in the community. Doing so will result in terrific exposure for your business. Your employees will be excited and proud to be part of the experience.
Some good sites I’ve come across that might serve as examples are the following: Joe’s Collision, Body Work & Detailing in Dallas, TX has a great looking site. One look at it gives an immediate impression of high quality professional work. It’s easy to read. It’s got a great colors and powerful testimonials with very professional photos. Check it out at www.joescollisionanddetailing.com.
Len’s Auto Body in Oceanside, CA, has an impressive site with logos from equipment manufactures as well as I-CAR and ASE giving visitors a feeling that it’s a shop that can be trusted to do high quality work. When a visitor clicks on “Shop Tour” a slide presentation begins and shows a variety of photos of his shop and equipment. He also includes a photo of his custom PT Cruiser advertising his shop which is another very creative method of gaining additional consistent exposure. He’s taking advantage of the popularity of that vehicle plus the custom paint job to draw attention to his business. His web site is a nice clean easy to use site that creates a favorable impression to visitors. Visit his site at www.lensautobody.com.
Daland Body Shop of South San Francisco is another excellent example. This website also has a video that begins playing as soon as the site is clicked on. I tend to favor site that use the video technology. Video is the next best thing to an owner telling a potential customer the selling points. The thing is though a video never has a bad day, it’s never tired and it’s available to give that same enthusiastic and professional message 24 hours a day. Visit this site at: http://daland-autobody.com
Don’t overlook the importance of appealing directly to female customers. There’s good evidence that women are in the majority of collision repair customers. Certainly they control the largest share of a family’s budget. There are companies that cater directly to shops by helping to make them more female friendly, such as AskPatty.com, which brands sites as female friendly. See http://femalefriendlydealer.askpatty.com/?d=Js_Auto_Body, for example.
“Up until now, like many automotive businesses, we thought the obvious goal was to ensure that women were treated the same as men. Through the AskPatty program, we’ve learned that treating women the same as men does not necessarily yield the [best] experience for women. This may not sound profound, but with an increased awareness of what elements women seek in a positive automotive servicing experience, our service centers are better prepared to meet and exceed the expectations of our female customers” stated Mark Kim, Operations Manager, J’s Auto Body, in Lanham, MD.
With just a little imagination it’s easy to see how a project like this could be a lot of fun for everyone involved. Above all, don’t be afraid to experiment.
I don’t trust anyone anymore.
Everything seems to be either poisonous or falling apart. And I’m not talking only about products made in China. On behalf of my four train-owning grandchildren, I have returned 19 Thomas the Train engines because of lead in the paint. Nothing ruins a play date more than a toxic toy.
In bowling, when two pins on either side of the alley are left standing after the first roll, it is called a split. Do you know how difficult it is to knock down both pins when you have the most difficult split? Less likely than making a hole-in-one in golf.
I recently attended the Fourth Annual World Health Care Congress in Washington, D.C. The draw was keynote speaker Michael Porter, a chaired professor at Harvard University and the leading authority on competitive strategy.
Fix it right the first time, every time, on time.
Rick Tuuri, director of industry relations for ADP, recently laid out what he believes to be the worst-case scenario given the incursion of the electronic claims processing companies, the dotcoms, into the collision repair industry:
This is a "huge secret" that can lead to tons of repeat business and referrals! Stay in touch. Stay in front of your client's faces!
Uh oh, I feel the urge coming on, that compelling need to predict. All this talk about insurance companies owning body shops and no one answering the salient question: What will Allstate's purchase of Sterling lead to? What will be the outcome in five or 10 years?
In 1999, when I last looked in on the Texas political scene, it was in the process of meltdown, as least as it relates to the collision repair industry.
Bench-mark n. surveyor's mark at point in line of levels; standard or point of reference.
So how does your Collision Repair business stack up financially or managerially against other facilities in the industry or even locally? Last issue of Autobody News I discussed the value of Benchmarking and alluded to how you could use that information to:
With my apologies to Bill O'Reilly, let me welcome you to the All Spin Zone, where nothing exists but message manipulation. The idea is to get you thinking it's nighttime when the sun is shining; Tuesday when the calendar says Wednesday.
Bill Willix had a funny notion back in 1989. The former parts salesman had seen firsthand how much electronics had revolutionized the automotive repair industry. Technicians who could build distributors from a few scraps of plastic and old newspapers froze when they saw a computer chip.
Employees are filing lawsuits against employers and supervisors in record numbers, alleging damages in excess of workers' compensation insurance for personal injuries.
As the end of the year rapidly approaches and people take time to evaluate their personal and financial situations, these are words to take to heart. Many of the salvage yards and repair facilities that I talk to are complaining that business is flat or down. The economy is having a tough time getting going and business has been better, but it has also been worse. One of the problems that I see is that people have difficulty shrinking their overhead to match the current sales volume of their business.
"Community requires commitment." When I read this quote recently, I was struck head-on with the irony of how this applies to our business. How often do we make a commitment and actually follow through with it? Pure excitement persuades our signature to the dotted line, promising commitment, but follow-through is often lacking.
If you've ever been to one of those Body Shop Management seminars, you've probably seen the math: Sale - Cost = Profit. The speaker probably made a big deal out of it Those guys all act so smart explaining something so simple. Big deal.
Like a lot of people, I know enough about the current computer technologies to break things and call someone who knows what to do to fix it for me. That is a major handicap to overcome in today's world where everyone is striving to go electronic for locating parts.
Following are excerpts from a book that the author says will be published this summer: "Wrecked!" - a "tell-all" book about the collision industry. The author promises the book will explore innovative solutions and alternatives for shop owners to consider as a means of improving their probability for financial success.
The news is not good. Total loss rates have more than doubled since 2002 and are continuing to rise. This translates into hundreds of millions of dollars in repairs and revenues that are no longer going to the collision repair industry in this country.
My beloved Steelers have won the Super Bowl and, on a personal front, all seems right with the world. However, a number of articles concerning the disposition of flood cars from Hurricane Katrina are causing me some concern.
I had what I thought was a small project, but it turned out to be harder than expected. Tom Foster is a buddy and a serious bike builder who’s been around for a couple of decades. He’s got a bike called an EVO HD Bushido that he’s building, and he came to me do the body and paint work.
A couple of months ago I was approached by my buddies, Kevin and Victor, about making a unique trophy for this year’s charity Long Beach Car show. We wanted it to be unique and authentic and it occurred to me to use scraps and miscellaneous parts from around the shop.
At Huntington Beach Bodyworks, we recently began a new project: restoring a ’57 Chevy Bel-Air. In this article we will focus on the main ‘showpiece’ of this car, a custom airbrushed headliner. For this project I brought in airbrush artist Matt Van Wingerden after seeing some of his amazing mural and portrait work.
I’ve got a couple of Harley tanks that a customer wants to repaint. He’s had this paint job for 10 years and it’s got a couple cracks where the tank is leaking and the paint is starting to bubble up. He wants it done in the identical color using flames.
This month I will be discussing my father’s 1958 Chevy Pickup. The truck has a lot of history and sentimental value to my father. It was originally purchased in 1958 by my grandfather who was a farmer in Brighton, South Dakota. My father grew up and learned to drive in this truck and about 10 years ago, he was given the truck by my grandfather. It was still running and in decent shape, but after 50 years of service, it was in need of a fresh facelift.
Recently I was putting a completed project together – reinstalling the hood, deck lid, and doors. You don’t have to be in this business to know that no matter how meticulous you try to be, things usually don’t go back together as easily as it was to take them apart – especially with cars and even more so with a custom car. When you get a new project for custom paint and body work, you first mock up the car, break it down, do the custom body work and paint, clear it, buff it, and put the whole thing back together again.
This month, I thought that I would tell you about a recent project involving a new metallic silver Hemi Charger. This project wasn’t as complicated as some of our others and there were no custom fabrications, however, it was a very nicely upgraded vehicle that turned out beautifully.
So I thought we should talk about two projects that are different from our usual topics. One is a 1950 Chevy Coupe and the other is Gene Winfield’s own 1932 Roadster. We previously talked about bubble tops and how to form them using heating and forced air to create a bubble for a space-age type coupe. However, I believe that these particular projects will represent a process that could be more useful.
Here’s a good one for you. I recently finished a project at Huntington Beach Bodyworks that you might enjoy hearing about. It was a retro bobber-style chopper for Matt Hotch Designs. Matt Hotch is considered one of the most talented, original, and innovative motorcycle designers alive today. He is also one of the biggest stars of the popular “Biker Build Off” television series and will be appearing again in its next season.
When I decided to add a custom motorcycle department to my medieval-themed shop, the first name that came to mind was Johnny Chop. What I liked immediately about him was his reputation for being an actual craftsman and not just a builder. He already had ties to Huntington Beach, so it seemed like a good idea to at least approach him to get his thoughts. Once we met and ironed out some details, Johnny moved his bikes to the shop and joined our Huntington Beach Bodyworks crew.
Going through my photo gallery the other day, I came across a project that I’m surprised I have not written about yet. It was such an interesting project, I should have gone into detail about it a long time ago.
Okay, let’s talk a little bit about a subject every painter encounters. It’s not one of the best aspects of the job, because it’s often very uncomfortable. I’m talking about all the gear we have to wear to keep us clean and keep the paint job as smooth as possible. Unfortunately it’s an absolute necessity.
Our story begins in 1963 with Bill Cushenbery and his Silhouette hot rod. Cushenbery was an extremely talented car customizer in the same era as George Barris. Although they were competing car customizers in Hollywood, the two did collaborate on a certain car—you may have heard of the Batmobile?
Last month’s article discussed creating plugs. You should have a polished and finished prototype plug, ready to make molds.
This process is similar to the plug process, since we use the same materials, steps, and techniques. The mold is an exact mirror image of the plug and is what will be used to reproduce new prototype parts over and over again.
In last month’s article, I talked about our race against the clock to complete the customizing of the Ford Mustang GT in time for SEMA. Now that the dust has cleared, I’ll explain in more detail the mock-up procedure for our new parts, including how our plugs were made.
The Chicago Pneumatic Quiet Rotary Screw Air Compressor is what we use here at Huntington Beach Bodyworks to power everything from tools and airbrushes to inflating tires, painting and cleaning. Designed to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it pays for itself in short order.
When the automobile was first mass produced, it spawned several different industries, including our own auto body industry. No sooner did cars come off the assembly line, then individuals began souping them up and changing their appearance – bringing forth the custom auto body industry as well.
If you are repairing an older vehicle or restoring a classic car, it is not always possible to obtain an OEM part or the cost may be prohibitive. This is where aftermarket parts can really help a lot. As you know, OEM parts are those made by the original manufacturer of the parts your vehicle came with. Aftermarket parts include everything outside of that – made by an independent manufacturer who intended the part to work the same way as the original.
A recent project we had at the shop involved a group of six, sit-down Sea-Doo jet skis. The client wanted to enhance the brand new skis with graphics and artwork. The jet skis shared a common theme, each one with its own variation on the design. The layout included an art piece up front and a smaller one at the rear, with fire throughout.
| The finished rim. |
One of the easiest ways to customize any vehicle is with a new set of rims. In recent years it has become popular to purchase rims with centers that match your paint and a nice chrome finish on the lip of the rim.
If the style or brand of rim is not offered with a painted center or if the color of the center is not what you want, custom painting is the solution. Whether you choose to customize a particular set of rims on the market or decide to enhance rims you already own, both can be prepped and painted. A recent customer wanted black centers and airbrushed skulls on the center caps of his brand new set of rims, and the following steps describe how this was accomplished.
Applying custom graphics and artwork to helmets can sometimes be a little troublesome. Helmets can be just as time consuming, if not more, as painting a motorcycle tank. This is because with helmets there are many more parts and materials that need to be masked and protected.
A couple of weeks back I had the opportunity to host a workshop“The First Ever Auto Painting Workshop with Gene Winfield,” sponsored by The College for Appraisers, Alsa Paints, and DeVilbiss Automotive. It was a great time hosting and watching a master at work—Winfield, my good friend and mentor. I’ve learned a lot from Gene and been fortunate enough to receive his skills and experience on some of our Huntington Beach Bodyworks builds. What’s really amazing is that Gene just turned 81 years old and shows no sign of slowing down.
A common problem that often gums up the works of the collision repair process is the customer with a near-impossible deadline. Even if the needed repairs are second nature, the time deadline can interfere with performing established shop procedures and the technician's better judgment.
A few years ago my shop flamed a Corvette convertible. It was a black 'vette with yellow pearl flames. Recently a client, who saw the car in a show on the East Coast, wanted to buy the 'vette, but it had already been sold. He proceeded to purchase a 1998 Corvette convertible and have it shipped directly to my shop - Huntington Beach Bodyworks.
Almost two years ago, I decided to design some helpful tools for the custom paint industry, primarily focusing on the automotive airbrushing profession. Having been involved with airbrush artists since I dove into the custom paint industry many years ago, I've watched the profession evolve first hand.
Do you have a project car that has been sandblasted down to bare metal and needs a spectacular finish? To explain in detail the complete process of transforming a bare metal vehicle into a show quality finish, the project I'm breaking down is a 1956 Chevy Bel Air Convertible.
One project that has brought me a lot of recognition, and was most rewarding as well, has to be the Meguiar's big rigs. At the Super Chevy Show in 2002, I displayed one of my skulled out trucks which caught the attention of Meguiar's driver John. He later approached me and explained that Meguiar's had just recently purchased two new big rigs and were looking for the right person to lay down the custom graphics. Mike Kennedy of Meguiar's asked me for an estimate or quote for the job - typical procedure for a paint shop.
I recently added the Chicago Pneumatic QRS Quiet Rotary Screw air compressor to my shop because of its quiet operation, smooth and pulse-free air output, compact size, high output volume, low vibration, prolonged service intervals, and long life.