Shop Strategies, COVID Edition: Spanesi, Clients On Dealing with COVID-19 Blues While Operating Successfully

Ian Morton Meetings
Ian Morton holds a regular committee meeting when everyone gets together and talks about what’s working, what’s not and what can be improved.

When Spanesi COO Tim Morgan first learned about the COVID-19 outbreak, he set out to support staff and clients.

“We knew early on it was coming because we have a sales office and manufacturing in China,” said Morgan.

The company purchased extra computers for employees who needed to work from home due to medical conditions and began holding meetings virtually.

“Like other businesses, we’ve had to adapt differently on how we operate,” said Morgan.

He found that many collision repair owners around the country were unsure what to do. In some states, shops were deemed non-essential and had to shut down.

Spanesi customers were reaching out to Morgan to find out if the company was still operating.

“We started getting phone calls asking if we are open,” he recalled. “I said, ‘We’re essential. We have to supply data to fix vehicles and there are people out there working. We’re essential so why wouldn’t you be essential?’”

Morgan began learning about resources such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan. He quickly realized there was a lot of information to sift through that many repairers were unaware of.

“I really dove in it and helped about eight to 10 companies get their PPP loan ready to take to the bank to get submitted,” said Morgan.

Meanwhile, Spanesi set up the Spanesi Cares website to share information about business resources available to the industry in the U.S. and Canada. It includes information about the PPP, CARES Act, SBA Emergency and Disaster Relief Loans, Equipment Purchase Relief Program and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act Information.

“We put up information to help shops figure out what they need to do,” he said.

Spanesi also donated $1,000 to the Collision Industry Foundation (CIF) and produced a video for the organization to help collect money for technicians who were out of work.

Throughout the pandemic, Spanesi employees have reached out to clients to find out if they need help or coaching. They have also communicated what is going on at Spanesi to help others understand what might be going on in their own businesses. In addition to website updates, Morgan has shared information through live feeds on Facebook.

“We want our customers and the industry to know that we’re here for you so if you need something, just call,” said Morgan. “It is amazing the outreach that has resulted from that.”

As COVID-19 restrictions are lifted across the country, Morgan’s advice to shop owners and managers is to continue working together and sharing best practices.

One way he hopes to achieve this is by creating an internal Twenty Group with 20 of his customers.

“Once a month, we will consult on what can be done to have better working environments and practices for technicians and the customer experience,” he said.

Morgan said there are still not enough resources available to collision repair facilities, such as learning how to best apply disinfectant to a vehicle.

“Before a car goes back to the customer, it is going to have to be disinfected,” said Morgan. “Everybody is going to have to come up with something to work cleaner.”

He is currently researching disinfecting techniques as well as building more training modules and getting ready to launch virtual demonstrations for the industry.

“This business has been very good to me,” said Morgan. “I think it’s important to give back as much as I can.”

Autobody News reached out to some of Spanesi’s clients to learn how they have managed during the pandemic and have been supported by Spanesi. This is part one of a two-part series.

Thoughts from Ian Morton, Fix Auto Tucson-Thoroughbred and Fix Auto Sierra Vista, AZ

“When I first heard about COVID-19 in China, I was worried about something happening in the United States. In January of 2020, I talked to my team and said, ‘I think this will potentially impact us and we need to prepare. I started acquiring cash and building a nice buffer to allow us to continue to be successful if something did happen.

"We got hit really hard and fast. I made a business decision that I wasn’t going to lay off anyone or drastically cut compensation. From March until July, we didn’t reduce staff hours or pay. I took on that financial burden because I wanted to put my arms around my teammates and their families and ensure that we could do everything we could to help them through this. We had some tearful conversations and my team asked what they could do to help.

"I realized it was a great opportunity to invest in our shops. My employees helped paint the buildings and rebuild the offices. We also identified processes that perhaps had become lax and set up new ones.

"These changes completely reenergized our facilities in preparation for when business ramped up again. As a result, we had people beating on our doors to come and work for us who had been either laid off or employed somewhere else and wanted to work for an employer who was 'teammate first.'

"I’ve always referred to everyone in my facilities as a teammate; I work for them. I have a general manager who is customer-centric and I’m teammate-centric. My job is to provide my team the best environment possible so they never leave. I want them to grow as individuals.

"We had so much extra time during the beginning of the pandemic that we started having one-on-one conversations about their future. I wanted to find out how I could best support their goals, whether they were financial or if they wanted to become a general manager or painter…. even if they plan to be in the industry long-term. I wanted to learn what we could do to support them while they are supporting us.

"The reinvestment we made in the team was very engaging for them and seeing us invest in them personally as well as professionally resulted in them doing the same for us. We have an incredibly strong team and culture, but some days are challenging. The COVID blues are real.

"We’re not perfect; there are always areas for improvement. Therefore, we hold a regular committee meeting when we get everyone together and talk about what’s working, what’s not and what we can improve.

"We also celebrate our wins. A peer-to-peer recognition box is in place and we read shoutouts from teammates. I’m super focused on positivity and the glass being half full; praise is public and criticism is private.

"At the same time, I don’t shy away from having challenging conversations because I find it puts us in a better position to be successful. Every team member knows that we can bring up anything. I want ideas. I don’t have all the answers.

"A vast majority of the ideas that have worked for us I didn’t come up with. It was our teammates. It’s important having that level of engagement where they can come to me or anyone on staff and say, ‘We really should try this,’ or ‘This piece of equipment will help.’ They know we can have those conversations and we’re not afraid to try new things or spend money if it makes sense. This has created a wonderful, inclusive environment for everyone.

"My advice to others struggling during this challenging time is to go out and find the positives. If you get consumed with ‘doom and glooming,’ you will be glooming and your culture will reflect that.

"Be positive, but don’t bury your head in the sand. Look at the opportunity that has presented itself. With revenue down, it is an excellent opportunity to do some of the repairs and maintenance that you have been putting off because it’s potentially impactful for customers or teammates. There may not be a better time to do this.

"As an MSO, I am thinking of picking a week every year in the future where I shut down production and move work to my other facility. Then, we can repair or maintain the business, so it doesn’t fall into the disrepair that often plagues our industry because we are going a million miles an hour to meet specific metrics or revenue goals.

"Above all, don’t be afraid to invest in your shop and your team.”

Stacey Phillips Ronak

Stacey Phillips Ronak is an award-winning writer for the automotive industry and a regular columnist for Autobody News based in Southern California.

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