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More expertise in shop layout should be on industry’s wish list

Friday, October 20, 2017 - 07:00
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One of the things ABRN has encouraged me to write about in these columns is any challenges or hurdles I’m currently tackling in my business. I hope by the time you’re reading this (some weeks after I’m writing it) that I may have found some answers to a struggle I’m having at the moment, which is getting help with shop layout.

I have an opportunity to convert essentially warehouse space into a shop, and staring at a blank rectangle on paper and trying to decide how to design the most efficient layout is proving challenging.

I know I’m not alone in this. Even if you’re not planning a new shop, you may be due for an overhaul of the layout of an existing shop. Think about it: If you’ve been in business long enough, combo techs in your shop may have been doing both body and paint work. When I started in the industry, those roles had mostly been split. But since then, I’ve overseen another shift in my business from a technician “owning” a job — doing all the tear-down, repair and reassembly after paint — to a team system.

Is the same shop layout the ideal way to move work through your facility in each of these different production models? Probably not. But too often we make such changes to our business without considering if changes in the design of the shop should be made as well. I suspect that, like me, you’ve at times walked into another body shop and thought, “They’re doing all this backwards.” It may just be that their shop layout hasn’t kept pace with changes in the business.

I think one reason all of us may go 10 or 20 years in business without changes to shop layout is the issue I’m facing right now: a seeming lack of qualified help with shop design.

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As I started to think through options for my new building, I checked with my equipment vendor and paint company. Each offer a program to help with layout, but they seem to lack a real expert in the subject. I met with an architect who has done some great projects for me. But is he the best one to tell me what the flow of a new shop should be? Probably not. I could work through it with him, but I think I’d be spending my money to educate him, and could end up making lots of changes down the road because I didn’t get it right the first time.

Granted, my situation is a bit unique. The facility I’m acquired is two side-by-side buildings with a total of 20,000 square feet. I’ve leased one of the two for years, running a truck accessory business there. The landlord let me know he was going to sell the property, so I bought it with a goal of adding collision repair to the mix in the two buildings to maximize use of the people and facility.

But even aside from the added complication of doing spray-in bedliners and truck canopies within the same facility as collision repair, I’ve racked my brain about whether to go with linear production or traditional stalls, where to put the paint booth, etc. These aren’t trivial decisions. It’s hundreds of thousands of dollars to put a booth in, and you really only have one shot at doing it right.

As more evidence that expertise in this area is hard to come by, a colleague recently sent an email to me and other shop owners asking where he could find shop layout help. I told him I didn’t know, but I’d appreciate any leads he found.

He eventually wrote back saying he’d found mostly what I had: somewhat limited help from paint and equipment companies. But he did provide the name of a California firm specializing in shop layout, so that may be my next call.

But given how long many of us in my colleague’s email thread have been in this business, you’d think we’d be more familiar with reliable sources of shop layout expertise. Any tips or advice you have are welcome, and I’ll let you know through this column what I find and what happens as my project moves forward.

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