I've heard a frequent lament among body shop owners that they love fixing cars but can't make a decent profit in the paint shop. This industry is changing and achieving profitability is a challenge. It's not enough to be good at repairing or painting vehicles. You need to know how to run a business, too. A few management tasks include:
- measure performance by setting monthly, weekly and daily goals;
- develop standard operating procedures (SOPs);
- coordinate all departments;
- manage parts; and
- negotiate with customers, suppliers and third-party payers, such as insurance companies.
Owners and managers also must plan for growth, marketing, recruitment and training. The skill sets needed to operate a body shop go beyond just repairing a vehicle.
The paint department isn't any different from the other parts of the shop when it comes to maintaining a decent profit – although some would argue more can go wrong quickly. Paint shops must be monitored and managed carefully.
There are six stages a vehicle goes through in the refinish department: communication/collaboration, preparation, examination, implementation, inspection and delivery. At each stage there are small steps that add up to larger profits.
Listening and communicating are among the manager's most important skills. By listening to a staff's needs and concerns, a manager can help coordinate a speedy repair of each vehicle as it passes through the shop. By listening to and communicating with staff, a manager helps create a collaborative environment. Employees who feel they have input in their organization are more satisfied and productive workers.
Another good practice is writing things – such as vital information, paint code and location of required repair or replacement parts – on the vehicle (Fig. 2). Different colored markers can be used to indicate different processes so the techs working on the car and supervisor can see quickly that the process is being done correctly. As a part is replaced, the old, marked part is removed so it can be noted that that portion of the job is complete. As a part is prepared and its markings removed, the lead painter can see the progress on each vehicle as he prepares to paint it.
Adapting or streamlining practices other businesses have used can help you succeed. For example, Henry Ford often is given credit for inventing the assembly line. He didn't invent it, but he took the assembly line idea and made it practical and profitable. His assembly line reduced the Model A's cost by 200 percent in three years through efficiency. So take good ideas, make them better and make more profit.
The restaurant industry must be extremely efficient to be profitable. The term mise en place means all ingredients should be in place and any unused portion put away. As the chef receives an order, everything will be where it should be, and the meal can be made efficiently.
The collision repair industry should adopt this. Have SOPs available for each type of repair for technicians to review. Consolidate supplies so that, for example, specific grades of sandpaper are on hand and available. When needed, they can be retrieved easily from a storage cabinet (Fig. 3). Provide work carts that allow tools and materials to be gathered and rolled to the vehicle (Fig. 4). Evaluate paint codes. If a spray-out panel is needed, it should be prepared. All materials needed to refinish the job should be on hand (Fig. 5). Before the job is started, make sure everything is in its place and available to the technicians to complete the job as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Thoroughly examine every job before starting. A vehicle arriving in the paint department is assumed to have had all prior work completed to the standards of the shop. Although this is generally true, an inspection is warranted. An efficient way to examine a vehicle in the paint department is to do so while washing it (Fig. 6). While washing, a technician makes a careful examination of the vehicle's prior work, checking for anything that might need to be reexamined before refinishing begins. If flaws or omissions are found (Fig. 7), the lead painter can communicate that to the sales staff and, in turn, to the insurance company for a proper resolution to allow for producing expected results.