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Collision repairers refocus shop operations as pandemic affects business

Collision shops from the Midwest and California share how they’re being proactive as the coronavirus bears down

The coronavirus has affected repair shops differently, depending upon their various markets and demographics. At present, rural shops are fairing better than those in higher density populations where the pandemic has yet to reach.

Below are perspectives shared during a recent webinar by Elite Body Shop Solutions from various collision shop owners and managers as to how they are addressing business, staff, issues and concerns.

Greg Lobsiger, Loren’s Body Shop, Bluffton, Ind.

Greg Lobsiger, owner of Loren’s Body Shop, runs his business in Bluffton, Ind., which has a population of 12,000 in a county of 27,000 people. December, January and February were the best revenue months his shop has ever had, he said. The coronavirus has changed things, however.

Greg Lobsiger

“We’re 60 percent down in business now, and we just heard another local shop sent their staff home because there wasn’t any work,” said Lobsiger, who added, however, that year-to-date revenues are up 23 percent from last year.

“We were at $2.5 million last year and our goal is to get to $3 million in 2020 — I’m very determined.”

The drop in business is a combination of customers cancelling appointments and fewer accidents, as people are staying home more. Lobsiger is countering the dip by marketing his shop through radio advertising that informs people his shop is still open. He is also leveraging Podium for its customer text-messaging features and online reviews.

In addition, he has developed a “project list” for staff to work through, which includes fine-tuning shop processes.

“We have dynamic business systems for everything from sales to blueprinting that’s constantly changing and being tweaked. Typically, we sit down as a group after hours to address any changes and adjustments, but now, we’re taking half a day to get it done to make improvements. I encourage all shop owners to take advantage of the time to meet with staff to go through the P-Pages in order to understand their differences and maximize sales — make sure you’re charging for everything.

“We’re going to come out of this pandemic on fire.”

Randy Sattler, Rydell Collision, Grand Forks, N.D.

Similar to Loren’s Body Shop, Rydell Collision in Grand Forks, N.D., is also in a rural location and in a college town.

Randy Sattler

“We haven’t fully felt yet what’s going to eventually hit us in the next few weeks,” said Randy Sattler, manager. “We’ve had the opportunity to see what’s happening in other parts of the country and it’s given us a chance to evaluate our shop practices. We’re in a position where we can plan and prepare.

“Our goal is always to keep everyone employed and take care of our people. It’s important to not let all of the news and negativity get you down and instead focus on what’s good for the shop.”

He added that now is the perfect time to try new shop processes, tinker with workflow and share ideas. Sattler doesn’t make any shop system changes, however, without first consulting with his employees.

“People inherently come to work to do the best they can and, as a manager, it’s my responsibility to give them that opportunity. Having employees involved in decision-making builds character and they take great pride in it. Our philosophy at Rydell is to give staff what they want and, in turn, the company will get what it needs — we have a sense of family.”

Staff meetings are held every morning during which concerns and issues can be addressed as a team. Most recently, a technician’s roommate had to be quarantined due to the coronavirus and it was collectively decided that the tech should stay home and self-quarantine for two weeks for the safety of the shop.

“The decision didn’t come from management, but from all of us, which was important because the employee didn’t feel alienated and made to feel like he was no longer part of the team. It’s all of our responsibility to keep everyone calm — our management right now feels less like managers and more like counselors.

“We have to stay positive. If we don’t, then water-cooler chat will start and negativity will creep in. The most important thing I do every day is to make sure we’re upbeat — we’ll figure out a way to get through this together. Don’t let something or someone be in control of your own destiny.”

Melanie Allan, Craftsman Collision, Long Beach, Calif.

When Melanie Allan’s family acquired a Long Beach, Calif., body shop five years ago and rechristened it Craftsmen Collision as part of its chain, they initially struggled to get work in through the door.

Melanie Allan

“We didn’t have any DRPs,” she said, though now DRPs represent 70 percent of her business. “And we also have built up a lot of repeat customers and referrals. Our reviews on Yelp and Google have been outstanding. It was a long five years getting our business underway, but it’s keeping us afloat right now.”

Business is down by approximately 50 percent and bookings are typically scheduled one to two weeks out.

“We run a lean shop and we try to stick to our processes — no overbooking, don’t overload on a Monday, etc. — but two weeks ago, of the 40 cars we usually have booked, only 25 showed up,” Allan said.

She was ultimately able to rebook many of those with assurances that care and precautions for shop cleanliness were being taken. Craftsmen Collision is also aggressive with social media postings informing customers they are open.

For additional outreach, Allan will be reviewing the past six months of customers to send them a “thank you” email and a postcard mailing.

“Even if we remain at 50 percent of our usual business, we won’t have to lay anyone off. Our cycle days might even get better as we tighten things up.

“We’re making sure we put out a great product and keeping in touch with our customers — I’m really proud of my team.”

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