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St. Louis-area MSO tightens up production, has ‘everyone beating the same drum’

Four-location Complete Auto Body & Repair overhauls company processes, fueled by culture of ‘all in it to win it’

St. Louis—Kevin Haller arrived at Complete Auto Body & Repair in April 2019 ready for his next challenge. And he came armed with decades of experience, having played an integral role in growing a single-shop business to 11 locations.

Since coming to Complete, Haller, who is director of Business Development, has been busy implementing his MSO experience by introducing new systems to build efficiencies and profitability for its four locations in the St. Louis-metro area.

The Dellwood facility is one of Complete Auto Body & Repair’s four locations in the St. Louis-metro region. The company performs both collision and mechanical repair.

“I immediately began introducing standard operating procedures and growing consistency so everyone’s beating the same drum,” Haller said.

Early on, he immediately recognized a winning culture. “No one pointed fingers at each other,” Haller said. “They were all in it to win it, all the way from customer service to the detailers.”

Haller credited that culture to Jeff Bauer, who is head of operations. “Jeff really worked hard on the culture and, to me, that’s three-quarters of the battle. Everyone is very loyal to the company and committed to repairing vehicles.”

During his first two weeks on the job, Haller said he analyzed how employees worked and the processes they used throughout the workday. “I realized there weren’t many systems and there was a lack of quality checks — there wasn’t any structure to speak of.”

Haller first addressed the company’s blueprinting process and made sure customers had a final estimate within the first 48 hours.

“We learned to avoid supplements and delays in the production line,” he said. “I’m a big believer in Six Sigma, the lean process and theory of constraints. All three need to be rolled together to make your own homegrown recipe for success.”

With every SOP that Haller introduced, he made sure he had three to five people who had buy-in, then he would roll it out with their support. “We have about 18 SOPs in the Complete library now.”

Removing paint booth bottlenecks

The paint booth, he determined, was one area of constraint that required immediate attention.

“If you do everything right by prepping a vehicle and managing behaviors of employees then you should be able to produce good paint work,” Haller said. “I want the car painted one time and one time only — I don’t want to have to sand and polish it.”

He began by deploying a 15-step process to eliminate dirt and contaminants.

Kevin Haller switched paint manufacturers to BASF, supplied through National Coatings and Supplies. “I knew NCS was using a tool, Logic, to measure usage and profits daily. It informs us in real-time what our usage is without having to wait until the end of the month.”

“There must be a good maintenance process in place for the booths, which are often very simple to implement and just require diligence: good filters that are regularly changed, good lighting, no vertical shelves on the walls, airline replacements and proper gun cleaning. And make sure the painters are using a mil-gauge so the paint isn’t being applied too thin or thick.”

Haller carries a pocket scope to spot-check if contaminants have been introduced into the paint. “Instead of just sanding and polishing it, we now determine where the dirt is coming from. Within three weeks, we eliminated the majority of the dirt issues.”

Right part, right time

The second largest constraint at Complete was accurate parts procurement, Haller said. “If you conduct a general survey and ask body techs what they’re biggest hold up is, they’ll respond that they can’t get their parts quick enough.”

The solution goes back to the exhaustive blueprinting process and validating the proper options on the estimates, he said. “Now we make sure we have the VIN in hand when we call a vendor to verify we’ll be receiving the right parts.”

“Whether it’s on the collision or mechanical side of the business, my main goal is to take care of my people and have processes in place. It’s fun and it’s challenging.”

— Kevin Haller

All parts are also now mirror-matched when they arrive, which Haller introduced as an SOP. “Again, if you eliminate supplements, you should have one parts order and that’s it, though there’s always exceptions.”

Parts ordering errors can usually be traced back to blueprinting. In the event a car isn’t delivered on time, Haller and his team conduct a post-mortem of the vehicle’s shop workflow production.

“If you don’t do that, then you’re going to have failures and it’s never going to get better,” he said.

Each location uses several parts ordering platforms, from PartsTrader to CollisionLink and Overall Parts Solutions (OPS). “I mandate that they use at least one of them, though I don’t promote one over another because they’re all different,” Haller said. “They just have to get the right part and get it on time.”

New equipment and tooling investments

Before Haller was hired, he conducted a walk-through of the company’s repair facilities for a review of equipment and determined there was need for improvement.

“I said I would come on board, but a lot of investment would be required in new equipment — and I’ll tell you, they spent a lot of money.”

On the shopping list were new frame and measuring equipment and new Freon machines. “Owner Kurt Barks and Jeff really stepped up. We bought the Chief Meridian Live Mapping System, which is the best in the industry and — though it’s expensive — is a time-saver that can make a shop more profitable. We also obtained training.”

Previous to Haller’s arrival, Complete had numerous tool and equipment suppliers, which were “OK,” he said, but they offered no support.

“I explained to upper management that I wanted to have my own vendor. I had been relying on Doug and Gene Slattery of ATI for 23 years and wanted to bring them in.”

ATI is now Complete’s go-to supplier for all of their equipment needs. “A big shout-out to those guys,” Haller said, “they’re very professional. Price is price, but it’s all about service when it comes to equipment.”

Haller also switched paint manufacturers to BASF, supplied through National Coatings and Supplies (NCS). “When I first arrived, there hadn’t been any meaningful measurements on paint usage and it was difficult to gauge our paint GP. I’m accustomed to looking at 20 different metrics on paint and I knew NCS was using a tool, Logic, to measure usage and profits daily. It informs us in real-time what our usage is without having to wait until the end of the month.”

Each location has a TV monitor that runs a scoreboard on paint usage every day and the goals, he said. “Everybody, every day, looks to that to see if we’re winning or losing.”

Moving forward and next steps

At his former MSO, Haller and the team had worked on acquiring several OEM certifications over eight years with heavy investment dollars. Through the prism of that experience, he said Complete Auto Body & Repair is approximately three to five years away from having certifications.

“They’re nice to have, but I’m not yet convinced of the payout.”

The process of obtaining OEM certifications is part of Haller’s 2021 business plan, though “there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit before that.”

Complete has 100 employees throughout the company, of whom 75 staff the collision side of the business (25 in mechanical). They helped drive $10 million in annual revenues in 2018 and increased that by 10 percent in 2019.

“We attract the right people and we’ve implemented 401K, which we really didn’t have before, and stepped up other benefits,” Haller said.

Among the latest team additions are two veteran managers, Wes Marsh and Ed Allen, who each have 25 years in the industry and have boosted sales. Haller said he expects a 20-percent increase in sales this year.

“Whether it’s on the collision or mechanical side of the business, my main goal is to take care of my people and have processes in place. It’s fun and it’s challenging.” If reaching his goals for Complete could be equated to a marathon, rather than a sprint, Haller said he’s halfway there.

“We’re on a really good run right now.”

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