Growing the Lean Way

May 1, 2018
An intense focus on continuous improvement and reflecting on successes and failures has been a critical component of D-Patrick’s evolution from one 4,500-square-foot location that worked on 10 cars per month and $350,000 in yearly sales, to four locations that pull in nearly $10 million in annual revenue.

D-Patrick Body & Glass has a giant whiteboard at the airport location of its Evansville, Ind., dealership organization. On that board reads one question: “What worked and what didn’t work?”

It’s a question the staff of 20 asks every day, when it stops production at 4:30 in the afternoon and has a mandatory meeting in front of that board. It’s also the question all four store managers ask each other at the bi-weekly manager’s meeting, also held in front of that whiteboard.

“We look at, what’s working? How many cars per location are we doing? What have we done this week?” says Forrest Williamson, general manager of D-Patrick Body & Glass By the Airport, the body shop’s newest location. “We try to keep everybody streamlined. Everyone is on the same page.”

An intense focus on continuous improvement and reflecting on successes and failures has been a critical component of D-Patrick’s evolution from one 4,500-square-foot location that worked on 10 cars per month and $350,000 in yearly sales, to four locations that pull in nearly $10 million in annual revenue. It’s why the dealership thrived as an urban oasis in downtown Evansville, and it’s also why, after the local university snapped up that property and forced the flagship location to move, that that branch continued to grow in its newest airport location.

The First Evolution of D-Patrick

Former manager Greg Hagan used several notable tactics to boost car count, annual revenue, staff size and efficiency, without adding square footage to the original downtown Evansville shop, which was in an urban, enclosed location.

Appearance. Hagan’s first task was to clean up the cluttered, uninviting shop, which had been neglected for years. His goal was to wow customers from the moment they stepped through the door.

Marketing. Hagan launched an aggressive advertising campaign that included radio spots, email blasts and calls to insurance companies. The business’s DRP relationships grew significantly because of that effort.

Hagan also packaged a letter introducing the body shop with a brochure about accident advice, and gave it to the dealership to distribute to car buyers. He dropped the Ford connotation from the shop’s name and logo to emphasize the shop repairs everything. Roughly half of the business is Ford, the rest is a mix of domestic and foreign makes.

Hagan also placed business cards on damaged vehicles or those he knows have been the subject of recalls.

Finally, he created stand-alone websites for the body shops. Their original approach was sub-domain pages with a navigation button to their body shop pages that included a dropdown for each location. The problem, however was that those pages didn’t rank particularly well. Instead, D-Patrick bought the rights to several domain names in order to corner the market on the terms the public uses most to search for the collision repair services they perform. 

Lean principles. Finally, Hagan and the team emphasized lean processes that created a streamlined workspace that allowed for surprising efficiency given the size of the shop.

He invested about $225,000 in new equipment, including parts carts, a compression spot welder, plasma cutter, digital measuring tools, a mobile prep station and a no-bake clearcoat from Sherwin-Williams that reduced drying time by 20 to 30 minutes.

The Next Evolution

Those tactics ensured the downtown location was a success for years—until the Indiana University Medical Center swooped in and purchased the entire property four years ago. It required the Ford body shop and dealership to move. Luckily, Williamson says the organization had the marketing and management strategies in place to easily create a new location. In some ways, he says, it was even a blessing in disguise.

“Evansville had no other place to go besides east and north,” he says. “They built a new hospital five miles past this new location, so we knew that the Evansville economy was moving that way.”

That’s why, in 2012, D-Patrick chose an 18,000-square-foot facility near that new hospital and near the airport to serve as the new Ford body shop—this time a complete stand-alone facility from the dealership. The new location is recognized for Ford aluminum repairs and all technicians are I-CAR Platinum certified. In addition, the body shop has a service center under the same roof—with 20 bays dedicated to collision and six dedicated to service.  
“With the mechanical being in the same building, we’re not having a two-day downtime having the vehicle towed to a dealership or offsite facility for front suspension or something and then scheduling to their convenience,” Williamson says. “Our turn arounds stay really good.”

"Really good” is an understatement. The shop runs about 40 cars per week in the body shop with five-hour touch time per day—significantly above industry standards. The key, Williamson says, is a strict adherence to the Toyota Way and what he refers to as “the 12-second rule.”

“If the tech has to go more than 12 seconds looking for filler or adhesive,that’s a problem,” he says. “We don’t want them looking for everything they need. We make sure we have equipment centralized, spot welders, MIG welders … We put enough product or repair items at each stall so they stay there.”

For example, the shop uses a paint vendor program that scans and invoices clips and fasteners at the start of the repair so they can be bagged and tagged on the appropriate parts carts. This way, these important pieces can't be misplaced and cause delays to a repair. Then, the shop foreman and estimator do a complete teardown on a vehicle before repairs. Before going into paint, the foreman signs off his approval and does the same after vehicle comes out of paint, too.

"It’s constantly got people touching it and approving it,” Williamson says.

The detailer is one of the final eyes on the vehicle and has the authority to send a vehicle back to paint if there are dirt or overspray issues. Then, the front office does one final inspection.

Forrest Williamson’s Thoughts on Recruiting Young Talent

Running a lean, improvement-focused dealer body shop requires a certain culture and set of employees to continue setting those standards. And with today’s tech shortage in the industry, finding that team can be a challenge. That’s why D-Patrick Body & Glass has turned to unique and often underutilized programs to build their own employee base.

We try to grab some young people coming out of tech schools. We’d rather train them the way that we want things to be done. We also use Job Corps. It’s an organization throughout the U.S. where so-called “problem students” live on campus for vocational training and education. It’s government funded for body shops, so we always have someone here from that program.

That program has strict requirements, so while some students may be pegged as “having issues,” they screen them, do extensive background checks, and at times, some haven’t fit our standards. But for the most part, I’ve found that stereotype couldn’t be further from the truth. For one, everybody deserves a second chance. Anybody can make a mistake.

They come in and we treat them just like our employee. They’ll sweep the floor. We’ll assign them to the shop foreman and they'll assign them to a mentor tech, under whom they work. Someone is always watching and training. When they go to this point, they only have a 1-3 month window until they got out to the job market after going through a one– or two-year program.

It’s been hugely successful. We’ve hired six people through that program just at this location and the Ford store, and I know we do the program at other locations, too.