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  Management Feature

Express Lanes Benefit Shops of All Sizes

Posted 10/18/2005
Hank Nunn

Does your shop fit the criteria for express lanes? If so, you can create a new revenue stream for your business.

The idea of an express lane is not new. You can probably picture the booth with a line of cars leading up to the door. That line should just keep on moving. Sadly, most of us feel that the express lane idea is only for the bigger shops. The small or medium-sized shop simply can't take advantage of the concept. If you feel that way, you might be wrong!

Most of us in the collision repair industry know there are actually two repair shops in every collision repair facility. There is a body repair shop (metal shop) and a refinish repair shop, the paint shop. Each is unique.

A look at the paint shop shows the same processes and procedures being performed over and over. Feather, prime, block, prep, paint, clear and finish. Over and over, the same operations are performed. The paint shop is easily visualized as a production shop or an assembly line.

The body shop is a bit more complex. No two repairs are the same. The diversity of work in the body shop makes it an unlikely candidate for the assembly line approach. The body shop is a "small job" shop.

Somehow we have found ways to efficiently combine the two types of operation under one roof. The most common shop model today has a group of metal men producing collision-repaired vehicles, which then go into the paint shop. Once in the paint shop, the vehicle is processed by a team of painters using an assembly line approach to refinishing. As vehicles move down the refinish line, the apprentice prepper feathers and primes, a mid-level prepper blocks and preps, while the journey-level painter matches color and sprays.

There is a type of collision repair that lends itself to an assembly line approach as well. That special class of job is the small collision repair. The small one-hour dent, or the simple repair and replace of a fender, are examples of this special type of repair. These may be repaired with an assembly line approach.

Some shops have set up "express" lanes specifically designed to process these small repairs. They go by several names. "Fast-Track," "Three-Panel" and "24-Hour lines" are some of the terms that have been used to describe these lanes specifically designed to repair the small hit.

The idea of separating these small jobs from the average shop mix is not new. Auctions have specialized in this type of repair for years. In that market it is not unusual to see facilities set up to spot refinish 80 or more units in one day - in one room! Today, many are setting up these dedicated lanes in conventional collision repair shops to repair these small jobs.

There are several benefits to having express lanes. Reduced severity and increased customer satisfaction are two major benefits. Reduced severity is achieved through processing more small jobs - fast. Increasing the number of small jobs will result in reduced severity. Remember, severity is an average so if you push more little numbers into the formula, severity drops. Express lanes are designed to move vehicles quickly, often in 24 hours or less. Repairing vehicles quickly results in increased customer satisfaction.

Another benefit of implementing an express lane is money. These jobs are profitable!

Since these repairs are relatively simple, they generally do not require journey-level skill and journey-level expense for the repair. They are also generally labor intensive. Remember the gross profit percentages of the mid-'80s? The good old 45 percent gross profit percentage? That can be achieved again in the express lane.

Most visualize the express lane as having a booth or two with lines of vehicles in front of the booth. One way or another, the vehicles are repaired, feathered, primed, prepped and painted in an assembly line, which proceeds through the booth. This visualization requires specialized technicians to process the vehicle. It works, too.

Problems are generally encountered with this dedicated express lane concept in three areas.

First: Never place a vehicle in the lane that does not belong there. Remember, these must be the smallest jobs in the shop. If you put a door skin replacement or an eight-hour dent in the line, the mid-level body technician will spend the bulk of his time on that job and the others will be ignored. The line will dry up.

It is critical to specifically define the qualifications for jobs entering the express lane. Qualifications might be, "Express lane jobs to have two hours of body repair or less, a maximum of three total panels of paint work, all parts in and checked and all insurance issues must be resolved prior to repair." You set your own standard and then you must stick with them or the line will stop.

Second: There must be an "escape" route for problem vehicles. Anyone who has been in the business for a few years knows that some days, somehow, the wheels fall off even the easiest repair. When this happens in the express lane, everything comes to a grinding halt, unless you have an escape route so that the problem vehicle can be moved off-line until whatever caused it to stop can be resolved.

Third: No work! These dedicated lanes eat up lots of work. Using today's hyper-cure refinish technology, it is possible to process eight to 10 of these jobs in an eight-hour day. That is as many as 50 units per week! Many have found that the lines consume so many vehicles that they can't keep them full.

Some owners of mid-sized and small shops are now finding that you don't need to designate a lane, specialized people or equipment to have an express lane. They have found that the express lane can work in any shop, no matter what the shop size. The express lane concept should be viewed as a series of specialized process steps to be applied to these very special types of repair.

Simply stated, create a series of procedures to be followed when these jobs happen to arrive at the door. Designate a stall, a technician or even a specially colored repair order hat to highlight the express job. That job then follows a preferred line through the existing shop with priority over the larger jobs.

This idea is being used in more and more small and mid-sized shops with great success. When a job comes to the door that conforms to the shop's criteria for the "express lane," the estimator (salesperson) sets up the sale to the customer. The estimator might say, "Mrs. Brown, your vehicle qualifies for our express repair lane. If I can have all of the parts for your vehicle and all insurance issues are resolved prior to the beginning of this repair, we can repair your vehicle in 24 hours. I have an express lane opening on Tuesday. Can I schedule that for you?" The result? Easy sale, happy customer and a terrific marketing tool. Imagine going to the local insurance agents with news that you repair 20 percent of the vehicles in your shop in 24 hours or less.

No matter what size your shop, you can reduce cycle time, reduce overall severity, increase customer satisfaction and make more money through the use of the express lane concept.

Editor's note: This article is one of several management articles that will be contributed to AutoInc. this year by Automotive Management Institute (AMI) instructors. To learn more about AMI, its courses and instructors, visit www.AMIonline.org.

Hank Nunn has a 27-year involvement in the collision repair industry as adjuster, shop owner, technician and jobber store owner. Nunn has presented training seminars to the collision industry since 1989 through H.W. Nunn & Associates. Currently the marketing manager and facilitator for DuPont Performance Coatings SMART Seminars, Nunn may be contacted at h_nunn@msn.com.


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