Bodyshop Benchmark – Canadian Auto Dealer

How Budds’ Oakville, Ontario Collision Centre is taking front and centre stage in the industry.

piercey1“It’s all about Six Sigma,” says Budds’ Collision Vice President and General Manager Sam Piercey, as he draws a little diagram on a piece of paper. “Doing it better, faster, cheaper.”

When it comes to fixed operations, espe- cially collision work, dealers across the country would be wise to take heed of Sam’s message. Starting out 40 years ago as a paint and body man, he has helped create what is probably one of the most incredible collision repair facilities, not only in North America, but possibly the world.

Measuring more than 41,000 square feet, on the site of an old Wal-Mart factory, Budds’ literally redefines the concept of what a body shop actually is. Massive roll up doors allow customers to drive their cars directly in for appraisals; while the floor is clean enough to eat your dinner off. The cavernous facility is peppered with state-of-the-art equipment and processes; from dedicated fast lanes for small repairs; to computerized scanners that ‘mea- sure’ vehicle body damage; to six individual body prep/painting stations; high-end spot welders and even a sealed aluminum body repair room (the only one of its kind currently operational in North America we might add).

“My goal, was for us to build a world-class facility,” says Piercey, “but in order to do that, you need to be constantly improving. The Japanese have a good word for that, Kaizen, which emphasizes employee participation.”

EMPOWER EMPLOYEES, AVOID HIERARCHIES

And that’s one of the keys to the success of Budds’; the way in which responsibility and tasks are delegated. For example, the shop technicians take a full hand in the process of repairing vehicles that come in; dealing directly with the appraisers, ordering parts and fixing the damage, avoiding the need for a centralized micro-managing hierarchy; which has proven in many cases to be coun- ter productive.

“The techs are the ones who fix the vehicles, so if they’ve got full control over the process and also accountability, it means better results. It also saves time,” says Piercey.

Getting back to Six Sigma, he’s also keen to point out that the collision industry faces a number of challenges, today perhaps more than ever. “It’s a tough business. You have to be willing to adapt or perish.” Piercey, who sits on several industry boards and commit- tees has gained a reputation as an innovator in collision circles and indeed, some aspects that are now largely standard practice in the indus- try were pioneered at Budds’.

Take water-based paint, for example. Budds’ uses BASF as an exclusive supplier, having forged strong ties with the premium German brand. “We made the switch to water-based paint about eight years ago,” says Piercey. “Back then it was almost unheard of and it was a huge upfront investment, but today; everybody’s doing it and environmental regu- lations have forced the industry to clean up its act. With a paint like Glasurit’s 90 Line; you’re able to replicate some of the best auto- motive finishes in the world, without high levels of contamination and if you can do it quickly and efficiently; then you’re ahead of the game; again, getting back to Six Sigma; it’s all about doing it better, faster cheaper.”

Yet forging alliances with companies like BASF has proved beneficial in other ways too. “Today, if BASF wants to try out a new product, we’re a recognized test facility, the same goes with 3M which supplies paper, tape and sanding equipment. To get to that stage, where these companies put that level of trust in you; it’s a good feeling.”

WIPE OUT WASTE IN YOUR OPERATIONS

Yet Piercey isn’t one to rest on his laurels, he’s constantly looking for ways to further improve efficiencies, or as he likes to call it “leaning out,” the business. “Insurance companies are always looking for ways in which the process can be more efficient and if you approach col- lision work with that mindset and look beyond the obvious it can often prove beneficial.”

piercey2And that boils down to essentially one thing, the less time a vehicle is in the shop being fixed; the better, not only for the insurance company but also for the owner. One method Budds’ has used to expedite the process is by speeding up the actual painting process, using quick drying UV primers as well as increasing the volume of air movement, which allows the paint to cure in around 15 minutes, before applying clearcoats.

“In our fast lane repairs, vehicles with minor damage can be driven in and turned around in as little as 45 minutes,” says Piercey. But also speeding up the process are other aspects, like computerized estimate systems from Mitch- ell and ADP which can shave hours down to minutes, especially when it comes to finalizing work orders and sourcing parts.

“If, as a business, any business, you can find ways to streamline operations and do it success- fully, then more clients will want to employ your services and your reputation grows,” he says. “It can also allow you to invest in new equipment.”

Budds’ sealed aluminum repair room is prime example. It cost more than $250,000 to construct, but now cars from all over the country are brought here for aluminum repairs – a nearly new Jaguar XF, in during our visit, hailed all the way from Alberta. “People know we have this facility, that we can do these repairs and they want to bring their vehicles here, they want them to be fixed as good as or better than new,” remarks Piercey.

ENERGY EFFICIENCY ANOTHER KEY DRIVER

Yet investing in new technology and equip- ment can also help in other ways, including reducing overhead, good examples at Budds’ being the ventilation and lighting systems.

Just prior to our visit the shop had made a com- plete switch to LED lighting. Again, it’s a sizeable investment up front, but one according to Piercey that “ in 3-4 years will pay off. Besides reducing energy consumption it will also halve the shop’s Hydro bill, from approximately $10,000 per month to around $4,000,” he explains.

Efficiency might be one thing, but as Piercey points out, customer satisfaction is perhaps the most important aspect of all. Although Budds’ Collision is intrinsically

linked with the family’s other retail stores, namely the BMW; Jaguar Land-Rover and Saab franchises, the collision centre treats each and every customer the same, no matter what they drive “If you’ve had an accident, then we want to do our best to provide the highest quality service we can,” says Piercey. “Car accidents and vehicle repairs can be very stressful and there are so many horror stories out there, but here at Budds’ we want the customer to feel welcome and comfortable during the entire process.” A good philosophy and one that more of us should adopt.

Yet as innovative and successful as Piercey’s approach has been, he’s also fully aware of the two major obstacles currently facing the industry.

“Today, automotive technology is advanc- ing at a rapid rate, faster than ever,” he says. “We’ve got hybrids, which require special handling when it comes to their high voltage electric systems. Even some conventional cars, especially high end models; have a great deal of technology built into them.”

Piercey cites one example as the current BMW 7-Series. “It’s got 50 programmable computers and 25 modules; if you don’t have the tools and skills to work on it and can’t handle the computers properly, it can ending up costing you $5,000 or more for an indi- vidual processor. It’s becoming more and more expensive for shops to keep pace with this stuff, so in the future you’re likely to see fewer shops, but better quality ones.”

Gazing further into the crystal ball, perhaps an even bigger issue he sees is a shortage of labour entering the automotive trade pro- fession. “A big problem we’re facing in the industry in general is not enough people; we need trained, qualified technicians but they just aren’t out there. The government has cancelled a lot of assistance programs for the trades, which is a shame, because youngsters are not being encouraged to go to school to learn them. We need fresh blood in this business, now probably more than ever. There’s still a bit of a hang up about the paint and body trade, that’s dusty, smelly and shady. Today that’s gen- erally far from the truth, but the biggest part, even though the industry has cleaned up its act significantly, is convincing young people that trades can really provide great career opportunities. I’m living proof of that.”

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