How to Keep Business During an Expansion

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How to Keep Business During an Expansion

Aggravating? Yes. Cumbersome? Yes. Slightly inefficient? Definitely.

Preventing work from getting done? Absolutely not.

That’s what Joe Hershey, body shop manager at Bill Brown Ford in Livonia, Mich., has to say about his dealership’s recent addition to its body shop building.

The multi-million dollar expansion took the body shop (formerly a movie theatre) from 37,000 square feet to 50,000 square feet and added two paint booths. The expansion, which occurred right after an expansion to Bill Brown’s service department, finished up in March.

So, why exactly did Bill Brown decide to take on a massive expansion that its body shop manager describes as less than ideal? The first reason was out of opportunity after the introduction of aluminum in the 2015 F-150.

The second? Because it could.

Thanks to a number of choices made during the expansion, not only was growth possible, but the body shop also didn’t slow down.


Strike when the opportunity is right.

In early 2014, the landscape of collision repair was forever changed with the release of Ford’s 2015 F-150. The aluminum structure of the vehicle changed the way these vehicles were repaired and set them apart. Collision repair shops needed to adapt, and Bill Brown was no exception.

Bill Brown has an excellent reputation in a very competitive community (the dealership is located right outside of Dearborn, Mich.) and because of that, is always looking for ways to stand out. When the 2015 F-150 came out, the dealership saw an opportunity. In order to repair aluminum, extra space was needed at Bill Brown to separate this type of repair from steel repair in a segregated aluminum clean room. Since it would already be expanding for aluminum, the body shop also saw an opportunity to expand its paint department.


Invest in differentiators.

Along with aluminum repair, Bill Brown also found a way to make itself stand out when it added an extra tall, extra long paint booth that could accommodate Ford’s Transit vans. Standard paint booths cannot fit the Transit van, so many Ford dealerships in the area are not able to accommodate this work. Thus, it’s referred to Bill Brown.

Because of this paint booth, Bill Brown is able to work on vehicles that others in the area are not, creating an additional revenue stream and increasing its customer base.


Expand strategically.

One of the main reasons that Bill Brown’s collision repair center was able to stay up and running throughout the expansion was because of where the expansion was physically occurring.

“We didn’t have a logistical headache, mainly because [the work] was on the side of the building,” Hershey says.

The expansion took place on the side of the building, so the work was able to be sectioned off and daily work could continue as usual.


Add more hours to your day.

During the expansion, one of the biggest changes the body shop saw was the addition of a midnight shift. To accommodate the growing needs of the collision repair shop, Hershey implemented a three-person shift that lasted from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. The three-person team consisted of two painters and a body/frame technician. Why this team? According to Hershey, painters are more mobile than body techs.

“Painters can carry their tools in a small tool bag,” Hershey says. “Their bags are always moveable.”

 The midnight shift workers could move their work out and back before the end of their shift more easily than body techs.

 The shop ran this way for a little over two years and just recently got rid of the shift.


Create growth opportunities in house.

Bill Brown didn’t gain its competitive edge in the area by waiting for opportunities. Instead, it created its own and has cultivated a culture of learning that top talent wants to work for. A few ways it has done this:

Training budget: Each year, the collision repair department budgets $10,000 for training.

Accessing information: Because of its proximity to Dearborn, the dealership has access to a network of Ford people who actually put together the Ford Motor Company workshop manual. It also has the opportunity to work on vehicles before they’re made available to the public.

 “We have that benefit; we get a jump on today’s technology,” Hershey says.

On-site education: The dealership has an in-house instructor that is there for two out of the five days per week. He helps monitor estimate quality, evaluates repair procedures and helps Hershey review statistical information.

Apprenticeship program: Another way that the dealership has been able to grow has been through its apprenticeship program.

 “A lot of places, the growing pain that they have is that they don’t have adequate help. We’re on a mission to grown our own,” Hershey says.

The paid apprenticeship program at Bill Brown typically lasts between three-and-a-half to four years and mainly uses word-of-mouth to find potential candidates. Two of the current apprenticeships are sons of journeymen that are already employed with the dealership.


The Numbers 

At top-performing dealerships, fixed ops leaders devote more time to coaching, performance reviews, and long-term business planning. Top-quartile dealership leaders devoted 35 percent of their time to coaching, performance reviews and long-term business planning, while only 22 percent of the bottom-quartile dealerships did. Conversely, those dealership leaders spent nearly half (44 percent) of their time taking orders and managing new-car allocations, while the top-quartile leaders devoted only 25 percent of their time to those day-to-day tasks. 

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