Operations Shop Production Cycle Time Management

Prevent Dips in Efficiency

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SHOP STATS: Wheeling Auto Center   Location: Arlington Heights, Ill.  Operator: Dave Becker  Average Monthly Car Count: 420  Staff Size: 14  Shop Size: 12,500 square feet Annual Revenue: $3 million  

How efficient is your shop? Think about it. How often are your techs walking back and forth to get tools? It may not seem like a big deal, but a minute here and a minute there can really add up and take away from your bottom line. Sometimes, the tech is to blame and he or she is just wasting time. Often, however, it has to do with the shop’s layout and, there are processes shop owners can put in place to increase efficiency. 

Dave Becker, owner of 12,500-square-foot, $3 million per year Wheeling Auto Center in Arlington Heights, Ill., has been in the business for 32 years and has always made efficiency his No. 1 priority, so much so that his overall technician’s efficiency for 2019 was 121 percent. With this focus, he’s had processes in place in order to prevent dips in efficiency all together. Here’s how his processes ensure his shop’s efficiency stays consistent.

As told to Abby Patterson

It’s important to measure your technicians’ time. Early on, we learned this. I belonged to a peer group many years ago where we discussed the issues and solutions in our businesses. As we discussed ways to improve business, efficiency was one of the main topics.

Now, we calculate and monitor our technicians’ efficiency numbers and we’re constantly trying to build onto that. Basically, we start them out as apprentices and measure out what they are doing. As they grow and learn systems, we can see them grow and compare it to their baselines. 

We’re typically starting with younger people. Let’s say I hire someone with 10 years of experience; I would use the baseline of techs with that amount of experience.

I look at tech efficiency constantly and look at processes they follow. Now, if I see a dip in efficiency, I typically know why. And if it becomes a pattern, then we need to figure something out to correct it. Most of the time, it isn’t the tech; it’s an outside force that causes the inefficiencies.

A shop’s layout can aid in efficiency. Our shop is broken up in three areas. Instead of having all of the technicians walk all the way to one central location for a piece of equipment, each tech has their own designated space and their own central location to save time. For example, we keep a couple of air conditioning systems in each central area that the technicians can easily be able to go and grab without it affecting efficiency. If it’s laid out without any thought, then time can easily be wasted by needlessly walking back and forth. 

Establish a protocol to always ensure technicians stay busy. Each technician we have has their own lightbulb to turn on when they run out of work. Because of the way our shop is layed out, if a tech runs out of work and walks into the office and asks what to do, it wastes time. So instead, we have a series of six light bulbs that they can turn on. So now if a technician runs out of work, he’s going to turn that light and it will identify him as being unproductive; in other words, he’s not making money for the business. As soon as a service advisor sees that light on, their main goal is to find them work to get that light off however they have to. If a tech comes to the service advisor and says they’re out of work and then walks back, two phone calls come in and a customer suddenly needs help and then they’ve completely forgotten that that technician is out of work without something to remind them. 

Ask for feedback on how your staff can be more efficient. We have internal meetings about it, we ask for input from our staff on how we can improve things and make their jobs easier, and we take that advice and act on it. It’s probably one of the biggest things to get feedback and act on it.

If a problem in efficiency arises, we’ll go out and monitor the situation to see what’s happening and try to come up with solutions on how to improve. Here’s an example: Let’s say I have two techs working in the front of the shop. If one of the techs grabs the last rack in that location and the other tech needed to service a car, he’d have to find a space in the back of the shop and would have to pull all of his tools with him to do so; it’s extremely inefficient. To fix that, we now try to have techs not take on too many cars. Overall, it’s about taking time to observe and come up with solutions to the roadblocks that you see.

If you’re not measuring that, you can’t manage it. I think the key element there is being able to measure what that is. Efficiency, productivity, it depends on who you speak to and what their terminology is, but you need to measure something before you can manage it. Whether it’s through equipment or education, it’s about keeping people on task and evaluating that task on ways to improve it.

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