IMI Magazine

IMI Magazine

BODYSHOP - Time to Think Again

Essentially, time is the main commodity that bodyshop owners and managers are in the business of buying and selling. They buy time from their productives (painters and repairers) and they sell time to their customers.

However, while time bought (at an hourly rate and through paying wages) is more or less constant, time sold can (and does) fluctuate. Compounding this is the fact that most bodyshops are blighted by imposed labour rates, bottom-line discounts, and increasing courtesy car costs. In other words, for many of the bodyshops’ repairs, what they can charge is being ‘set’ for them. Hence, the business income becomes dependent on the loading of the bodyshop, where ‘loading’ is the general term for keeping all productives busy on revenue-generating tasks.

In order to load a bodyshop it is imperative to measure and manage the business’s ‘saleable time’ (hours that can be sold to the customer) and this rings particularly true when a bodyshop has highly-skilled productives and where ‘idle time’ must be avoided (or at least minimised) at all times.

For example, Chartwell Derby specialises in repairing prestige cars and has manufacturer approvals from Aston Martin, Jaguar, Mercedes, Land Rover, BMW and Audi. The bodyshop claims to be the largest independent aluminium repair facility in the world and, in addition to traditional panel repair work, offers ‘smart’ repairs (chips, small dents, glass chips, wheel refurbishment, trim repairs and other cosmetic ‘touch-ups’).

Chartwell has 29 highly-skilled productives and keeping them fully employed is crucial to the company’s income. Managing director, Chris Brightmore, comments: “Unless you have a means of measuring and managing your available productive hours then you won’t know how many hours you’ve got to sell.”

Most bodyshops typically rely on T-cards to indicate how busy they are at present and their diaries to estimate how busy they are likely to be in the coming days/weeks. However, neither the T-cards in the rack nor the receptionist’s diary can tell a bodyshop how busy it could, and should, be.Chartwell used to operate the ‘T-cards and diary’ system. “Our productives were bar-coded on and off jobs,” Brightmore recalls, “but recorded time alone was not sufficient because the information was valueless until the job was closed.” The T-cards and diary were complemented with a (software-based) bodyshop management tool, but it was a ‘point solution’ that only focused on tracking work in progress. Brightmore adds: “It was unable to indicate what we should be doing.”

The problem of ‘knowing where you are but not knowing where you should be’ (in business terms) is all too common in the bodyshop industry. And the danger here is that metrics other than ‘saleable hours’ start giving a misleading indication of how well the business is doing. Brightmore recollects: “When taking bookings, one factor that governed when we could start certain jobs would be the availability of courtesy cars.”

The key word here is “courtesy”. Provision of a courtesy car is done to please and assist the customer – it is an aside to the main business of repairing cars. Yet the availability of courtesy cars often becomes a bottleneck in the flow of the main business – buying and selling hours.

In 2003, Chartwell switched over to a bodyshop loading system called EMACS Bodyshop Manager Plus from EMA Computer Solutions. Based on a bodyshop’s constantly changing labour resources and the availability of courtesy cars, the software calculates all aspects of loading the bodyshop and provides a real-time view of jobs in progress.

EMACS sales director Alan Hargreaves explains: “One of the reports the system produces is a graph of the available hours for the next 30 days – where each day is the sum of the productives’ daily hours multiplied by their efficiency during the previous three months.” He added that the visualisation of available hours (based on productives’ efficiencies) leads to better utilisation.Efficiency and utilisation are crucial to bodyshop loading.

For example, if a productive completed a 6-hour job in 4 hours, then he is 150% efficient. However, if the 6 hour job was the only revenue-generating task that he performed in an 8 hour day then he was only 75% utilised. “In terms of saleable hours,” said Hargreaves “the productive could have done two 6-hour jobs in the 8-hour day. The company would still ‘buy’ 8 hours from the productive but would be able to sell 12 instead of six.”

In addition to calculating the available (saleable) hours, Bodyshop Manager Plus provides a number of other functions:

  • Estimating and estimator performance;
  • Workshop control (job status and progress);
  • Time recording (in real-time);
  • Job cards and invoices;
  • Courtesy car availability.

By integrating all of the above bodyshop management practices into one ‘place’ the software tool allows bodyshops to be efficiently loaded. It also avoids under-booking by preventing secondary issues like the availability of courtesy cars from controlling the main business. Chartwell’s current practice is to use the system to calculate two start dates - one with and one without the provision of a courtesy car – and let the customer decide.

Further, by using a time management solution, it is possible to avoid overbooking – which can not only upset customers when cars are not returned on time but also result in the need to lease extra courtesy cars.

Chartwell’s website (www.chartwells.net) allows customers to check the repair status of their vehicle and the company also subscribes to ClaimWatch’s mobile phone messaging service, where car owners can receive text messages on repair status.

Richard Warrilow is a Technical Author with Declaration Limited.