Dick Smith Ford Body Shop Manager Marc Miller (right) inspects an F-150 with Technician Ralph “Rufus” Kaat prior to delivery.Painter Glenn Taylor prepares to spray clearcoat on a door on which he previously sprayed Axalta Cromax Pro waterborne paint.

Building relationships, building business

For Dick Smith Ford Body Shop, focus on customer service yields five-fold growth in car count

Raytown, Mo.—After Dick Smith Ford Body Shop Manager Marc Miller’s 39 years in collision repair, a vehicle’s technology and its repair needs may have changed, but what has remained constant is that business is built on relationships with customers, employees, and insurance companies. His philosophy is simple: Treat people as you would like to be treated.

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At a Glance

*Shop size: 15 bays
*Employee count: Seven full-time
*Car count: 100 cars per month
*Paint line: Cromax Pro waterborne
*Estimating System: CCC ONE

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“As an industry, we can get too tied down in dollars and forget that there’s a customer involved,” said Miller, who got his start in a shop founded by his grandfather, the former Sam Miller Coach Co., on Troost Avenue in Kansas City, Mo.

Since coming to Dick Smith Ford as manager about two years ago, he’s nearly quintupled the collision center’s car count to about 100 per month.

“For our size, that’s hustling,” he said of the shop, which has six employees working in two paint booths, a prep station, and four bays in the paint shop, and another 11 bays in the body shop, including one for aluminum repair.

“We all do what we have to in order to take care of the customer. I have a good group of guys.”

Loyal customers, who have asked for and received his cell phone number, have followed him through a couple moves and call his phone when they have a need for collision repair. Careful handling of the repair process, from estimate to delivery, keeps customers satisfied, even if a delay or other problem should crop up.

Miller stays in touch with customers and strives to greet them by name when they enter his office. (As a memory aid, if he’s called a customer to pick up their vehicle, he will pull their file and place it on the desk.) He holds a production meeting each day at 8 a.m. so each department is aware of any potential issues, such as a backordered part, before they become emergencies. He also calls customers every two or three days to keep them updated on the repair progress.

“Even if you have bad news for them, it’s handled a lot better if you tell them upfront. Staying in contact with your customer does wonders for your customer relationship.”

Before delivering the car, Miller notes what may be an area of concern for the customer. He’ll be sure to road-test a vehicle that has had major suspension work done and tell them prior to delivery that it “drives great.”

Miller has also been able to boost the shop’s non-Ford collision repair work, which now makes up 55 percent of its total. He also strives to install OEM parts, when possible.

“I’m not a proponent of aftermarket parts,” he said. “I tell people, ‘I want your car to leave here a Ford, a Lincoln, a Mercedes, a Toyota, or whatever brand. Sometimes I can get a price match, and sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I have to eat a little, and I let the customer know, ‘We weren’t able to price-match this, but I went ahead and put on factory parts.”

Miller said he often retains the parts boxes to show customers when they pick up their car that OEM parts were used.

“And on the occasion that we might have to use used parts, I will tell people, ‘If I won’t put it on my car, I won’t put it on your car.’”

Used sheet metal parts are stripped to bare metal, an operation not paid for by insurers but one Miller deems necessary to prevent any surprises, such as undetected body filler.

Similarly, he insists on using quality products, such as Axalta’s Cromax Pro waterborne paint, purchased from Blue Ridge Paint.

“There are times you might need to butt-match instead of blend, for one reason or another. Painter Glenn Taylor happens to be very good at matching, but we can dial it in better with waterborne.”

The shop also uses Cromax Premier LE3130S UV primer surfacer with either a Tesla Cure hand-held lamp for smaller areas or an H & S Autoshot Cure-Tek stand-mounted lamp. In 30-60 seconds, the primed area is cured and ready for paint, which helps cycle time, Miller said.

The dealership is part of Orlando, Fla.-based Greenway Automotive Group, with 47 locations in the U.S., including State Line Chrysler Dodge Ram Jeep in Kansas City, Mo. Miller credits management for its quick approval of equipment purchases he’s deemed necessary, such as the Autel tablet scan tool he bought about a year ago for pre- and post-repair scans. Besides getting paid for the service, it also increases customer satisfaction by reducing comebacks from a DTC being triggered down the road.

“I want no more than a 1-percent comeback rate,” he said. “And I will go over that printout at delivery: ‘We did the post-scan; we went into the electronics in the car, and you can see everything is clean. That gives them peace of mind.”


Parts & People

Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.