Changes meet demand at Collision Repair Specialists
St. Joseph, Mo.—In business for 31 years, Collision Repair Specialists has done what it takes to stay on top of the latest trends, processes, and equipment.
The largest of the Eaton Group of Companies, it consolidated its two locations — at the north and south ends of town — into a former new-car dealership, with another Eaton business, the Pickup & Race Haven parts and accessories store, occupying the former dealership’s parts department. Collision repair and its Xpress Mechanical Services company now occupy 40,000 square feet, with 20 employees working in the collision repair business and three mechanical technicians.
A few months ago, the shop switched to PPG’s Envirobase High Performance waterborne paint, from distributor ColorVision, for its superior color match, said Owner Dale Eaton.
Although the shop’s technicians and representatives of the former paint supplier tried several remedies, they had too many color-match issues in which the mixed formula didn’t match the variant deck cards, Eaton said.
“We went from tinting 85 to 90 percent of what we were spraying to 2 percent now,” he said. “They were struggling to do 32 to 33 hours per day of paintwork; now we do 40 hours, easily. It was a tough decision; I was with them for more than 20 years. But I had painters getting ready to leave over having to still use it, and production was being affected.”
Eaton, who spends most of his time as production manager and still occasionally suits up in the booth, said the paint shop, with one prepper, one prepper/painter, and one painter, is set up for production with two prep stations for priming and prepping, five paint stations (essentially booths with curtain walls) and one paint booth. All painting stations include one million-BTU furnaces to speed curing. The shop was also an early adopter of painting parts off the vehicle, which benefits the shop in less masking and no overspray or hard-edge concerns.
To further speed production, color can be shot on the vehicles and parts in the separate paint stations, and then the curtains can be opened up so that all jobs can be clearcoated at once, he said.
Eaton predicts OE certification programs to be factor
Collision Repair Specialists has recently aligned with OE-certification programs from Assured Performance, and is the only shop in the area to be on the VeriFacts program, in which a VeriFacts employee shows up once a month unannounced to audit repairs and coach technicians, as necessary, on proper repair methods.
OE-certification will likely become more important, particularly for factory-leased vehicles, Eaton said.
“Lease a Honda, and you can take it anywhere you want for repairs, but if you don’t take it to a certified shop, you’re probably going to get stuck with a deduction of 15 percent of the value at the end of the lease because a non-certified shop repaired it,” Eaton said.
At press time, the shop was to be certified in Honda’s ProFirst program, which adds to the lines already covered by Assured Performance: Fiat/Chrysler Automobiles, Ford, GM, Hyundai, Infiniti, and Nissan. The shop has most equipment and some of the training needed to be recognized by Ford to repair aluminum vehicles, Eaton said, a process he expects to be complete by the end of the year.
CCC ONE helps involve technicians, smooth workflow
With the change in paint companies came a change in management systems, said Eaton’s son, Jeremy, who heads up the company’s public relations and marketing. The company now uses CCC ONE and has large monitors in each department to keep all stages of production updated in the system. It benefits not only management in the large facility but the customer, too, Eaton said, noting that technicians appreciate being made a part of the process.
“With CCC’s UpdatePromise, the customer gets updated when the technician moves their car to the next stage in production,” he said. “Now there’s accountability not just from the front office to the manager; there’s accountability straight from the technician to the customer, which is awesome.”
With monitors and Windows tablets at each repair station, Eaton said, a technician can also send a quick message to the estimator that, as an example, four more clips are needed on a repair because he broke them, or a repair will be delayed and the customer should be contacted by the estimator.
Community outreach is marketing focus and drives business
Eaton joined the family business a few years ago. Since then, although he spends part of the marketing budget on advertising, he’s focused on community outreach programs including a wide range of beneficiaries, including the company’s own The Next Big Thing, which collects diapers and canned food in partnership with American Legion Post No. 287, Second Harvest Food Bank and United Way of Greater St. Joseph.
In exchange for either a 120-count box of diapers or 30 cans of food, donors receive one oil-change voucher redeemable at Xpress Mechanical Services. A rehabilitated vehicle — one of two that the businesses give away each year — is given to a current military member selected from nominations.
Last year’s drive netted almost 4,500 diapers and filled up a van with canned food, Eaton said. The publicity quickly goes viral on social media such as Instagram and Facebook, he said.
“I took a picture with mom and me with the diapers,” Eaton said. “And it was shared 37 times or something like that. And that’s a huge social media day.”