Educating insurers pays dividends at Baron Collision Center
Merriam, Kan. — Insurers and collision repair shops often find themselves at odds over the cost and methods of repair. But it doesn’t have to be that way, said Baron Collision Center Manager Randy Blackburn.
“Whether we’re the insurance company, the repair facility, or the parts people, we’re in this together,” he said. “We all have one goal, to take care of our customers’ needs in a timely, cost-effective fashion. And we all have to learn to work together.”
Beginning his career as a technician, Blackburn was an estimator for 10 years at a nearby luxury makes-focused collision repair center before joining Baron in June 2012, when the 36,000-square-foot collision repair facility was just a shell. It opened in November 2012, and he now oversees a staff of 24: a shop foreman, eight body technicians, two mechanics, two painters, two preppers, a full-time detailer, a full-time porter, three estimators, an office manager, a receptionist, and two parts people.
The BMW-Certified collision repair center serves the nearby Baron BMW, Mini, and Shawnee-Mission Kia and Hyundai dealerships, which are owned by Group 1 Automotive, a Houston-based dealership group that is the third-largest automotive retailer in the country, with 162 dealerships in the United States, the United Kingdom and Brazil. Group 1 adds about three collision repair facilities per year, Blackburn said.
About 70 percent of the shop’s volume comes from the BMW and Mini nameplates, he said, which often require materials and repair methods not well known by many insurance adjusters.
“It’s not their fault that they have not been trained on how to repair these cars to factory specifications,” he said. “An insurance company can’t send every adjuster they have to get training on every car, so they go by I-CAR guidelines.”
Estimates for tow-ins begin with a thorough repair analysis of the damaged vehicle by a dedicated blueprint technician, who, like the rest of the shop’s technicians, is BMW-certified. Without interruptions from phone calls and drive-in estimates, the blueprint technician has the freedom to analyze in-depth the repairs needed, just as the technician making the repairs would, Blackburn said.
“If it takes five, six — even 10 hours — to pull up all of the repair procedures and write an estimate, we have the time to do that to make sure we get everything we need, which greatly increases our cycle-time performance,” he said.
All of the repair procedures, parts diagrams, and pricing are listed in CCC ONE, the shop’s estimating and shop management software, Blackburn said, noting that the majority of the industry overlooks, or is unaware of how to use what’s in the estimating software to include the repair operations that are not customarily included.
Before an insurance adjuster arrives to inspect a damaged vehicle, Blackburn said his shop has already prepared its estimate package, which includes printouts of the repair procedures from BMW-Mini, CCC Repair Methods and the price list.
Once an adjuster has worked with the shop a few times, he or she understands and appreciates the “homework” done by Baron staff, Blackburn said. A quarter-panel replacement on a late-model 5-series, for example, would require adhesive kits with a price tag totaling $500, a cost not customary for mainstream vehicles. This can result in some resistance from an adjuster, he said.
“Engineers in Germany spent millions of dollars on exactly how to repair this car to make that repair last the lifetime of the vehicle,” Blackburn said. “All I’m doing is what we’re asked to do by the manufacturer to repair that customer’s car correctly. And once you get them the documentation and you help educate them, everything goes so much better.”
The shop’s three estimators, although “growing every day,” are relatively new to the shop, and either Blackburn or his office manager audit each file in the afternoon and close it, consulting the estimators at the same time about what items may have been overlooked.
“That way, we don’t have a guy buying a belt molding for $35 and not filing a supplement,” Blackburn said. “Just throwing it in there and closing the file eats up our profit.”
The culture of helping teach employees to do their job better or more efficiently extends throughout the shop, said Blackburn, who uses his experience as a body, frame, and paint technician to work alongside technicians as needed to improve their technique.
“I try to take a hands-on approach with everyone, but I also step back a little bit and let them learn at their own pace and make some mistakes,” he said. “I’ll say, ‘How would you correct this? What would you do?’ and have them come up with the answer. I want you to fully understand, which is going to make that next experience that much easier. People connect with a feeling more than they do an order.”
Shop is designed for maximum throughput and to accommodate growth
The workflow of the shop progresses in an oval pattern to allow for a vehicle to be blueprinted on one end, structural repairs made using Car-O-Liner frame equipment including EVO fixturing and holding accessories and body repairs performed before circling around to the paint shop on the other side. The triple-deck Garmat prep station is used for spraying primer and some bumpers and small vertical-surface parts, but most vehicles are painted in one of three Garmat downdraft booths, set up for spraying waterborne Spies Hecker paint, one of only a few (including another Axalta line, Standox) approved by the BMW-Certified program. The paint department is designed to provide for ample business expansion, Blackburn said, and never be a bottleneck. He said he’d like to see sales increase to more than $750,000 per month.
“We don’t want to outgrow ourselves, because you start to lose your reputation and your cycle-time performance,” he said. “It could take you years to recover from that. But as we look at our next quarterly reports, we see some substantial growth rolling into the summer, and we’ll be adding two or three technicians within the next month or so for our next phase.