Summit Collision owner drills into market to keep cycle times low

Lees Summit, Mo.—Jeff Knipp, owner of Summit Collision Center, started in the automotive industry as a service porter out of high school, but it wouldn’t be until facing unemployment many years later that he would find the springboard on which he’d throw himself toward ownership.

“When I was unemployed, I called a friend of mine and he hired me as an estimator at a collision shop owned by a dealership in downtown Kansas City. One day he showed me the revenue reports, and when I saw how much money the place was making I asked him, ‘Why are we doing this for someone else?’ Neither one of us could come up with a good answer,” Knipp said.

Shortly after leaving the shop to work as an estimator at another shop in Lees Summit, Knipp said he’d found the community in which he knew he could build his presence. “The clients were easier to work with at the Lees Summit shop, and they had money to spend on fixing their cars. One day in passing, I asked an insurance adjuster who I worked closely with if he thought the Lees Summit area could support another collision shop and he replied, ‘Absolutely.’”

So, in September of 2002, despite having little startup money saved, and despite there already being eight collision shops in Lees Summit, Knipp bought a piece of land and worked with contractors for 10 months to design and build a brand new collision repair facility.

The final product was an 8,000-square-foot shop with six bays, including an AFC side-through, downdraft paint booth, upstairs storage, a lunch room and shower, and a parts staging room.

The business has grown steadily, now averaging 60-80 cars per month, and Knipp said he now needs twice the amount of parking and twice the amount of square footage to increase his numbers. “I wish I’d have made the place twice as big now,” Knipp said.

Community rich in industry partners

In addition to clients, the Lees Summit community is also rich in exceptional parts, equipment and paint suppliers and manufacturers reps, who Knipp said has given his shop a unique advantage and helped it stay on the cutting edge of tools and training.

The four technicians, three estimators and painter all regularly attend training seminars from the shop’s paint and equipment supplier, National Coatings and Supplies (NCS). Knipp said he also recently invested $26,000 in a new ProSpot i4 welder from NCS, and regularly uses the company as a resource for continuing his own management education. “NCS has been a great partner for us all around. In August, my painter will attend a three-day training course they’re offering, and I’m going to a one-day management class as well,” Knipp said.

In addition, Knipp said NCS will help coordinate training and product demonstrations at his shop from representatives at companies such as 3M, whose products NCS sells. Knipp also uses his OE parts suppliers, such as Lees Summit Dodge and Cable Damer Chevrolet, as added training resources, he said.

The shop sprays Standox by Axalta, and uses ProfitNet as its shop management software. Knipp said one of the main reasons he’s stuck with the brand, beyond its excellent color matching scheme, is that he benefits from three Axalta reps in the community.

“Having so many Axalta reps right here in town provides us with unique assistance in color matching for our customers,” Knipp said. “They also regularly come by and provide in-house training for me and my staff. And if we’re struggling with something, as opposed to just chatting on the phone, one of them will usually just come by the shop to offer in-person assistance,” Knipp said.

The relationship is a two-way street, as answering tough questions in-person helps the reps stay knowledgeable about what shops are really facing today, Knipp said. He added that the relationships he has with the local Axalta reps are so strong that, when his lead painter told him he’d be taking a short, two day vacation, Dean Allen, one of the local Axalta reps, offered to fill in at the shop as its lead painter for two days, to help keep himself educated on spraying techniques and gather anecdotes of recent first hand experiences spraying the Standox line.

The shop uses CCC One estimating software, and subscribes to PartsTrader. Knipp said his policy for his DRPs is to keep within required cycle times and to move the smaller jobs forward on the production line, but also paint as many possible parts at once.

“If we have four or five jobs in line, and they’re smaller repairs, we try to get them primed and painted the very first day they arrive, so they can dry overnight and be ready for assembly the next morning. Consolidating those jobs into one ‘paint session,’ where my painter can do four or five shoots at once has helped us maintain our cycles times,” Knipp said.

He said he will diversify his business, keeping his eye on powder coating as a viable way to supplement income and even establish customers outside of the automotive industry.

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.