Veteran players foster farm team
Elk Grove, Calif.—Body Shop Manager Adam Pennington, 38, played football and baseball while in high school where he learned about teamwork and how to build a winning squad. He said he runs Elk Grove Toyota Collision Center just like a team with a crew that is well-trained and not reluctant to pass on their knowledge and skills through the company’s mentoring program.
With a staff that consists of 36 people who repair more than 200 vehicles every month out of a 17,600-square-foot facility, Pennington is always looking for new talent.
“We have some great technicians who have a lot of experience and take pride in their work,” he said. “They are also good teachers who are able to convey information to our apprentices. By shadowing a veteran, our trainees are receiving hands-on training that they can use every day. In many cases, I would prefer hiring someone and teaching them our way of fixing cars, as opposed to getting a veteran who is set in their ways.”
Over the years, Pennington strives to use all factory parts in each repair, though aftermarket and recycled parts occasionally enter the picture. To make certain that he’s not compromising the quality of his work, every non-OEM part goes through a stringent qualifying process.
“If one of the insurance companies wants to use an aftermarket part, I never say no,” he said. “First we do our research to determine if we want to use it and to see if it’s a valid aftermarket part. We disqualify 90 percent of them for a wide range of reasons and in some cases, the insurer won’t negotiate. In those cases, we have to make our point and there is always a little give and take. But, in the end, we always get what we want. It all comes down to the customer’s safety, because we have to warranty the work. The John Eagle case has proven that the insurance companies are not liable for a shoddy repair, which means that our reputation is always on the line.”
Insurance company relationships
By learning how to work effectively with insurance adjusters, Pennington said Elk Grove isn’t encountering obstacles that other shops might run into.
“Every once in a while, we get cars from other local independent shops that couldn’t do the job right,” he said. “They couldn’t get enough money from the insurance company to do the job properly, so they bring the vehicles here. I learned a long time ago how to get what I need on every repair by educating adjusters. I know all of the verbiage now and after one or two times, they start agreeing me. I’m not working off your sheet, I tell them, but we have to prove our case almost every time.”
By paying his technicians on a flat rate system and keeping his people updated on all of their training, Pennington said he is able to keep quality high and his cycle time down. As a result, Pennington’s shop won Toyota’s Service Excellence award in 2016 through 2018.
His technicians average 12 years of duty at Elk Grove Toyota Collision Center and he said that retaining them has a lot to do with the compensation and a pleasant working environment.
“Our technicians are compensated well and they deserve it,” Pennington said. “It works because they’re more about doing a good job as opposed to making a ton of money. If one guy needs some help, the others won’t hesitate to step in and based on my experience that’s actually very rare. I’m always out there in the shop observing and giving everyone feedback and making sure they don’t rush a repair before looking for the next car to fix.”
To keep his technicians, estimators and paint crew up to date with current procedures and new products, Pennington stresses Toyota’s training.
“They offer a total of 18 classes and a few of my people have taken them all,” he said. “We often send them to Texas, Southern California and even to the East Coast to take certain classes. Hybrids and hydrogen cars like the Mirai are a big part of Toyota’s training now, because they all come with specific guidelines and safety considerations.”
Pennington has 20 years of experience in collision repair and learned a lot of what he knows by doing it himself.
“I started out as a detailer at age 18 and from there I worked as an apprentice, learning from some top journeymen body techs along the way. One day, an estimator went down, so they threw me in there and became familiar with the position. I learned how to interact with the insurance companies and even worked as a blue printer for a couple years. Then, in November 2015, I submitted my name for the manager position and got the job.”