Ben Ford has managed the Vancouver Auto Group’s body shop since 2010.Isaiah Wallace prepares an estimate for a customer.Frank Rak, the shop’s painter for 28 years, preps a part using the Festool dustless sanding system.Sean Poche, a technician at the shop for 11 years, installs one of the 30-40 truck bedliners the company installs every month in a space adjacent to the main body shop.

Collision manager says bedliners, aluminum certification keep the dealership shop busy

Vancouver, Wash.—Ford Motor Company’s aluminum F-150 pick-up is only one example of how collision repair is becoming more and more vehicle model-specific.

“Ford has made a drastic turn in the past five years in terms of the amount of information they give you on how they want you to fix a car,” said Ben Ford, who has managed the Vancouver Auto Group body shop since 2010. “I can look up where they want me to cut a quarter-panel, and they show ‘This is how it goes in, and these are the products we want you to use.’ They tell us right down to what particular 3M foam product they want you to use. We’re going to stick to that. We’re going to do what Ford tells us to do. That’s the way the people who made the car say to fix the car. That’s important.”

That’s part of the reason the shop has declined to participate in most insurer direct repair programs.

“I don’t mind the programs as long as they’re not trying to tell me how to fix the car,” Ford said. “We do have a direct repair [agreement] with Nationwide since January. They are fine with us telling them this is what it takes to fix this car. We give them a little off our labor rate, and that’s really all they require of us. It makes it easier for me to get a car done faster. That’s a win-win. That’s why I signed up for that one.”

About 70 percent of the shop’s work, however, comes from those who bought a Hyundai or Ford vehicle from the dealership, or who have come to the dealership for service work in the past.

Ford said last year was the shop’s third best in terms of sales, and the first quarter of this year was its best-ever. He hopes he can soon add a third person to the shop’s office to free him up for more “bigger picture” projects.

“Right now, I have to do a lot of day-to-day operational stuff,” he said. “I’d love to be able to attend more meetings with other shops in the area, or get involved in more industry meetings and events around the country in addition to SEMA. I can’t leave here a lot of times because it just leaves us too short-handed, but working on growing our business is hard to do when you’re day-to-day in the weeds trying to run the business.”

One aspect that sets the shop apart, Ford said, is the 30-40 pick-up truck bedliners the shop installs each month in a booth-sized space adjoining the shop. The dealership advertises retail installation, but also installs a liner in nearly every truck it sells. Ford said that also creates added labor sales for removal or replacement of the bedliner when those trucks come in for collision repair that requires removal or repair of the bed.

For a seven-employee department in a 5,000-square-foot facility, the dealership shop is loaded with equipment, including a curtained aluminum repair bay with a ProSpot aluminum welder, a ProSpot dent pulling system and a Henrob rivet gun. Thanks to aluminum F-150 certification, there is generally a vehicle in that bay each week, Ford said, and those numbers are increasing.

The shop also has a ProSpot i5 welder, a Chief EZ-Liner frame rack and an older Shark measuring system that Ford says he may look to replace at this fall’s SEMA show.

“We just upgraded to 3M’s Festool dustless tool system,” Ford said. “It’s better for my guys out there. They’re not breathing all that dust. It also makes us more efficient because we’re spending less time sweeping floors.”

The paint shop features a Garmat prep station and a Garmat Chinook II booth. The shop switched to PPG’s Envirobase waterborne paint line, purchased through Northwest Auto Paint Supplies (now part of Wesco), about a decade ago.

“I’ve tried a couple different waterborne brands, and Envirobase is great,” Frank Rak, the shop’s painter for 28 years, said. “I love it. Killer color matches and an easy system.”

Rak isn’t the shop’s only long-term employee. One body technician also has 25-plus years at the shop, and Ford, who himself joined the company in 2001, said he’s only had to hire two new full-time employees in his six years as shop manager.

“We try to create an atmosphere that generally makes it enjoyable to be at work,” Ford said. “We all spend most of our lives at work. So I don’t want to be confrontational at work. I don’t want people yelling at each other. So when we bring someone in to hire, we take more into account than just their abilities. I have all my guys talk to that person before they are hired. Then I ask them afterwards: Do you think they are a good fit?”

He said he also instituted a rule a technician suggested when he became manager.

“In the morning, the first thing you say to someone is ‘Good morning,’” Ford said. “If you don’t, the person is going to call you on it. The point is to start the day with something other than, ‘I need you to do this,’ and immediately go right to work. Just take three seconds to say ‘Good morning’ and ask about their weekend. I think that’s helped us create a better atmosphere.”


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.