Shop owner Gary Oliver said he wished he’d made the move to a larger facility 10 years earlier than he did.Painter Juan Rodriguez looks up a PPG formula in the shop’s paint mixing room.Technician Michael Merrifield works on repairs to a Toyota Rav4.Body technician Rene Enriquez applies body filler on a Chevrolet Impala door.Technician Lupe Sanchez removes a door from a Chevrolet Astro van.

New facility was a ‘no-brainer’ for collision repairer who added up costs of moving cars

New production management system shines light on workflow, boosts productivity

Yakima, Wash.—It was a number that would never show up on a profit-and-loss statement that helped convince Gary Oliver it was time to move his business.

“It was $2,000 a month,” Oliver said. “That’s what I was spending just to move cars.”

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At a glance:

• Shop size: 17,000 square feet
• Employee count: 12 full-time, 2 part-time
• Car count: 30-40 cars per month
• Monthly sales: $180,000-$200,000
• Paint line: PPG
• Estimating: CCC ONE

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For close to two decades, Oliver operated G.O.’s Collision Center out of a building he’d purchased in downtown Yakima. He’d added on to the building over the years, but the issue had become parking.

“I had five guys moving cars out for a half hour every morning,” Oliver said. “At night, the same thing, moving them back in. I started penciling out how much money I was spending on that, not even counting the cost in lost wages because those guys weren’t doing other work. So it was sort of a no-brainer when this opportunity came up here.”

By “here,” Oliver means the company’s new location in a former sporting goods store. For just over a year now, the business has operated out of the two 170-foot-long buildings located on several acres on Yakima’s busiest street.

“We now have room to grow if needed in the future,” Oliver said. “There would even be room here to add a tow yard or glass shop.”

Needed renovations to the buildings were extensive, he said, including a complete overhaul of the electrical service. He also installed a new Global Finishing Solutions drive-through spraybooth purchased through his jobber, Wesco.

“It’s set up for waterborne, and we are going to the Wesco training center this spring for PPG waterborne training,” Oliver said. “People are ecologically aware, so waterborne is a selling point, and the automakers are using waterborne at the factory, so the new paints are much more vivid than we can achieve with solvent-based.”

He said PPG and Wesco have been very supportive of his business over the years.

“I started doing body work in high school, buying from Paint & Equipment back in 1974 before it was Wesco,” Oliver said. “They’ve always had really great service, and the Wesco people are just phenomenal. Any time they saw me struggling with anything, they would suggest classes for me they were offering.”

Another change at the business Oliver is particularly proud of is the production management system he’s developed and implemented at the new location. Combined with an extensive network of cameras around the facility, anyone in the office can use the system to immediately know the status of any vehicle.

“I wanted something simple, that anyone could use,” Oliver said. “Some of the systems out there are so complicated and take too much time inputting the information. I knew what I wanted, and my wife, Wanda, works in IT, so she and her boss helped build this for us.”

A large monitor in the office lists each job, color coded by insurer, and indicates which technicians are assigned to each job, where it is in the production process, what sublet work needs to be done, and what the promised delivery date is. Cells change color to highlight any issues that may need to be address such as parts being late or delivery dates approaching.

“We can walk through the shop twice a day with a tablet and stylus to update the system,” he said. “I can check it from home or on my cell phone. This is a small town so I still have some customers who call my cell phone and I can check the status of their vehicle just from that. This is such a time-saver for all of us, and I’m pretty proud of it.”

The shop’s equipment list includes a GYSPOT BP inverter welder, a Pro Spot SP-5 Smart MIG welder, a Chief electronic measuring system positioned between two of the shop’s three Chisum and Chief frame racks, and a recently-added Bumper Smith plastic welding station. Oliver said that in addition to continued work on the facility this spring, such as exterior painting and the addition of a digital message center to the shop’s main sign at the street, he has some more aluminum tools and possibly an alignment system on his shopping list.

The shop has 12 full-time employees and two part-time, and Oliver isn’t worried about finding additional people as the new facility allows them to grow.

“I’ve been around long enough that the techs in the [Yakima] Valley know me, so I don’t really have a problem with getting help,” he said. “I’ve also been promoting within. I’ve had a detailer move up into paint, for example, and now we’re moving him up into our parts department. He’s bilingual, so he’ll be a real asset in our front office.”

The move to the new location also helped Oliver realize he can take a step back from his significant involvement in the day-to-day operations at the shop. That started as he focused on the work needed to prepare the new facility, but has continued even after the move.

“I delegated the operations to other people, who were very well qualified to take over for me, but I just hadn’t realized that,” Oliver said. “I didn’t give my people enough credit. For the last year and a half, my participation in the day-to-day business is almost nil. It runs itself now. I have a great crew that takes care of it. It was an eye-opener for me, that I was able to do that. That’s huge.”

 

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.