Shop owner Brent Gilmour says more customers in the past two years have mentioned the shop’s online reviews than had in the previous 20 years.Brent Gilmour points out some of the features about the shop’s new Chief welder that made it “very good money spent.”Body technician Cliff Clark works on a bumper for a Volkswagen Jetta.Painter Aaron Gonzalez preps a Toyota Land Cruiser.Journeyman body technician Mark Tarter says the shop’s purchase of a squeeze-type resistance spot welder was like getting a pay raise.

Savvy equipment purchases and OEM parts shave cycle times

OEM parts cost more, but ‘upsides more than make up for it,’ says Hyacinth Collision Centre’s owner

Salem, Ore.—Brent Gilmour wanted to make an equipment purchase at the end of last year, so I asked one of his journeyman technicians for an opinion on what to buy.

“He said, ‘If you buy one of these, you just gave me a raise,’” Gilmour said, pointing to Hyacinth Collision Centre’s new Chief Automotive MI200T squeeze-type resistance spot welder. “I didn’t really understand that at first, but the amount of time this equipment saves us is phenomenal. I can see a tech do a bedside, for example, in half the time. And it’s not just time-saving for the body man. It’s time-saving for the paint department. All they have to do is scuff it, maybe run a DA over it, Scotch-Brite it, and it’s ready to spray. All that grinding, plastic and sanding expense goes out the window. And when you’re done, even an experienced person would look at the welds and be hard-pressed to not think they were factory.”

Gilmour said the welder detects the type and metal thickness, and keeps track of the number and quality of the welds. Its liquid cooling system prevents heat at the tips from slowing the technician down.

“It’s amazing. You can do 40 welds and still grab it, because the coolant keeps it cold,” he said. “And it’s the heat that can kill your welds. It was very good money spent.”

The shop has also recently installed an Auveco system for clips and fasteners, and bought a new Blackhawk Shark measuring system, replacing one it had used for about a dozen years. Gilmour bought a Kansas Jack World Rack 4000, as well, to ensure the shop can work on large vehicles.

“It has great pulling power,” he said of the frame equipment.

 

OEM parts lead the way

Aside from those purchases, Gilmour said one of the best decisions he’s made in recent years is to use OEM parts almost exclusively, relying on price-matching by the dealers whenever available. There is significantly less profit compared to non-OEM parts, he said, but the upsides more than make up for it.

“I can tell you emphatically it has worked to my advantage. My techs don’t complain. We can tell the customer, ‘Look what we did. We went with all OEM and covered the difference for you.’ And generally speaking, you can expedite the repair. That improves your cycle time and productivity for your square footage because you can push cars through.”

The shop’s non-OEM parts vendor delivers only once a day, but the Capitol Auto Group and Lithia dealerships he buys most OEM parts from are just two miles away.

“If they have a part in stock, I can have it in 15 minutes.”

But Gilmour admits he’s made plenty of other less positive decisions since he built and opened his shop in 1997.

“Hiring people that weren’t qualified, and allowing them to stay longer than they should have been here,” was among the worst of those decisions, he said. “But a very smart man from the insurance industry told me once: ‘If you want the best, you pay the best.’ I took that to heart. I don’t know if I absolutely pay the best, but I know I pay pretty dang well.”

Even still, it’s been a challenge finding the quality technicians he wants, body techs, in particular.

“So we’re working to try to counter that. We’ve brought in a couple of young guys, under the age of 20. They basically will shadow one of my seasoned techs to learn the right way to do it, from a guy who does it right. We’ve got to get some younger kids learning this industry.”

In addition to some direct repair programs, Gilmour said the shop’s reputation reflected in its online reviews is a key source of business.

“In the last two years, I’ve probably heard more about reviews than I’d heard in the previous 20 years. Most customers who come in the front door say they chose us because of those reviews. I encourage people to check Carwise because unlike other sites, those are captured by CCC, so are legitimate reviews based on real repairs we did.”

Another feature he loves about the shop’s CCC ONE estimating system is the ability to use his cell phone to snap photos anywhere in the shop or parking lot and have them instantly linked to the job file.

“That’s a wonderful tool and a real time-saver.”

Gilmour said he feel that he’s maxed out his 10,000-square-foot building, often scheduling work almost a full month out. He’s given some thought to opening a second location, but having handled all the business’ front office duties mostly himself over the years, he’s reluctant to turn over how his customers are treated to someone else.

“If I were to open another shop, someone would have to mentor under me for a while before I would trust them,” he said. “I’ve learned over the years for the most part what works and what doesn’t.”

But he’s taking a step in that direction by, for the first time, hiring an estimator to work with him in the shop’s office.

 

At a glance

• Founded: 1997

• Shop size: 10,000 square feet

• Employee count: 10

• Annual revenue: Ranges from $1 - $1.7 million

• Paint line: BASF Diamont

• Estimating: CCC ONE

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.