Roger Buhnerkempe (l.), and his son, Jake, are co-owners of J&R Collision Centers, which just bought Halbrook Auto Body & Paint in Shelbyville. They’re shown here at the groundbreaking of their Effingham facility, which opened in October 2014.Steel Structural Technician Matt Gobczynski welds an apron using a Pro Spot i4 squeeze-type resistance welder at the Effingham location, which recently achieved OEM certification or recognition from a number of vehicle manufacturers.The 11,200-square-foot Effingham location opened in October 2014.

Effingham-based MSO boasts three-day cycle time

Local industry veterans establish new shop, add third in less than two years

Effingham, Ill. — The collision repair business is on a roll for the Buhnerkempe family, with two new facilities added in less than two years. When Parts & People first spoke to Jake Buhnerkempe two years ago, his business, Jake’s Collision, was in growth mode, having moved into a larger facility of the former Wise Speed Shop in south St. Louis in 2012. At that time, he spoke of his desire to one day be a multi-shop operator (MSO), in part to serve insurance companies’ desire to have a single point of contact for multiple claims.

 Just six months later, Buhnerkempe realized that goal by partnering with his father, longtime collision repair shop owner Roger Buhnerkempe, to form a new company, J&R Collision Centers. They built a new 11,200-square-foot shop in his hometown of Effingham and retained the original St. Louis shop, rebranded Jake’s-J&R Collision Centers. Their success surpassed their expectations. Just one year later, they hit the annual sales goal they had hoped to reach by the third year.

“It has been several years of discussions, culminating in where it is today,” Jake Buhnerkempe said. “It was just a matter of when we wanted to take that plunge and move forward.”

And in March, the company bought the 12,000-square-foot Halbrook Auto Body & Paint in Shelbyville, soon to be renamed J&R Collision Centers-Shelbyville.

Buhnerkempe said his father opened his first collision repair shop, Roger’s Auto Body, in 1980, and over the years grew his business to a 25,000-square-foot facility, using the latest in equipment to repair as many as 130 cars per month before selling the business in 2002. The partnership is a good fit, he said, with his father taking on more of the backend tasks while he’s responsible for more of the day-to-day business operations.

“We both have experience in different environments, market areas, sizes of shops, and production strategies,” Buhnerkempe said. “It’s kind of nice to lay all of that out on the table and pick and choose what’s worked best for what we hope is optimal production for layout and business operations.”

The duo also hired industry veteran Scott Sapp – Roger Buhnerkempe’s brother-in-law and Jake Buhnerkempe’s uncle – and longtime manager of Roger’s Body Shop and through its subsequent owners. “He is a valuable asset,” Buhnerkempe said. “He is very knowledgeable and has even worked for some of the MSOs at that location.”

The strategies seem to be working. The shop boasts a “keys-to-keys” cycle time of only three days, he said.    

“We’re really proud of that, because in the industry, it’s not uncommon to see it as much as 11 or 12 days,” Buhnerkempe said. We’re big on cycle time. Set a promise date, you keep a promise date, and you live and die by those promise dates.”

Customers used to less-than-ideal repair experiences appreciate the quick turnaround, he said.

“It’s a stressful time for customers being without their vehicle,” Buhnerkempe said. “It starts off on a bad note for them, anyway, and the last thing you want to do is create more stress and turmoil for them. So we try to make it as easy, smooth, and streamlined throughout as possible.”

The shops use CCC ONE’s management system to track production at all three facilities, and the Touch application for tablet has been a boon for writing estimates or supplements in the shop, he said.

At the Effingham location, Buhnerkempe said, vehicles progress linearly through the 11,200-square-foot shop, which he describes as a “shotgun” floor plan, with a central artery and bays off to the side of the 80x144-foot shop, starting with a wash bay, structural repairs, body repairs, and then paint. Each vehicle is washed before any work is performed, which results not only in a cleaner shop but the ability to detect damage that may not be readily visible, he said.

“You avoid getting the car all done and having it go into Detail only to realize, ‘That scratch actually went all the way into the quarter panel. We didn’t know that,’” he said. You eliminate a lot of those headaches.”

A Eurovac dust collection system in each bay results in clean sanding throughout the shop, and each technician has a small supply cabinet stocked with sandpaper and repair materials, which boosts productivity because technicians don’t have to run back and forth to the supply room.

Two downdraft booths from Polar Automotive Paint Systems in Moline, along with a custom-built prep deck large enough to prep and prime up to four vehicles, have helped eliminate bottlenecks and cut down cycle time, Buhnerkempe said.

The St. Louis and Effingham locations shoot Spies Hecker 480 waterborne, and while the Shelbyville shop has been shooting Spies Hecker solvent, Buhnerkempe said he plans on it transitioning to waterborne, as well. Junair QAD air movers in the corner of the booth speed waterborne drying, he added.

“We’re a huge believer in Spies Hecker’s water system,” he said. “It’s hands-down the best solution for a refinishing product. It’s been incredible for our production. To me, it’s a lot quicker, it’s not nearly as volatile as other products we’ve used, it’s a lot more forgiving and user-friendly, and it’s just been an incredible product. We also have the Express Lane, with a two-day repair turnaround, where we are utilizing some of the UV primers so we can be blocking primer within 10 minutes if it’s a small repair.”

New equipment sourced from either National Coatings and Supply — the paint supplier to all of the J&R shops — or Automotive Technology Inc., includes a two-post lift; a Pro-BSE 21.5-foot frame rack, combined with a Chief Vector (3D) measuring system, for tackling the largest pickups; a Pro Spot i4 squeeze-type resistance spot welder; and a Pro Spot SP-5 “Smart MIG” welder, capable of welding high-strength steel (using silicon bronze wire), steel, and aluminum. Aluminum-specific equipment includes a Henrob self-piercing-rivet gun and a Dent Fix aluminum repair station.

 Just after the first of the year, the Effingham location received a number of OEM certifications or recognitions through two programs: Assured Performance, including Ford’s aluminum program; and Honda’s ProFirst. Those are in addition to the shop’s existing I-CAR Gold recognition, which the shop achieved last year. It’s part of the company’s goal to be on top of technology, Buhnerkempe said, and it will help attract more DRPs for the young shop.

“Everything changes in these vehicles so fast, from model year to the next, you have to stay on top of that,” he said. “This is a way to drive us to constantly be on that leading edge.”

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.