Investments in tools and staff are investments for the future
Mattoon, Ill.—The future of the collision repair industry is certainly dependent on many unforeseen factors, but as technology and OE repair processes evolve, so must Tim Paap, owner of Paap Auto Body. In a primarily rural market, Paap has adapted and succeeded to ensure that whatever may come, his shop and staff are adequately prepared to accept the challenges coming down the proverbial pipeline.
“I’m involved heavily with the Collision Advice Legacy Group which is spearheaded by Mike Anderson. We go to training facilities all over the country in order to see what is new in the industry. We are able to keep one step ahead of what is coming,” Paap said.
He added that the group is held to high standards with certain criteria and a high level of commitment that’s required to become involved. “We meet every three months and discuss what we need to do to continue to be successful.”
The involvement led to multiple investments that Paap knew he must to make in order to ensure that his shop was fully equipped for the future.
“I recently purchased a new Car-O-Liner bench rack and Vision X3 Measuring System which should help reduce cycle time. We also added a Robinair AC-1234yf refrigerant machine, purchased from Specialty Paint in Decatur and a pair of REVO curing systems from ATI (Automotive Technology Inc.) in St. Louis.”
He also acquired a Quantum EFX camera from Axalta, which has impressed Lead Paint Technician Chad Elsea with its accuracy. “We have been able to reduce our need for spraying samples significantly since getting this camera,” he said. “You take three photos from the area you want to match and then the software analyzes and provides the exact color needed for the vehicle.”
The camera was purchased from Performance Refinish Supply in Terre Haute, where Paap sources all of his Axalta paint. Paap says they make multiple deliveries per week and have a dedicated stocking system in place to ensure the shop never runs dry.
The shop uses OE replacement parts as dictated by OEM procedures and when insurance companies and customers are willing to pay. Most replacement parts are sourced from Weir Wholesale in Red Bud, which has a dedicated twice-a-day delivery system that provides OE collision and mechanical replacement parts for a majority of manufacturers the shop repairs. When aftermarket parts are required, they are purchased from Keystone Automotive.
Paap is adamant about using factory scan tools. “OE scan tools are the only way to go. There are a lot of good aftermarket tools out there but none of them can find all of the codes like the OE can.”
Paap and his technicians hook every vehicle that comes in to the shop up to their asTech device, which can be remotely monitored by an OEM technician who will analyze the data on an OE scan tool and advise as to the next steps needed in the repair process.
Although OE scan tools and parts are preferred, Paap is not convinced that OE certifications are going to be necessary. “I used to think that carrying OE certifications was going to be the key to staying competitive, but I am not sure anymore. We have multiple OE certifications, but until these manufacturers get serious about restricting parts replacement and require only OEM parts, I will remain skeptical. Why join an OE program if the work is not going to follow?”
Growing their own techs
Paap is preparing the next generation of techs through an in-house apprenticeship program he recently developed.
“I tried hiring technicians out of local tech programs but it was clear right away that they were not being trained with current technology or with the proper motivation to do a high-quality job.”
Paap recently hired a student right out of high school with the intention of training him properly in a real shop setting. “We had to make sure that we had the right person before we decided to invest the time and money. For the first month they are strictly overhead but at the same time you do not want to rush someone along that will not be ready.”
The program has the new technician shadowing for the first few months and then Paap transitions them to working side by side with another technician. As time goes on they will allow the apprentice to branch out to tasks that they feel comfortable doing on their own. “We had him start with bumper covers and door panels. Now he has moved into doing radiator supports and condensers. We are about six months into the training and anticipate that after one year he will be transitioned to a fully commissioned technician who will be able to turn a profit on his own.”
Proper SOPs and organization are also crucial to the success Paap has maintained in the 17 years of the shop’s existence. “I have photos hanging in every workstation to remind the guys where things need to go. I also have SOPs laminated and posted to ensure procedures are followed every single time.
“The collision industry is changing at such a rapid pace that you have to be almost like liquid. You have to be able to move and fall into place with whatever changes come and go. If you are set in your ways and willing to settle for mediocrity, then you will not be around for very long.”