As work pours in, Perfect Finish Collision readies to pour new foundation

Shop meets challenges of today’s collision industry, building business and a new expansion

Fairview Heights, Ill.—A focus on training, cycle times and quality repairs at Perfect Finish Collision Center have led to high grades with DRPs and customers — and a big increase in work. It’s become a problem, but a good problem.

An insurance partner’s latest performance survey for Perfect Finish landed the Fairview Heights shop in the top performers in the country, said owner Steve Giger, adding that they also receive high rankings from other DRPs.

“We’ve received a large influx of work from DRP’s, about twice as much as from two years ago,” he said. “If we’re performing well, with shorter cycle times and saving money on rental car costs, we get the business — and we partner well with them in resolving any issues. They’ve all added up to big dividends.”

As a result, the shop is preparing to build an addition due to the expanding business, which will involve tearing down an adjacent structure and adding 4,800 square feet.

“Over the past two years we’ve refocused on customer service. In addition to DRPs, we also survey all of our own customers through CCC One and concentrate on their satisfaction. If there’s a problem, they know they can call us,” Giger said.

A full-time mechanic has been hired for the addition, who will work in a dedicated space (to accommodate customers’ increasing requests for mechanical work), while the larger remainder will be used to transfer body repair stalls and add a second paint booth in the existing facility. Perfect Finish presently has a painter working Monday through Thursday nights, which has improved cycle times.

“We had a Mustang repaired yesterday, painted last night and delivered today, so it helps turn around smaller jobs, which can hurt your cycle times more than larger jobs,” Giger said, adding that its Global Finishing Systems paint booth is used from 8 a.m. until midnight.

Nevertheless, production is challenged by the increased work in a facility not equipped for it. “We can’t take more on without getting bigger,” he said, adding ground will be broken in August for completion before the end of the year.

I-CAR training is non-negotiable

Giger always makes sure his shop has I-CAR Gold Class designation, most of technicians are Platinum certified, and are required to maintain their status with continual training, for which he pays for and they invest their time.

Many of the candidates he interviews for positions don’t have up-to-date I-CAR training, which leads Giger to believe many shops aren’t requiring diligent education. Successful resources for new technicians are Ranken Technical College and Southwestern Illinois College (SWIC), he added.

When Giger interviews for an estimator, he seeks someone comfortable speaking with people and being able to think on their feet, such as his estimator, just promoted to shop manager, Eric Whitehead. “There’s all different kinds of customers and they have to know how to ‘read’ them, depending on their actions and emotions. Eric can turn a challenging walk-in who is shopping around into a Perfect Finish customer instead of having them go elsewhere. They need to be convinced we’ll return their car to pre-accident condition and it’ll be alright — often it’s not what you say, but how you say it.”

Tony Kunkel, a lead technician recently promoted to production manager is excelling in the back of the shop and everything’s “beginning to click.” “Everyone, from me to the techs, believe cars must be fixed correctly, and they know that if the color doesn’t match or if a panel doesn’t line up it doesn’t leave the shop — and our customers know that.”

Challenges and benefits of advancing technology

“On every job we work on, it seems there’s a check engine light or TPMS issue that needs diagnosing and clearing. Technology is changing so fast, our new mechanic, who is proficient in diagnostics, will help us meet those challenges, because a shop’s average body tech won’t be able to troubleshoot all electrical issues — and it’s only going to keep changing.”

And as it changes, tool and equipment investments increase as their usefulness shortens, he said. “After the 2012 hailstorm, I paid off all our equipment loans and bought new equipment, but it won’t stay current as long as it used to because advancing technology requires more updated tooling. To be competitive today, upgrades and investments must always be made, whether it’s equipment or training — we need to stay on top of the game.”

CCC One allows Perfect Finish to keep customers up to date with the progress of their car’s repair, automatically sending them text messages once the following four stages are completed: vehicle in the shop, repair started, repair completed, and promised date “It doesn’t take extra time for us, and many customers prefer the texts compared to phone calls,” Giger said, adding that his staff will often augment the experience by adding their own text updates accompanied with photos. “The constant contact also helps our customer survey ratings with our DRPs.”

Spies Hecker solvent wins out over waterborne

After trying different manufacturers’ waterborne products, Giger selected solvent-based Spies Hecker. “Waterborne has different challenges than solvent and and humidity affects it more than solvents,” he said, adding that many solvent systems have progressed so that they’re low enough in VOC for EPA approval.

Perfect Finish made the switch to Spies Hecker in April, sourced through Colormaster, in Belleville. “Our representative, Kevin Walk, is great with technical knowledge and is always willing to help. He’s been around a long time and knows a lot about painting and application processes.”

AASP-MO trade organization membership

“Joining a trade organization has helped keep us informed about issues with our industry and we have learned many things from other shop owners which have contributed to our success,” Giger said. “Smaller shop owners are hesitant to join those organizations, but they can be a great asset for learning how successful shops operate and how you can integrate some of their procedures into your organization.”
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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.