Thursday, 30 September 2004 17:00

Mentoring and reduced cycle time go hand in hand with success

Written by Toby Chess
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Recently, an insurance carrier asked me to make suggestions as to how they might improve cycle time at some of their repair partner shops. My belief is that the cardinal rule for improving cycle time is that complete estimates need to be written up front, and not loaded with supplements on the back end. In other words, the vehicle needs to be torn down at the start of the process and a very detailed estimate written. 

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The tech team for Holmes Body Shop: Oscar Zamora, Arturo Mendoza, Jesus Saravia, Ciro Chinchilla, Steve Navas and Jonas Solis with center manager Wade Sill in the background.
Many repair shops do a partial tear down and supplement as they go along in the repair process, slowing down cycle time. Let's say that the shop is working on a '98 Honda Accord and the estimate specifies that the technician remove the drip rail molding for paint access. The tech finishes all the body repairs and just prior to the car going into the paint department, removes the drip rail molding.

Guess what? Six of the clips break, but the tech does not tell anyone about them. The vehicle is scheduled to go out in two days and just prior to finishing the car, he tells the manager that he needs the clips. Bingo, the car does not go out on schedule. If the tech had removed the molding prior to the start of the repair process, the estimator could have already ordered the broken clips. This delay would have been avoided had the vehicle been torn down prior to the start of repair process.

The tech team for Holmes Body Shop: Oscar Zamora, Arturo Mendoza, Jesus Saravia, Ciro Chinchilla, Steve Navas and Jonas Solis with center manager Wade Sill in the background.
Reduced cycle time in shops

I decided to do a little study to validate my beliefs, and I enlisted the help of Tom Holmes, Holmes Body Shops, who made his Los Angeles area repair centers available for this study.

First and foremost, within 48 hours of arrival at a Holmes Body Shop, standard operating procedure (SOP) calls for the vehicles to be torn down a sheet written. At the time of this article, having tracked over 35 vehicles, there is 100 percent compliance on the tear down aspect of the SOP. There is a drop in that percentage on written estimates, which can be attributed to the fact that the body shop does not always have the insurance assignment when tear-down begins.

One of the first orders of business when a vehicle arrives at the shop is to get an authorization for tear down (with a price quote). Getting this tear-down authorization allows the shop to begin the repair process without an as-signment from the insurance carrier. You may be asking how this shop gets these cars torn down so quickly. Holmes' secret, if you want to call it that, is his mentoring program.

Estimator and trainee work together

Holmes has been involved in training since he opened his shop over 25 years ago. In fact, he was recognized at the I-CAR 25th annual meeting for his 25-year involvement with I-CAR. He has set up a mentor program for young adults to enter the collision industry. I worked with two of Holmes' teams for this time study. Each team consisted of an estimator, estimator trainee (who works with both teams) and a lead tech with two helpers. Let's first look at the estimator and the trainee.

The trainee's job is to get all the pertinent information from the vehicle owner, including all the information on the vehicle. After all the proper documents are signed, the trainee will mark the windshield with that information, photograph the vehicle and move it to a tear-down area. The trainee will then do a used parts search (no less than four outside sources) and note in the file the success of the search, the vendor's name and the price quote


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Estimator trainee Tony Velasco (sitting) with mentors Victor Soto and Ted Krupa, and center manager Wade Sill
Service trainee Tony Velasco then enters the vehicle owner's information into one of two estimating systems, depending upon the insurance carrier. Velasco started out as a customer service rep a year ago, and over time has attended Pathways® and Ultramate® training. His two mentors, Victor Soto and Ted Krupa, work very closely with him on a daily basis to improve his estimating skills.

Velasco is writing estimates off the drive-ins (non-DRPs) and after completing his I-CAR classes, will move up to the estimator position at one of Holmes' smaller centers). The center manager, Wade Sill, has another young man who will step into Tony's position when he is promoted. 

Mentoring employed at the back end

A number of the body men at the facility utilize body apprentices. The two body techs, Jesus Saravia and Ciro Chincilla, each have two apprentices who have aspirations to become body technicians in the near future. The average age of the four young men is 23 years old and all four speak enough English to understand what I am saying.

Wade Sill started a program where each apprentice received his own starter tool kit and service cart, an investment of $240 per tech. What is unique about the program is that Sill did not give the tools or service carts to the apprentices. What he did was sell them to each of the young apprentices. Each month for a year, the apprentices will pay back the company $20.00 per month. To offset this expense, the apprentice can earn 20 credits per month, by good attendance, showing up to work on time, notifying the lead tech of any supplements needed, keeping the cars and their work area clean, and, importantly, meeting target dates.

Extra incentives

If the team gets a vehicle out before the target date, each apprentice can earn extra credits and any left over credits go into the bank for future tool purchases. The credits are given to the apprentices by each of the lead techs, as well as by Sill. As of this article, only $2.00 was actually paid by one apprentice and that was in the first month of the program.

Sill has done a great job with this program and the rewards for him have been two-fold. First, the shop has seen steady decline in cycle time, and secondly, he is building for the future with these young men.

Insurance carriers have been pushing for a greater reduction in cycle time, and some have unrealistic goals, but if your shop can reduce the cycle it is win, win, win for the insurance carrier, customer, and you. If you have any ideas for reducing cycle time or you would like some help or information on subject. e-mail me at (include cycle time as the subject or the e-mail will get deleted).

Toby Chess has more than 30 years of industry experience. Chess is an ASE Master Certified Technician, an Accredited Automotive Manager, an I-CAR instructor, the Los Angeles I-CAR Chairman, and a technical presenter for CIC.


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