While other franchised dealerships are moving away from body shops, #1 Cochran Automotive Group is diving deeper. The network of 18 dealerships in western Pennsylvania operates six collision repair centers in the region and is preparing to open its seventh early next year.
There's more to this strategy than just numbers, says CEO Rob Cochran. The plan also includes "a sustainable, repeatable model that allows each shop to perform at expected levels, regardless of where that shop is located."
Last March, #1 Cochran acquired Mignona Collision in the Pittsburgh suburb of Greensburg. That transaction was important, Cochran says, because it represents "the first time we added a shop in a market where we don't yet have sales representation."
#1 Cochran runs that shop by the same principles it applies to its other collision centers. Cochran says his group aims to provide all of the repair services customers in its region might seek from a dealership. The company set up its centers to dovetail geographically with its retail stores.
Every #1 Cochran collision center operates under standardized processes and metrics for such things as shop workload. Centralized software and management guide the body shops.
A collision director supervises each shop manager. The managers are responsible for meeting and improving on metrics used to compare performance among the shops. Data from these metrics also provide for efficiencies across the operation.
"We've begun to work on load-balancing practices, where we may take a car from one shop to another," Cochran says. He notes that major body-shop consolidators such as Caliber Collision and ABRA Auto Body & Glass use this practice to enable each shop to run more efficiently and finish repair jobs sooner.
Cochran says his company integrates its collision centers with the parts and service departments of its dealerships, allowing for improved economies of scale.
This commitment to clear, repeatable processes, Cochran says, helps establish his group's reputation and credibility among auto insurers, which are major customers.
Clint Marlow, claims director at Allstate Insurance, says Cochran is "doing all the right things" with its collision repair operations.
To insurers that work with body shops, the cost, quality and time required for repairs are most important, Marlow says. Operating collision centers "more like a factory," with multiple shifts and defined processes, makes them more effective and competitive, he says.
"Running lean, building out proper repair claiming upfront -- those are all things [dealerships] can take from the consolidators and apply them and be a better partner," Marlow says.
Chris Andreoli, who directs the corporate claims repair network process at Progressive Insurance, says Cochran offers a useful model of collision repair for other dealership groups.
Says Andreoli: "If a shop group is able to leverage their scale and expertise across their organizations, by sharing key areas of improvement, quicker cycle times, quality initiatives and purchasing power, they will be successful."