Namely, they say it's important to retain high quality standards, closely monitor productivity and preserve profitable direct-repair relationships with insurance companies. Also, dealers that supply body parts to other collision shops should check in with those customers to see whether they need better payment terms to keep their business.
Body shop business at Westside Lexus in Houston remained strong through much of April because the shop was working through previously scheduled repairs, but Robert Parnell, Westside's parts and service director, estimated in late May that the 45,000-square-foot shop was operating at half of normal capacity. That forced him to make a "gut- wrenching" decision to lay off about 35 percent of his collision center staff, which included 24 technicians plus estimators and administrative staff. The decision was even tougher because many employees worked in the shop for 15 years or longer.
Parnell says Westside's service department business rebounded to 70 to 75 percent of normal in May and could climb to 85 to 90 percent in June. He's not confident that the collision center will bounce back as quickly or about when he will be able to recall laid-off employees.
"We had hoped ... that we would bring all those people back by June 30, but I don't think that's going to happen," Parnell says. "We're in uncharted waters, and it is so hard to predict what will happen."
Edwards says dealers looking to trim costs in the bump shop need to make sure quality doesn't suffer.
"Don't cut muscle out of your organization," he says. "Don't reduce your performance standards, and make sure that every dollar you're spending back there is getting a return."
For example, one of Edwards' clients recently noticed he was paying for three collision-repair estimating systems but usually uses only one. He suggests that managers keep close track of productivity in the body shop to protect lucrative direct-repair relationships with insurance companies, which will continue to demand quick turnaround and high-quality repairs.
"It takes years to earn a good relationship with an insurance company," he says. "One of the things that can happen is, because it's slow and I'm working with a reduced number of technicians, my cycle time drops off, my quality drops off."