Nelson Family Dealerships Vice President Barry Nelson sees the company’s new collision repair center at 303 W. Church St. as an opportunity to make something new out of something old — while it is making damaged cars like new.
The building that houses the center is the former home of the Charles White Chevrolet dealership. The Nelson group has owned the building for years, Nelson said, and now seemed like the perfect time to update its collision repair shop while adding an asset to the area.
“With NCI (New College Institute) coming in, we wanted to renovate it and turn it into something positive for the community,” he said. The building is just down the street from the new NCI building being constructed on the Baldwin Block.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Thursday to celebrate the new shop, which consolidates Nelson’s two previous body repair centers in Stanleytown and Martinsville.
The name of the game, Nelson said, is efficiency.
“Our industry is driven by insurance and cost,” he said, and as such, reducing the amount of time a car is in the shop saves money for both insurers and customers. That’s why the new body shop combines technologically advanced equipment with a more streamlined repair process to get cars in and out in as little as half the time they currently expect.
“You can go to a normal body shop now, and you might wait 10-12 days,” Nelson said. The goal at the new Nelson collision center is to have customers in and out within three to four days, he added.
The key is in what shop manager Jack Hall called a “lean process,” which means each technician performs a specific duty in a specific order, then the car moves on to the next step. The process is similar to an assembly line, Hall said, and it is of vital importance that everything needed for one part of the job is there when the task is performed.
When that happens, he said, technicians don’t have to spend time running around the building looking for things they need.
“Lean process” relies on organization, cleanliness and “making the job simpler for technicians,” Hall said.
That is done by giving them specific tasks to perform. Whereas workers “used to do the job by themselves, now it’s a team effort,” Nelson added.
Hall said he has noticed a difference since the 25-person staff began working in the Church Street building at least two weeks ago. “They’ve been smiling ear to ear since the day we walked in,” he said.
There are three painting bays, instead of the one the company used to have. There also are three “estimating bays,” where insurance adjusters examine cars when they are brought in, assess the damage and estimate repair costs. All three are in a large room with an abundance of bright light to allow adjusters to see everything, which will prevent them from needing to adjust estimates as problems are discovered, Nelson said.
Tony Albanese, Nelson’s operations manager, said the company “sent a lot of people through three weeks of training” to learn about the lean process. There are similar shops in Lynchburg and in Spartanburg, S.C., which the group also toured, he said.
Customers also will be able to go online to check the status of their cars during the repair process, Albanese said.
“A lot of new technology was brought to bear on this new facility,” he added.
Overall, Nelson estimated the cost of renovations to the building (not including equipment) to be “in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.” His hope is to add as many as 30 new jobs once the center is running at peak efficiency. He also said he hopes to add up to 100 rental cars for customers to use while they await repairs.
“We put the same effort into renovating this facility that we put into renovating the dealership in Stanleytown,” Nelson said.
The shop is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. The car rental operation also is open from 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays. The phone number is 666-8350.