What to do when a surprise winter storm hits

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If you live in a state who experiences blizzards or ice storms – or you’re lucky, both – then you’re probably no stranger to the dreaded surprise winter storm that likes to creep in out of nowhere.

Whether it’s an inch of snow or a foot, the result is often the same for a body shop…lots and lots of work comes in from accidents that happen due to driving conditions dangerous.

While it’s nice to have people knocking on your door, it also presents a lot of challenges: how do you make room in your schedule for those unexpected additions? Will you have enough staff to cover the amount of work coming in? How will you set customer expectations for wait times?

Jerald Stiele, owner of Collision Center 1 in Hopkins, Golden Valley and Prior Lake, Minnesota, is no stranger to this kind of situation and acknowledged that sudden influxes of work can be “a big challenge for stores.” These are his top tips for handling the situation if you ever find yourself in the middle of this kind of storm.

As said to Lindsey Gainer

Managing customer expectations is paramount.

In the last couple of years we haven’t been hit as much by the “big winter storm” as we used to be…it seems like the big storms with heavy snowfall are being detected quite early now that people are better prepared. I think a lot of people also have the option of working from home now, and a heavy snow day gives them a good excuse to do so. What seems to give us a sudden and large influx of work is the “sneaky” 1 inch snowfall or sleet that people are not prepared for. After these types of winter events, we may find ourselves inundated with calls for towing or dropping off non-driving vehicles.

The most important thing we can do in these situations is manage customer expectations. We only have the capacity to produce so much work and we need to ensure that our “in-progress” inventory remains manageable. So, as difficult as it can be, sometimes we get to the point where we can no longer accept additional tows or no-ride drops. Again, being a business owner, that’s very hard to do. We like to think that we should never refuse to work or say no. In some situations, however, it is better for our business and our customers. We want to help everyone and take advantage of as many jobs as possible, but by taking on more work than we can handle effectively, we are setting ourselves up to disappoint our customers and overburden our staff. Nobody wins in this scenario.

We try to constantly assess what we have planned to do and what we can produce efficiently and make decisions from there.

Leave room in the calendar for the unexpected and communicate honestly.

We proactively try to leave free places in our schedule for this type of influx of work. These days we are far enough away that we can get some work done earlier than expected if we don’t have the sudden winter storm. We have a scheduling system that an outside consultant helped us build based on our repair history. We categorize jobs into the different classes: Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 repairs. We take on a set number of each of these per day, knowing that this will maximize our efficiency.

We don’t completely turn away a potential customer when an influx occurs. Instead, we’re honestly sharing when we’d realistically be able to begin and complete its repair. We are very upfront about the availability of our next Tier 3 place and sometimes it can take eight weeks or more. We want to build lifelong customers and ambassadors through honesty.

Finally, don’t neglect to show your appreciation to your staff.

So much is demanded of us as a workshop today – strictly adhering to ever-changing repair procedures, parts and supply shortages, staffing shortages, increasing demands from insurance companies… I could go on and on. We really have to value our whole team who are fighting these battles on a daily basis. We do our best to keep things fun and lighthearted at times and show our appreciation, winter storm or not.

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