Taking Back Control of Your Business: Rethinking the Estimating Process

by Ken Miller, AASP/NJ President

Estimating – old habits die hard. Have you ever really pondered the process of estimating? Or should we more appropriately call it “guess-timating?” Writing estimates has been ingrained in the collision repair business for as long as anyone can remember; many simply say, “We do it because it’s always been that way.”

However, I would argue that the likelihood of accurately estimating the damage on a modern vehicle that is still assembled is close to zero percent. Today’s vehicles are far too complex to conduct a proper damage analysis without dismantling, researching repair procedures and validating options, equipment and various safety systems.

So, why would you write an estimate for someone off the street? What’s the goal? Is it to be the lowest bidder to secure the job, risking the client feeling misled when the final invoice is much higher than estimated? Or perhaps the goal is to aim for the middle ground, omitting certain details and hoping to make up the difference later with supplements. Or is the objective to conduct the most thorough assessment upfront to minimize surprises and supplements later on?

Let’s consider a different approach. Instead of spending (or wasting) time on a meaningless “street sheet,” invest that time in building rapport, discussing the repair and asking questions. Understand what matters most to the prospective client and see if it aligns with your business values. If someone is seeking a cheap, quick repair just to get back on the road, but your business model emphasizes high-quality repairs following OE procedures, wouldn’t it be beneficial to know this from the start?

Take the time to sell yourself, your service and the job. Once the job is secured, gain proper authorization from the customer to dismantle and uncover all necessary parts and procedures, along with accurate labor times required for a correct repair. Efficiency in spirit may actually be costing you time and money in addition to exposing you to unnecessary liabilities later on. Negotiating for proper compensation after completing the job and delivering the vehicle is no longer an acceptable practice – it puts the shop in a position of begging for proper compensation post-repair.

Imagine if shops adopted repair planning, conducting comprehensive damage analyses upfront. Negotiations would occur at the beginning of the repair process, minimizing wasted efforts and expenses. Additionally, if there were reimbursement shortages, the customer could be alerted early on, providing guidance on how to proceed with the repair.

In conclusion, let’s move beyond traditional estimating and the practice of starting repairs without an agreed price with the customer and embrace a more strategic, customer-focused approach that prioritizes quality, transparency and upfront planning. By doing so, we can regain control of our businesses, deliver superior service and build lasting relationships with our clients based on trust and professionalism.

This shift isn’t just about changing processes; it’s about elevating industry standards and empowering collision repair professionals to operate with integrity and efficiency. Together, let’s redefine the way we estimate and conduct repairs, ensuring that every customer interaction is characterized by transparency, professionalism and a commitment to excellence. By rethinking our approach to estimating, we can chart a course toward sustainable success and a brighter future for our businesses and the industry as a whole.

Want more? Check out the May 2024 issue of New Jersey Automotive!