Sometimes it takes an outsider to see the inside clearly. At Bissell’s Paint and Panel in Noosa, Iain Kippen is just that outsider.
t all started when he was getting his replica Cobra resprayed at the local bodyshop, where he started to get friendly with the owner.
“ I bought the shop and it was running itself, so it was more of an investment,” laughs Kippen. “And then, me being me, I thought I’d reinvent the wheel…”
Still, sometimes the wheel does need, if not reinvention, then a new set of bearings. When Kippen began to understand how the industry worked, he felt that - frankly - it was lacking a degree of professionalism.
“Coming in from a financial services background, I could not believe there wasn’t a regulatory body, and there was nobody checking anything,” recalls Kippen. “I wasn’t very popular with my peers, because I was fully supportive of it. But now it’s gone full circle.”
Bissells is slick, orderly and it works.
“The key here is that I have a system that streamlines the process. The guys have got a system. If we follow it, everything will run smoothly,” Kippen explains. “There’s no stress. there’s no panic. If you walk around my shop right now, it looks like nobody is working - but we still
manage to get out eight cars out every day.”
This is a quiet workshop (except for the twenty speakers that pump music, at low volumes, to each technician’s individual workstation). And, part of the reason for that is COVID.
While others were panicking about weathering the storm to come, the Bissell’s team took advantage of those six weeks from March to reflect and recalibrate.
“We run a fairly lean shop, and cutting that down is what we’ve tried to do,” he says. “Normally, you’re chasing and chasing. But that period allowed us to take a step back, and see that perhaps you didn’t need to chase everything. Working like that, our profit margins were better by taking a step back, maybe doing a couple less cars a week.”
The cars that are lucky enough to make it into Bissell’s arrive at the front drive, where they’re photographed for the first of four times. Once the car has a sticker slapped on the windscreen and is entered into the iBodyshop system, it officially enters the Kippen’s production line.
“We bring in eight cars a day. We do the same volume on a Friday as we do on a Monday,” he says. “With our system here, parts are delivered the week before the vehicle’s received. We don’t need to carry parts and just have what we need onsite.”
Parts management is the spine of the Bissell’s operation.
“For me, the parts department is a key element in the business,” say Kippen. “Obviously, you’ve got to optimise the panel and paint, but that basically pays for admission. Your parts, if you want, that’s where you’re going to make your margin.”
Once technicians receive the car, all of the project’s information is available at a dedicated touchscreen in their bay. From estimators bay, to panelbeaters, to spray booth to detail, and all the way back to the customer, the car moves in a single direction, never reversing in its movement around the factory. “That proper planning for me from the initial stage was key for me for the whole workshop,” he recalls. “It goes into the paint booth, it comes out the front, and it never goes backwards. It just enables everything to flow.”
And while it sounds like Bissell’s might have actually perfected their system, Kippen doesn’t see it that way. Every Thursday he holds a training session for staff; a chance to catch-up outside of the regular work-day and exchange ideas about how the business could be improved. This constant engagement ensures everyone has a say and they work as a team.
“Most of the guys here have been here at least five years, and they’ve stayed with us as we’ve moved from the old shop,” says Kippen. “The guys really need to want to be here.”
We don’t blame them.
I certainly wasn’t expecting a next level shop in Noosa. Love the quirky reception and the operating theatre clean, ordered workshop. A business background and a passion for cars is clearly a great combination for a bodyshop owner.
For a smaller regional area this extremely well presented shop is impressively in touch with technology. It services its customers with high quality work and has become a part of the local community where recommendation and repeat business means survival.
size: 2800m2 workshop plus offices, reception and apartment
Type of work: All types
per week: 40
Other services: No
OEM Badges: Subaru