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The 2011 FenderBender Awards

The Finest In Collision Repair

(page 5 of 7)

Category: Vendor

Blake Harris

President, Blue Ridge Color Co., Roanoke, Va.

photo by Bruce Muncy

Blake Harris left a comfortable, steady job as a paint company representative about a decade ago to take a shot at starting his own distribution business.

He and his wife pooled their money together to launch Blue Ridge Color Co. from scratch in an already competitive market. But Harris, now 46, says they were confident enough in their abilities, and their love of the trade, to make the leap.

“I enjoy selling these products, knowing shops are using them correctly and efficiently every day,” Harris says. “We’re as interested in the customer’s business as they are.”

It was tough at first. Money was tight; expenditures were minimal. The company’s only delivery vehicle, for example, was the same one Harris and his wife used as a daily driver.

“I get to go to work, I don’t
have to go to work.”
—Blake Harris, president, Blue Ridge Color Co.

But the risk paid off big. The four-person company made a modest $400,000 in gross sales in its first year and has since grown into a 45-employee, $15 million-a-year giant. The distributor now has six locations and a vehicle fleet of more than 30.

“Today, Blue Ridge Color is one of the largest distributors in southwest Virginia,” says Barry Graham, territory manager for PPG Refinish, who nominated Harris for a FenderBender Award.

Graham says Harris is actively involved in the industry and his customers’ day-to-day operations—even attending 20 Group sessions with them. He is also incredibly dedicated to continuing education for both shop employees and his own staff.

In response to a desire from customers for more local education offerings several years ago, Harris decided to buy an old body shop and spruce it up as a training facility on a temporary basis. He invited I-CAR instructors, company representatives and others to the site to run classes. His own team also offered courses. The operation proved immensely popular.

So, the company developed a 7,000-square-foot stand-alone training facility, which now offers courses for employees spanning the industry. More centers are planned—in fact, Harris wants every Blue Ridge Color location to have its own training center for customers.

Harris regularly receives requests from his three manufacturer partners—PPG, AkzoNobel and 3M—to open in new markets. He’s weighing several possibilities for expansion and plans to be at 10 shops soon. He also launched a new business, Shop Fix Inc., two years ago to supply repair centers with paint booths, lines and other equipment. That venture simply came from customer demand for the products, he says

Harris is always on the go, and though he could afford to kick back and let someone else do the work at this point, he enjoys his job too much to give it a rest.

“I get to go to work, I don’t have to go to work,” he says. “That’s the thing we try to get our employees to understand.”

And the company’s staff gets it, Harris says. He says his hand-picked crew is what keeps the company strong.

“We’ve gotten to where we are because they are the best people,” he says. 

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