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Expanding in a Small Town

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SHOP STATS: Overkill Custom Inc   Location: Sparta, Ill.  Operator: Shawn Martin  Average Monthly Car Count: 97  Staff Size: 9  Shop Size: 8,360 square feet; Annual Revenue;$2.3 million  

Six thousand cars drive past Overkill Custom Inc. on a given day. As one of two collision repair shops in the town of Sparta, Ill., home to approximately 4,400 people, Overkill Custom Inc. plans to expand to another location and service a different segment of the industry. Owner and FenderBender Award nominee Shawn Martin knows it seems counterintuitive to open another shop in such a small town, but it’s really a testament to the strong relationship he has in the community that this is even possible.

Martin first gained his customer base in the small town when he worked on cars in his two-car garage.

“I got my 15 minutes of glory when I built a car and a St. Louis Cardinals baseball player bought it,” Martin says.  

Matt Morris, pitcher for the 1995 St. Louis Cardinals, bought the car. Since then, more baseball players and even a former Los Angeles Clippers basketball player, Darius Miles, purchased a car from Martin or brought their repair work to his shop when he opened it in 2003.

Martin and his family built the shop from the ground up and have a total of nine loyal employees. In the 15 years he’s been in business, Martin is now expanding his shop and he says it’s all due to going back to the basics.


Give a Handshake.

“I worked for a man at Chevrolet when I was in high school and he was [hard] to work for,” Martin says. “But every week, he would shake our hands and thank us for our work.”

Now Martin takes time to shake the hands of his employees and say a simple “thank you.”

He also meets with his team every morning to make sure everyone is prepared to work. He understands that bad days happen and if one employee needs to leave early, another one is willing to take his or her place.

Meeting with his team made it easier for Martin to tweak processes and increase profits.

If mistakes arise, Martin takes the approach of checking over the technician’s work and offering a new suggestion to fix the problem.


Find a Niche.

Martin has poured concrete for his new location. The new location will be approximately 28,686 square feet, more than double his current shop’s square footage. By expanding, Martin will expand the space the team has for parts from his current location’s 90-by-90 foot room to one double that size.

To gain a wide customer base, the shop uses social media and word-of-mouth. A big part of its success in getting people to come from more than an hour away is from the use of Facebook. One non-boosted ad on Facebook was able to reach 40,000 people in one day, he says.

The new location will offer repairs for RVs, four-wheelers, big trucks and motorcycles.

Currently, Overkill Custom does camper repairs because it’s one facility that offers the service centrally located between Carbondale, Ill., and St. Louis.


Track Your Numbers.

Martin improved his shop numbers by keeping track of the books. He made his business into a $2.3 million business simply by staying aware of production numbers.

“It comes from a background of being poor and needing to stretch every penny,” Martin says.

It’s as easy as keeping a spreadsheet of costs on individual employees and parts. A red flag Martin keeps an eye out for is if the numbers fluctuate 20 percent or more.

Martin spends most of his day going over estimates and making sure to contact the insurance company and the customer, especially to ensure customers are not short changed.


Stay Lean.

To fill his new shop with employees, Martin put advertisements in metro areas like Carbondale and Chicago. Yet, he still plans to keep his shop small and manageable during the first year of expansion.

The magic number for him is 12 employees, he says. The staff will be split into teams of four and some at the current location will move to the new building.

Martin stays in contact with his 20 Group and Ranken Technical College to find potential employees.

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