Learning to Step Back
SHOP STATS: Tri County Collision Location: Greene, N.Y. Operator: Barry Stephens Average Monthly Car Count: 30-40 per month (mostly big jobs) Staff Size: 10 Shop Size: 8,700 sq ft; Annual Revenue;$1.9 million
“Some people have a gift for this and you know, Barry, you don’t have it,” Barry Stephens’ first boss told him.
The words stung. Stephens had just repaired damage on his own vehicle, which he asked his boss to oversee—much to his boss’s disappointment.
But Stephens was undeterred. Despite his initial introduction to the industry, Stephens went on to attend a technical school for automotive technicians and then joined the military for four years. He came out of all his schooling to open his first shop, B & B Collision in East Pharsalia, N.Y.
He’s been able to run a successful business that made $1.9 million in annual revenue despite beginning with a critique that could have left him with no faith in his skills.
After 13 years at B&B Collision, he bought out his co-owner, renamed the business Tri County Collision and moved the shop to a more promising demographic location of Greene, N.Y.
Now, Stephens spends his days taking a step back from the day-to-day management while still remaining abreast of changes in the industry—all done by not letting doubters in the industry get him down.
My door is always open to the rest of the office. I meet with my team every morning at about ten minutes to 8 a.m. Then I spend most of my day in my office but the door remains open. If a customer comes in and I recognize his or her voice, I’ll always step outside and chat with them.
Word-of-mouth is rampant around here in the small town. You don’t want to be putting out a negative impression.
Keeping my door open also allows me to help out staff if they’re having an issue.
I spend an extended lunch hour meeting with my marketing team about two to three times a week. I try reaching out to the customer in different ways. I’m into billboard advertising. I like to advertise on different platforms like radio, TV and billboards. Since we got a lot of work from deer crashes, we’ve recently created a billboard that has a picture of a deer pulling its antlers from a car’s grills.
I drive about 30 minutes into the nearby city and spend an hour or so meeting with television station employees and radio station employees.
The caption on the billboard simply reads, “Deer Damage?” and then states Tri County Collision’s name and logo.
It’s best to keep the ads simple and funny because people driving by don’t have a lot of time to read. We do about five or six each year.
Besides billboards, we’ve had television crews come to film at the shop for commercials. We also put ads on the radio. I like to do at least one per month on a handful of local stations.
Every year at the holidays, we send a card to our customers and include a small magnet. You have to realize as a collision shop owner that customers who have just been in an accident won’t have the presence of mind to recognize it could happen again. So I try to keep our name out there in a number of ways.
Now, a lot of our customers are repeat customers. I would say between 90–100 percent of customers give positive feedback on our customer surveys.
I’m always trying to drum up more business. Two hours out of my day are occupied with buying and selling rental cars. Right now, we have 18 rental cars. We have plans to market the rental car business because right now, it’s not a service we advertise.
We’re trying to become an I-CAR Gold shop. Right now, we have about four of the training sessions under our belt.
I send my staff to training and classes about once per month. In the meantime, I’ll track the hours they put out weekly to make sure they stay on top of the jobs. I look at the profit margin we’re making on a job, as well. My employees are paid hourly with a bonus so it’s easier to keep track of individual hours than overall sales per month.
I think we’d be able to get work done faster if we had one more technician to the team. Right now, we have five techs. I spend a large chunk of my day looking for candidates to interview.
Throughout the day, we do what we can and if the workload gets backed up, we do the jobs that aren’t drivable. This winter has brought a lot of work for the shop despite the town only being roughly 6,000 people. Right now, we’re booked three weeks ahead and part of that is because we get traffic from the four bigger towns surrounding us.
We have a high severity rate. We do fewer jobs per month but they’re larger-ticket jobs.
We’ve started to dabble in Allstate’s photo chat supplement process. This has been a pioneering venture that not a lot of other insurance companies are doing. Right now, we do about 30 percent of business from DRP work.
Like photo estimating, the photo chat supplements have been a learning curve for the shop. The photo chat supplements require the technician to download the app and then go around the car and capture a live video.
There are pros and cons because the technicians are able to get things done in real time but the process also creates more responsibility for my shop. If Allstate has the customer take a photo and then send a check to them based on the photo, most likely, the customer and shop is going to be underpaid. So, that puts more pressure on me to make sure an adjuster comes in during the process.
I leave the office by 4:30 p.m. and make sure my team also has time off on Saturdays. I used to have a computer at home but now I don’t. I’ve forced myself to get rid of it so that I can take a break from work. In my free time I also drag race in the summertime.
Sometimes I’ll buy pizza for the team or make my own chicken wings to take a break and chat. I get out of the office about 4–5 times per week simply by traveling 20 minutes to the city for meetings.
It’s essential to give my team the day off on Saturday. I’m very easy going and don’t get panicked very easily if there is a problem. I know that if we have a job to finish, the guys will come in an hour early or stay an hour late.
I like to get home to work on some car projects. I like to take time off to drag race and also work on some of my older cars at home. I own a Ford Falcon race car, Chevrolet Corvette and a 1968 Chevrolet Chevelle. I don’t restore cars but I like to do the minor repairs, like brake repairs, by myself.
I actually had a guy leave the race car here for about 15 years when he had brought in for repairs and then never paid for the job. I finally got him to come back in and I even ended up giving him money for it. I definitely shouldn’t have because I had been waiting on his bill to be paid.
Sometimes I’ll even drive the car to the shop on a Saturday and work on it.