The 2018 FenderBender Awards: Travis Fitchie
He was reading a magazine when the idea struck.
The management magazine had conducted a survey on the effect of company team-building retreats. Reading through the results, Travis Fitchie realized that a similar retreat could be just what his team needed to not only grow the business from its then $25,000 per month revenue, but also cement its status as the most desirable shop to work at in town.
That’s when Fitchie created Apland’s Auto Body’s first agenda-free work retreat. He booked a 17-room golf clubhouse nestled along the beach and created a miniature getaway where the team could relax without any scheduled activities or work. The two shop locations shut down on Friday. The staff had the option to hang out in one of the retreat’s three main rooms, whether by socializing, watching television or playing board games. The only requirement of his staff was to come to a Friday night oyster dinner and a breakfast on Saturday morning.
The result? The weekend was such a universal success that 2018 is the shop’s fifth year hosting the retreat.
That retreat is just one example of Fitchie’s constant pursuit to improve the shop, to learn and to create a welcoming workplace.
Oh, and at the time that Fitchie conceived of the retreat? He was a mere 20 years old, recently promoted to the manager position from detailer.
Fitchie started as a detailer at Apland’s Auto Body in Medford, Ore., in 2013 and within a year had been trained into the shop management position overseeing nine employees. He saw the shop through a 50 percent sales increase during a time when it was still in its beginning and the “bite-your-fingernails” stage, says Jodie Apland, vice president of the shop.
While he might remain humble, says Mike Apland, president of the shop, Fitchie is constantly challenging himself to stay on top of industry news, technology and training.
Fitchie took the shop from its infancy and grew the business to be on track to produce $1.15 million by the end of 2018. The shop is only 6,000 square feet and the team works on average monthly car count of 70. When he started, the shop only produced $25,000 per month in revenue and had two other employees including a body man and painter. Just within the last year, Fitchie contributed to increasing the shop’s profit by 10 percent.
“Travis aspires to purchase the shop within the next five years,” Jodie says in her 2018 FenderBender Award nomination. “As I retire, hopefully within the next five years, I have no doubt Travis will achieve that goal.”
At a young age, he learned how to manage employees who were 15 years his senior and had more experience in the industry. He managed to improve production by approaching his team first as a colleague and peer. His management skills revolve around positive encouragement and respect, he says. For training, he sat next to his staff and went through I-CAR classes with the other technicians. Fitchie took the shop from zero certifications to an I-CAR Gold facility.
“He’s a life saver when someone can’t figure out a technical thing,” Mike says. “When I’m around working with him, I’m mostly just the errand boy.”
If an employee doesn’t trusts the boss, he says the quality of work the team is going to produce will decrease. When Fitchie first started, he helped organize a birthday party for an employee that was turning 64 years old.
“Your day-to-day encounters are going to be short and brief rather than in depth and meaningful,” he says.
Beyond team building, Fitchie also tackles 95 percent of the shop’s estimating in the business, planning and production meetings and handling the monthly expenses.
He also applied his unique perspective to marketing research for the shop. He recognized that the two locations of Apland’s Auto Body saw different age groups of customers so he decided to find out how those ages influenced the customer’s consumer decisions and target those specific age groups. Fitchie introduced a customer survey for the shop. At Fitchie’s location, the shop gains more Gen X customers. He researched and found that the Gen X age group uses Facebook more frequently. The other shop location experiences a customer influx of Baby Boomers, he says.
Through his survey, the shop is able to gain feedback from the customer and encourage them to leave a review on Facebook.