Building a Winning Culture Across Multiple Locations
Transparency, compassion and predictability. Andy Tylka says no matter how big the business he and his father run gets, they never want to lose sight of those three principles.
Tom Tylka came to the collision repair industry after working for an engineering firm that was on the verge of bankruptcy. He first stepped into leadership as the plant foreman and worked double shifts to learn more about leading others, he says. When he came to the collision repair industry, Tylka immediately joined a 20 Group to learn more about managing a business with multiple locations.
Due to Tylka’s follow through on his plans, he was able to form a relationship with the bank and show that he had a prevalent business in the community. His wife, who works on the shop’s books and accounts, often went in and the tellers knew her by name, he says.
“Every time I went to open up a new shop, I’d call the same person at the People’s Bank of Munster, Indiana,” Tylka says.
He opened his shop, Tom & Ed’s Autobody, in 1983 and, since then, has learned that running a successful business requires both spur-of-the-moment decisions and long-term planning.
Within eight years, Tylka expanded his shop from one location into three locations.
The catalyst for even faster growth took place when Tylka’s son, Andy, joined the business. Andy came to the shop with a college education in business from the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and helped expand the shop by two more locations.
While Tom & Ed’s Autobody grew quickly, one key to the success was maintaining a uniformed company culture.
And, the growth has not been due to luck, Tylka says.
The Tylkas focused on building a shop culture in this time through offering employee incentives, following strict procedures and taking opportunities to bring in more work for staff.
While the shop transitioned and grew, Tylka needed to provide incentives for staff to stay onboard. So, he offers employee benefits, including health insurance, retirement plans and even an added bonus for long-time staff. If an employee has been at the shop for 10 years, the employee is able to pick anywhere in the U.S. they want to go for a weekend vacation, paid for by the company.
Not only does Tylka motivate the staff through benefits, he encourages a team culture that shows honesty and revolves around downright good relationships, as well.
If a customer walks into the shop unhappy with a repair, Tylka had his staff apologize and accept the mistake—no skirting around the issue. This strategy has kept customer referrals flowing and repeat customers walking in the door.
In fact, Tylka still recognizes customers when they walk in the door.
Tylka says it was essential during expansion to not just treat the staff as a number, but to also value them as a person.
“I had never heard an individual say anything negative about treating the staff like family,” Andy says.
Focus on Routine Training
To stay profitable and still outfit each new location with roughly $500,000 in new equipment and tools, Tylka turned the Merrillville location into a training center for new employees. The planning for each new location started a year in advance and the shop made sure to not buy an old body shop location that produced less than $2 million in annual revenue.
The numbers at the shop were sometimes skewed due to overstaffing but Tylka says this process ultimately assisted the staff to run operations uniformly across each store.
In order to grow successfully from one shop to multiple locations, another necessary step is to conduct frequent meetings, Tylka says. These meetings happen monthly and quarterly, he says. Typically, the location managers and upper management attend the meetings but if a new shop worker needs to learn a process, they will also attend the meetings. An experienced worker at the company will attend the meeting with the new hire and then plan and execute a training period for the hire.
At each meeting, Tylka goes over the numbers with the team and discusses improvements. One important topic that is constantly emphasized and taught is how to achieve a high closing ratio.
“No job is done without following a back procedure and SOPs,” Tylka says.
At the management level, Andy says he was able to drive more growth by keeping records of each expansion. Each record of contractor information, contracts, building design and checklists was stored through the cloud in Microsoft OneDrive, he says. The record keeping included photos to reference at every stage.
“Of course you want to document your success, but you also want to document education,” Andy says.
Andy says through the process of rebuilding and expanding, he has learned that it is critical for him to have documentation, such as pictures, to fall back on if there are any questions.
The expansion was a chance for each location manager and staff to treat their locations like they own it, he says.
Take Opportunities For More Work
No opportunity is lost to Tylka. Ten years ago, he created his own towing company in order to work with the insurance companies and really make Tom & Ed’s Autobody a “one-stop shop,” he says. Roughly 7-10 percent of the shop’s business comes from towing in new customers, offering them an estimate for the repair immediately and finding a way to repair their vehicle. If one location is full, the shop will transport the work to another.
By forming relationships with other business owners and taking part in financial 20 Groups, Tylka was able to master the learning curve.
Yet, the shop still prioritizes local vendors to do business with and not just the vendors with the highest discounts, Andy says.
Tylka first joined AkzoNobel’s business groups in the 1980s. Today, the shop still attends AkzoNobel 20 Group meetings after jumping between a few paint companies and creating even more connections.
Not only do community relationships benefit the shop’s reputation, Tylka was also able to keep getting work during periods where the shop expanded and was stretched tight, he says.
Today, roughly 40 percent of the shop’s referral work comes from dealerships. The shop has partnered with six dealers in the area.
And, partnerships have helped Tylka tackle the obstacle of finding new locations with more visibility to customers.
In order to find available properties, Tylka kept making regular phone calls to his paint distributor at least twice per week, in the event that the paint company had heard of a possible available location.
SHOP STATS: Tom & Ed's Autobody Location: 5 locations in Indiana. Operator: Tom Tylka Average Monthly Car Count: 75 Staff Size: over 50 employees Shop Size: 10,000 sq ft; Annual Revenue;$9 million