Planning for the Future
SHOP STATS: UNIQUE AUTO BODY Location: Midvale, South Jordan, Saratoga Springs, UT. Operator: Jeremy, Justin, and Chad Weller Average Monthly Car Count: 200 per shop Staff Size: 20-25 per location Shop Size: 15,000 sq ft on average per shop; Annual Revenue: $5 million
Adam Ashby of Unique Auto Body thinks about the future constantly: the future of the company, what the business will look like when the three owners (and brothers) retire, and how the business can stay on top of the industry. As CFO, Ashby helps carry out the company’s vision by addressing issues early on and taking steps toward success.
“Everything I’m doing is working toward moving the business forward,” Ashby says.
Around a year ago in September 2017, Ashby joined the business after developing a friendship with Jeremy Weller, one of the three Unique Auto Body owners, roughly 5–10 years ago. At the time, Ashby was working at his own signage business but found that the return was not as promising.
That’s when Weller made an offer.
“Jeremy and I sat down and talked about what would work and I thought it would be a good fit,” Ashby says. “The objective was for me to come in with my experience and help incorporate it [into the business].”
Over the past year, Ashby has been amazed at what the industry has to offer customers.
“This is a fabulous business to be in,” Ashby says. “This is tangible. Customers come in and we do something very tangible and that’s appealing to me that we do something very real.”
Our business is, well, unique. There aren’t layers of administration within our shops. It’s just three brothers at three shops. When the phone is answered, it’s answered by the owner. When customers walk in the door, they can speak directly with the owner and know that their vehicle is being cared for. When the phone is answered, it’s answered by the owner. While the owners focus on the customer, it’s my job to focus on them.
As a CFO, I work with everything from the financial side to the human resources side. I have an accountant that works with me to keep the boat afloat, but my focus is typically toward the strategic big picture. I’ll assist with any contracts, possible legal matters, property items—it just really depends on what is needed.
I have an office in the South Jordan location, but I often visit each shop to meet with all three owners. Since each brother operates and works at one sole location, it’s difficult to get everyone together. When I came aboard, I decided it would be a smart move to set up a monthly meeting, something that was difficult with everyone’s schedules at first, but is now seen as beneficial between all of the owners.
We meet in the middle of the month for the monthly business review meeting. I’ll facilitate those meetings and they include all owners who are brothers, one of their sons, and then we have a marketing and business development manager that’s there, as well. We typically meet inside the front lobby of the South Jordan shop in the lobby. Meetings start around 7 p.m. and last two to three hours.
When I brought up the idea of having these meetings, it felt like I was pulling teeth at first. I find this fairly entertaining because meetings are generally considered as productive parts during the workday, but the owners want to focus on the customer and the work they’re doing.
The owners are siblings, but they’ve found that it’s impossible to keep everyone in the loop because they’re so dedicated to their customers. We meet during the workweek, but after hours so the owners aren’t being taken away from customers.
I’m always preparing materials for the meeting. I’m actually always preparing questions for the next meeting or issues can come up often. I think one of the biggest parts of my position is to always listen. Recently, I received an email regarding a question from one of the owners about the hiring process, and I put the question inside an open worksheet. When it comes time for the meeting, I’ll bring up the question to the owners and we’ll go over the answer together so everyone is on the same page. I think it’s so important to be in sync with communication and not have any issues due to questions.
I’ve done a lot in my career where I’ve worked in team, corporate setting. The challenge always is determining where can we grow and on what issues should we focus. The owners are, of course, focusing on their customer, but it’s my job to make sure that they’re able to continue business for years to come. My whole role is determining how they can succeed and what steps we need to take to get there.
It’s important to focus on certain pillars in the business in order to create success in the future. I try to focus on three pillars throughout the meeting.The three pillars that I’ve found to be essential in this industry include being best in class, succession planning, and then asset protection, such as risk management. The “best in class” deals with pricing, and succession planning allows us to have a plan so that the enterprise can exist in the next generation. Most businesses don’t truly exist in the next generation, so it’s important to develop a plan for when the owners retire and their hard work in the industry can continue over time.
After the meeting, I’ll publish minutes. Once the meeting is over, I’ll provide a write-up of what was discussed in the meeting in case decisions were made. The owners will get a copy and we’ll stay on top of communication.