Building a Business from Scratch
A pink sign, a pink website and a pink-painted parking lot.
Pink is not a color often seen at body shops but, for Dennis Reittinger, the color holds a special place in his heart. In 2003, his wife developed breast cancer and battled it for 11 years, before eventually passing away four years ago. Her journey became an important part of Mid-Town Body Repair’s history, Reittinger says.
One time, Reittinger was bringing his wife back from the hospital, when his son and his shop manager revealed a surprise: a newly painted pink sign in front of the shop and a new logo that was pink to support breast cancer research.
“I was going to be painting the shop brighter colors anyway and she ended up being tickled pink by it,” Reittinger says.
The new logo change made the shop more prominent in the local community as a shop that was interested in participating in fundraisers and donations. Since the change, Reittinger says that he often has local charities and nonprofits coming to ask him if he can donate to a cause. While he tries to stick to donating to breast cancer awareness events like cycle events and runs, he says he does offer to help other charities.
Reittinger has a big heart for his community and staff, going to lengths such as hosting an annual Christmas party at his house and giving out Christmas bonuses.
A focus on giving back to causes he is passionate about has helped his family-owned shop’s reputation in the community and grown the 18,000-square-foot stop to more than $3 million in annual revenue.
Sharing the Wealth
Every year for the past 20 years, during the holidays, Rettinger says he does his best to give out bonuses to the team of 18 people, based on job performance. The bonus might be $500 one year or $750 the next year, but the overarching point is that he tries to show his appreciation in some way if he can.
He’s found that success is not about being a superstar in the industry but, instead, about making a true commitment and finishing what you started.
Reittinger follows three principles for his business philosophy—treat others the way you want to be treated, focus on honesty, and always be dependable—and carries those over to his community as a way to show that he cares.
Reittinger started volunteering in his community way before his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Not only was the community service a way to gain word-of-mouth referral business, Reittinger also says it was a way to look for talented, younger technicians by helping out in the industry events. He was on the auto body advisory board for the Guilford Technical Community College, a committee member for I-CAR and participated as a judge in the North Carolina SkillsUSA 2004 State Conference.
Today, Reittinger’s strategy for giving back typically involves donating money. He often donates a courtesy detail ranging from $50–$250 to any organizations hosting charity auctions.
The Mid-Town Body Repair sign can be witnessed in the community but it’s a more subtle approach. In addition, Reittinger bought advertising on city buses to help the transportation industry, as well as get his name out in the community in a highly visible way that has a greater chance of being seen by many drivers.
When it comes to donating to breast cancer charities and other cancer charities, he decided to donate money to the causes instead of hosting events at the shop. The reason? While his wife was still with him, she did not like to call attention to her diagnosis. Since then, Reittinger has been committed to helping the cause in honor of his wife but prefers to keep his charity endeavors off the radar.
Not every effort needs to be advertised, communicated or promoted, he believes; you can still make a difference by supporting a cause in any way that’s feasible for you and your shop.
Sharing the Culture
Dennis Reittinger built his business with $10,000 in his pocket in the 1970s. He’s grown the business steadily over the years, from a 3,000-square-foot facility to nearly 20,000 square feet and 18 employees today. Along the way, he’s even involved his entire family in the enterprise. His two sons work in the business, one as a painter and the other as a writer.
Instead of focusing on finding the most highly skilled employees, he focused on hiring people who were new to the industry and that he met through his volunteering. Reittinger believes in second chances, he says. He’ll rehire someone once and in most cases in which he’s done this, the employee has stayed on for years at the shop.
That culture is evident in his shop; he says it has a distinct family feel, but that family feel needs to extend among the whole staff, though, for it to properly work.
That’s become especially important in recent years, as Reittinger has stepped back from an all hands-on role in the shop. He now comes in roughly three to four days per week, stopping in at 10 a.m. and staying for a few hours per day.
However, stopping in less frequently means that he needs to make those visits count. They need to emphasize the culture and continue to build it. When he stops by, Reittinger comes into the shop and walks around the office and the shop floor. He shakes hands with everyone and checks in on the schedule and production.
Despite taking a step back as a boss, he keeps his home open to his staff, as well. Every summer, Reittinger invites the entire staff to his lake home for a day of fun on the lake. They grill food, hang out in his game room, ride jet skis and head out on the boats.
During the holidays, he opens his home up again for a huge Christmas party for all the employees.
Reittinger says he prefers to open his home for team building because it allows the team to meet for a longer period of time compared to the one or two hours they would have in a restaurant.
“If you want to do it, you can’t fake it,” Reittinger says. “Treat them the way you would want to be treated.”
It’s those employees that keep him involved in the business; 40 years later and at 64 years old, he still has no plans for an exit plan completely from the business, he says.
“I’ll probably not think about that until I’m 70 years old,” he says. “I’m having too much fun right now.”
SHOP STATS: Mid-Town Body Repair Location: Greensboro, N.C. Operator: Dennis Reittinger Average Monthly Car Count: 100 Staff Size: 16 (6 body technicians, 2 painters, 1 parts person, 2 office ladies, 3 estimators, 2 in detail and owner) Shop Size: 18,000 sq ft; Annual Revenue;$3.2 million