Inspirational Lessons from Accomplished Shop Owners
The daily stress of the job can destroy a body shop owner, if they let it.
Stan Medina has been there, wondering how there could possibly be enough hours in the day to get his Texas shop off the ground while also helping to care for twin boys who entered his life when he was 16.
Selvi Rizk, the owner of two California Fix Auto locations, has felt the tension, like in 2009, when the first body shop she invested in nearly went belly up.
Michael Bradshaw recalls the pressure that accompanied taking over the family shop his father started nearly 30 years ago.
Yet, those shop operators, along with others FenderBender spoke to for this feature, used their unwavering will and positivity to overcome adversity. And now they’re doing their part—whether it be through mentoring the next generation of technicians, or by offering guidance to other shop owners—to provide inspiration.
“I just kept consuming information, and it’s a compound effect,” says Medina, the owner of Certified Collision Works in Corpus Christi, Texas. “Your confidence changes. You start to see your business grow.”
Says Rizk: “This industry can be stressful at times, for sure. But … being stressed magnifies the problem and doesn’t necessarily solve it.
“For me, it’s a choice; I wake up and I choose to focus on all the things that I’m grateful for—that are going right—big or small.”
Yes, the collision repair industry can be pressure-packed, especially for those operating fledgling shops. But, according to those mentioned in this article, if every shop owner spent time on paying their good fortunes forward, virtually every collision repair facility could prosper.
“I know how hard it was for me starting out, to really learn the industry,” says Bradshaw, the vice president of K&M Collision in Hickory, NC. “I feel like there were a lot of different people that I’ve listened to over the years that really helped me, and really helped our business.
“So, it’s a [focus for] me to try to educate, and try to empower other shop owners, so they can be successful.”
Michael Bradshaw: Inspiring at Industry Events
Michael Bradshaw can still vividly recall the first time he attempted to speak in front of the staff at K&M Collision, in Hickory, N.C.
It was an experience most body shop operators can relate to: while looking out at a gathering of longtime technicians, nervousness set in quickly.
Fortunately, Bradshaw learned rather quickly that the anxiety of public speaking eventually fades away with practice. And, nowadays, the vice president of K&M speaks with confidence at industry events like SEMA, the NORTHEAST trade show, or SCRS board meetings. For seven years now, Bradshaw has taken to the podium at industry gatherings; he speaks at as many as four such events per year.
Bradshaw, now in his 14th year as a collision repairer, speaks at the industry gatherings because “I’m trying to give back,” he explains.
Below, Bradshaw, who helps oversee a North Carolina shop with an annual revenue of $5.4 million, offers tips to allow shop operators to get over any fear of speaking in front of groups.
I still get a little anxious when I get up in front of decent-sized crowds. But it’s one of those things where, once you start talking and getting into what you know, it goes away. Overcoming the fear just comes from doing it, and practicing it, and speaking in front of your staff. Certain people are always going to get a little nervous, but if you’re prepared for what you’re talking about, that goes away pretty quickly. The more you do it, the less anxious you are.
It helps ease your nervousness to ask questions of the crowd. Bring people from the audience into the conversation and try to get involvement from them. That way, it’s not so awkward, where you’re just standing there and everybody’s staring at you. If you get the audience’s thoughts on the topic, to me, that makes it more personable, and makes for a better presentation. I also like to walk around during presentations; I’m not big on standing still.
The key is making sure you’ve got a clear, concise message. The biggest thing I do is try to go through and make sure that I’ve got a couple key points that I want to focus on, and really figure out the best way to get those points across. Usually, I speak for 20 to 30 minutes for my presentations.
I often use notecards, but it can vary. If I’m giving a presentation on specific topics, then a lot of times I’m going from a Powerpoint slide presentation. And then, other times, where it’s more informal, I try to have a couple bullet points on the topic that I want to hit on. Notecards can certainly help guard against losing your train of thought—just having something that you can refer back to. Powerpoint presentations are more and more common within our industry, and it’s good to have visual cues up there, but you don’t want to just stand there reading from slides, because that can get boring.
Having a dialogue with industry peers is invaluable. I’ve always been about trying to consume information. And it’s easy to find information now, with social media, and from the videos that organizations like SCRS do. But it’s still not a replacement for being able to have a discussion with somebody. And, at these events, that’s where shop owners really get the value: where they can ask somebody a question, like “Hey, have you dealt with this? What did you do in this situation?”
Speaking at industry events, or simply attending them, pays dividends. If you’re looking to gather information about new equipment purchases, or how to run your business more efficiently, industry events are well worth budgeting for. Especially SEMA, because there’s so much training type of stuff over the course of a few days that’s offered that, if you really broke it down and looked at all the travel you would have to do if you tried to get that kind of information separately, it becomes more economical when you look at it that way.
Selvi Rizk: Inspiring Women
Selvi Rizk inspires those around her by displaying rare determination, and relentless positivity.
Those traits were forged from watching her father work 12 hour days well into his 70s, and from observing her mother become a professional “chameleon,” as the family moved from the middle East to the U.S. when Selvi was 12.
“You emulate what you see, and you learn from the people around you,” explains Selvi Rizk, who recently opened her second Fix Auto location in southern California.
Just as Samir Rizk, an accountant, works long hours during tax season, and Louris Rizk embraced the challenges of trying a variety of jobs like medical billing and elementary school teacher, Selvi Rizk eagerly takes on any task she’s presented with.
That passion and persistence helped Rizk overcome a bumpy start to her collision repair career to eventually own both Fix Auto Brea and Fix Auto Moreno Valley in California—a pair of shops that combine to produce $6 million in annual revenue. Rizk had originally been a body shop investor, but took over as operator of Fix Auto Moreno Valley in 2009, to salvage a failing business.
“Never operating or working in a body shop [before], I had to learn the ropes fairly quickly to keep the business afloat,” Rizk says. “... It’s a challenging but rewarding business.”
Those are the kinds of business experiences Rizk speaks with colleagues about these days, like at the 2019 IBIS USA event, in which she served as a presenter.
Rizk recently spoke with FenderBender about the merits of joining industry organizations, and also offered advice for young female collision repairers.
I get something out of every industry organization I’m part of. And I think that involvement helps my organization, in general. The relationships with the people I’ve met in the industry are what made me passionate about this profession. I attend several industry events, like SEMA, CIC, and those for Verifax and WIN. It’s not a big issue for me to be away from the shop on occasion because I have a great team; if you hire the right people, and have them embrace your mission and the culture that you want to develop in your business, and you empower them to make decisions, it gives me the peace of mind that they’re doing the right thing when I’m not there.
It’s good to get out of your business now and then. It helps you see where the industry’s heading. That allows you to work on your business, instead of just in your business. Seeing that you’re not the only one facing the same challenges, it allows you to open up; talking to other people in the industry just opens up a flow of ideas. And, a lot of times it leads to a positive change, or solution. And I’ve learned that, in this industry, if you just ask, people are so willing to share their knowledge with you.
In general, we need more women in the collision repair industry. I’ve been part of WIN for a few years and I like what they stand for—WIN sheds a light on that need for more women in the industry. They offer scholarships to women, and they recognize women that have made an impact on the industry. And I like to be around those women—it’s contagious. And the momentum is starting; I’m starting to see more women being interested in the industry. I just think we need to talk more about getting more women into collision repair, and be open to recruiting people from outside our industry, kind of cast a wider net.
My suggestions for younger women in the industry: Word hard. Be confident. Speak up. Take calculated risks. Find a mentor—or several. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and, when you do, learn from them. We’re in a male-dominated industry, but women can bring in a different perspective. Women and men complement each other’s talents. And, I think an organization that has a good mix of both allows for a better flow of ideas and, overall, a better chance for success.
Stan Medina: Inspiring Young Hires
Virtually every day, Stan Medina is up before dawn. But it’s not because he’s obsessed about his work as the owner of Certified Collision Works, in Corpus Christi, Texas.
It’s because Medina meticulously structures his day. He meditates in the morning. He also takes time to plot out his work schedule, which sometimes includes stops to speak at collision repair school programs like those offered at nearby Del Mar College.
Because of that forethought, Medina has gone from a shop owner that started out with a modest business, to one who currently exudes confidence and earns 4.9 stars out of 5 from reviewers on Google.
“You’ve got to figure out what’s important. It’s going to be family, health, business,” says
Medina, a longtime shop owner whose blended family features eight children. “You want to prioritize things. Then, it becomes habit, and it becomes routine.”
Of course, it took Medina nearly a quarter century to find his way as a shop owner. While his
low-volume shop projects to make more than $1 million this year, Medina openly admits that, when he started in the industry, he had “no business sense.”
Nowadays, Medina, who works closely with his local Rotary club, makes a point to try to locate, hire, and mentor young individuals who exhibit a hunger to make an honest paycheck, even if they lack ideal experience.
Below, Medina explains how today’s body shop owners can find ideal, motivated entry-level employees.
In the past, when someone turned in an application, I would meet them for lunch and do an hour-long interview. And then, it never failed; 5 minutes into the interview, they’re like “I’m a convicted felon.” And I’m like “Dude, I took time out of my day for this interview.” So, what I’ve learned is to have some general questions. That way, you can go through about four or five applicants within 30 minutes. So, get them on a call and ask them a few questions, like “Do you have a valid driver’s license?” That’ll let you know if they should make it to the next step in the interview process.
I’ve learned how to understand people’s behavioral style, and to recognize their strengths and weaknesses. A lot of times, when we hire someone, we really don’t know their strengths. Sometimes we hire someone, and we’re not too organized ourselves, and we don’t have a system, and it ends up creating a lot of confusion. And then we blame it on the employee, but it was really us not preparing them right.
By recognizing employee’s strengths, you’ll see where they fit best. On the other hand, if you hire someone and they have a real negative attitude, they can influence the culture of your shop. So, identifying that stuff is really important. An example: we hired a detailer; eventually I noticed he had real attention to detail, I paired him up with a veteran body man that was the same way—soon we had that young hire do R&I stuff and it was like a paradigm shift for him, and he realized “You know what, I’m pretty good at this.”
Lately, I’ve been reaching out to local community colleges. Any schools that offer vocational training. You’ve got to step out of your comfort zone. I’ve met with the college deans and just explained to them that “Look, part of your training for all of your body shop technicians is really outdated. You all are training these guys to do restorations, and they’re not going to make any money in the real world doing that. So, I’ve offered to go in there and share some of my experiences.
All you can do is plant the seed. You can’t force young workers to do anything. One thing I tell kids is “Look, any kind of vocational training you can get, that’s something that’s going to add value; you’re going to be able to create and generate an income, because you have a skill. And, one thing about the body shop industry: it’s kind of like hands-on training; you’re getting training as you’re working. You’re getting paid for it. And you’re not going to be stuck with the huge debt that you might if you go to a major university.
Andrew Smith: Inspiring Apprentices
For nine years now, J.W. Smith Auto Body Inc. in Elliottsburg, Pa., has utilized an apprenticeship program.
The reason for the program is simple: “the shortage of available techs,” co-owner Andrew Smith explains, before adding “the shortage of qualified techs.”
The program has served the shop well; Smith says four of the shop’s former apprentices
have gone on to forge legitimate careers in the collision repair industry, with three landing full-time jobs at J.W. Smith Auto Body. By all accounts, the mentorship program aids the body shop’s reputation in its community, too.
And Smith has made sure that the apprenticeship program benefits its entry-level employees, too, by paying the apprentices respectably. Currently, the Pennsylvania shop pays apprentices $12 per hour to start.
“I pay you well, because I expect you to give me well,” Smith says.
Smith, who oversees a shop with a CSI score of 92.6 percent and has earned respect in the industry for his apprenticeship program, explains how his industry peers could effectively implement such a program.
One key is paying apprentices a good starting wage. And, if they don’t work out, remove them as soon as possible; the fastest I’ve ever gotten rid of an apprentice was after two days.
To find our apprentices, we just run an ad on Facebook, and run an ad on the job apps, like Monster, or Indeed. If I want to try to attract a 21-year-old apprentice and I put an ad in the newspaper, I’m going to get a bunch of 50-year-old applicants. … If I put it on Facebook, I’m going to get someone under 30.
We hire apprentices with no body shop experience. The reason for that is, most body men learn from other body men. And, the cars have changed so much in 30 years that there’s no point in having an older body man teach a younger one. So, I start the apprentices out cleaning and detailing cars here at our facility, doing the pre-wash, the post-wash, and then I start them on minor jobs, doing tear-down and assembly. And, if they follow the rules, then we take them on and train them to do panel replacement, dent repair, structural repairs, frame repair, or suspension repair.
But we have them do the easy stuff first, to see if they want to work hard, and whether they’re willing to learn.
Our apprentices are 21 years old and up. The bad part with taking high school kids is, unless it’s on a cellphone, they’re not interested in it; with many of them being technologically savvy, that’s the most important thing to them—they’re not willing to learn something unless it’s through their cellphone.
A 21-year-old technician would much rather look up the OEM repair procedures on the computer than a 58-year-old technician. So, there’s pros and cons to each age group. But the key is finding out who the individual is and then treating each individual how they need to be treated, so you can reach the desired goal for everybody.
I expect full-time employees to take time to train apprentices. And, if they don’t, then I explain to those longtime employees that they’re more than welcome to leave and come back tomorrow with a better attitude. I don’t have the veteran, longtime employees train my apprentices because they often don’t believe in looking up any repair procedures on the car. And they just believe at looking at a car and fixing it from what they see. And that’s totally wrong.
We have quality-control checks for apprentices’ work; every time a job goes to a different department, it’s checked over. So, you nip the problem before it’s a major problem at the end.
You actually save money by having an apprenticeship program. Because there’s so many jobs that an employee can do where they don’t need to have prior knowledge of repairing a car to do it. So, instead of having a more tenured technician doing the minuscule stuff, you can have a younger technician do that.