How I Work: Brian Roach
For the first years of business ownership, Jon Roach worked with a business partner at Alexander Body & Fender Co. in Akron, Ohio. But in the early 2000s, the relationship hit a rough patch.
Enter his cousin, Brian Roach.
Did Brian envision himself going into the collision repair industry? No. But, in 2004, he stepped in to help run the shop. For a few years, Brian decided he only wanted to help his cousin by consulting with him and using his background in marketing and business mergers to keep the shop afloat.
However, Brian found that he liked the business. And, when Jon’s business partner decided to move on, he found that the timing was right to come on board permanently. Brian and Jon bought out Jon's business partner .
In 2015, Brian formally joined the shop and became part owner. He started by working on the legal side of the business. Jon wanted him to learn more about the inner workings of the shop, including estimating, but Roach said he wanted to go a different direction. While Jon and Brian make all the business decisions together, Brian started focusing on the marketing for the shop, the culture and managing the employees.
“When you have a bad marriage and an uncomfortable home, the first part in [recovery] is finding out which family members you want around and which ones still wanted to be around,” Roach says.
In the first three quarters of 2016, the shop experienced staff turnover due in large part to the change in ownership, and sales lagged. So, Roach got to working hard on the big picture aspect of the shop management.
Eventually, in 2018, the shop produced an annual revenue of $2.28 million.
As told to Melissa Steinken
The first thing I focused on was offering our employees benefits. I worked on making it possible to give the staff a 401(K) plan. I wanted to offer the employees the opportunity to comfortably retire from the shop if they wanted to. By April 2016, we had a 401(K) plan.
The next thing I focused on was the culture of the shop. I sat down with my cousin and asked him, “Who’s the boss?” My cousin thought I meant it should be me but I said no, and pointed to the sky. Everything starts from the top. Then it trickles down and has to be consistent.
Now, during my typical day, I usually come into the shop after I attend morning meetings in the community. I wake up at 5:30 a.m. and am usually at the gym right away. Then, after work, I get home around 7:30 p.m.
Sometimes I attend a morning breakfast for Christian-owned-and-operated businesses in the area. This takes place on the last Wednesday of every month. There are also weekly meetings for the local chamber of commerce. I attend those at 8 a.m.
Two or three days per week, I attend networking lunches or dinners in the community.
On Saturdays, we’re open 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. I come in around 9:30 a.m. but then I stay past our close. This is the time I take to work on the shop’s finances and books. I could stay until anywhere from 2 p.m. or all the way until 5 p.m.
During the week, I try to touch base with each of our employees. We have a staff of roughly 23 people. I try to talk to each of them. I like to keep my ears out and listen and learn. If there is a problem that an employee has and I help them fix it, and then that employee keeps repeating the same mistake, then I know it is time to pull the whole team together and fix the issue.
Once per month, we do a staff luncheon, we offer it to everyone and invite our other business partners, as well. At these meetings, Jon and I will update the staff on where we are financially with the monthly sales numbers and then our goals for the next month. In 2015, our annual revenue was $1.58 million and since then it has grown by $600,000.
Our staff is not just considered employees. Shop culture starts from the top and works its way down. We decided to only refer to our staff as “the team” and “team members” to better help with that culture. We also follow a few principles that showcase that culture. For example, our brand means more to us than getting rich and we’re going to do what’s right for the safety of the customer, regardless of whether or not we get paid for it.
I’ve spent time working to identify our ideal customer. We’re not a DRP shop. The bulk of our work is through the customer choosing to come to us. I realized that for the previous 80 years or so that this shop has been in business, that customers will often go to family members and ask their grandparents for recommendations on which shop to go to. That was in our advantage because we’re an older shop.
For the first six to nine months, I spent time researching who was coming into our shop. I discovered that our ideal customer had vehicles from Honda, Toyota and Hyundai. Our customers are from dual income families. These customers needed transportation whether it was to get to work or something else and they spent time taking care of their property.
Since I started to help Jon, I focused on re-doing our logo and branding. Everyone at our company wears black and gold to match the shop logo. Before I redid the colors to match our slogan, it was green and a light beige color. We also have nine loaner vehicles that are painted with black and gold and display our shop’s name on the side of the car.
And, branding is not only about the colors but identifying the ideal customer. I did some research and our shop has been in Ohio since 1928. Our slogan now is that we’re "The Gold Standard...Since 1928." We’re probably one of the oldest body shops in the Ohio and possibly the nation. We’ve always been known in the area as the best and the most expensive body shop but before we came up with the slogan, people didn’t realize that we’re expensive because we are thorough in our repairs. We’ll help deal with the insurance company but at the end of the day, your deductible is your deductible. So, we tell everyone to then choose the “gold standard.”
SHOP STATS: Alexander Body & Fender Co. Location: Akron, Ohio. Operator: Jon Roach (majority owner) and Brian Roach Staff Size: 23 Shop Size: 9,000-12,000 square feet; Annual Revenue;$2.28 million