Envisioning a Collision Repair Future
Pete Stemper works every weekend. Yes, every weekend, he’s in his shop—not because he has to be but because he loves the work he does.
While Stemper has been in the industry for over 30 years, he opened his own shop, Stemper Auto Body, eight years ago.
Stemper spurred his shop, located in Madison, S.D., to produce an annual revenue of $2 million and recently increased production by 10 percent.
“I don’t care if I have one employee or 50, if I don’t do my job then my employees won’t do theirs, either,” he says.
Stemper is a visionary leader, someone who has a vision and helps others see how they could contribute to it. He has two offices, one designated for his research into auto industry trends with papers and projects scattered atop his desktop, and the other office a clean space that he can use to meet with staff and customers.
And, he’s hardly the only visionary leader in the collision repair realm. According to the 2018 FenderBender Industry Survey, 24.2 percent of owners in the industry see themselves as visionary leaders. Forty percent of those leaders produce annual revenue of $2.9 million to $4.9 million.
Robert Amendola is another such shop owner. The owner of Autoworks of Westville Inc. in New Haven, Conn, Amendola recently completed a 3-year investment in his business and keeps his goals clear while creating a positive work environment for his staff.
Today, Autoworks of Westville produces $3.2 million in annual revenue, and Amendola spends his time not only managing his vision for the shop, but also aiding the industry as a whole as the president of the Autobody Association of Connecticut.
Amendola envisions a future in which his daughter is the next CEO of the company, but he still remains on in an advisory capacity. Now, he focuses on not micromanaging his team of 16 but instead preparing the shop for the future change in leadership, plus repairs on complex vehicles.
Below, Stemper and Amendola outline how they remain visionary leaders in an evolving industry.
Teach your team to educate others.
Stemper’s staff makes an effort to go above and beyond for customers, the owner says. Today, his business does an average monthly car count of 125 in an 8,600 square-foot facility.
And Stemper, a past president of the South Dakota Auto Body Association, has a passion not only for creating a positive work environment in his shop, but also emphasizing that there is a need in the industry to educate consumers about safe repairs. Whether getting paid for the specific repair or not, he says that it’s the shop’s job to make sure the repair is performed in a manner that promotes safety.
This attitude is one he carries with him in all aspects of the industry. Despite no longer being the director of the state association, Stemper has remained involved in the organization, attends its quarterly meetings and even has helped plan out recent meetings.
The South Dakota shop is in the process of creating television and radio advertisements, and Facebook posts, with an aim to educate customers.
Create a succession plan.
Amendola says he has envisioned his daughter taking on ownership of his shop as he takes a step back in leadership. Amendola has been in the industry for over two decades and, while he’s close to retiring, he envisions his daughter replacing him rather effortlessly.
Right now, his daughter runs the front office and was recently nominated for vice president of the state’s auto body association. Currently, the elder Amendola serves as the president of the Connecticut Auto Body Association, which meets monthly with the board of directors. In addition to his plan to advance the next generation forward in his shop, Amendola also has set up the shop for “fine-dining,” meaning the shop’s staff doesn’t worry about the number of DRPs it has but strictly focuses on repairing cars for customers.
It’s all about moving his shop forward, Amendola says. Not only in preparing his daughter to take over operations, but also for preparing the team to take on ever-changing challenges in the industry.
Lead by setting an example.
In order to set the shop up for his daughter to take over, Amendola says he has had to lead by example. His philosophy is that leading does not mean getting angry at staff members when issues arise. Instead, he works day in and day out to provide a positive work environment for his staff to stay long-term.
Amendola feels that technicians, for example, will be more likely to stay when they feel confident in what they are doing. To make an environment in which his team also likes their work, he created a 401K retirement plan and offers staff health benefits.
In that same spirit, after every meeting the shop owner has with his staff, he implements one change or improvement at a time. At one time the shop had 12 DRPs and gradually withdrew from those programs, over the course of 15 years. Amendola sat down with his team and they realized that the programs were too stringent for the work everyone wanted to have going forward. And, he also had his team focus on eliminating errors in the process of ordering parts instead of trying to dedicate one of his employees as a parts person.
“Keep them informed and in the loop,” Amendola says of employees. “The team, in its entirety, is far better off when we are all on the same page and there is no lack of communication between us.”
Consistently follow industry trends.
For about an hour each day, Stemper walks around his shop, checking in on the repairs and seeing how his employees are feeling. And, he also sets aside time for keeping his finger on the pulse of industry trends.
Stemper typically takes time out of his day to do research on the OEM repair procedures that are currently required, for example. And one of the other ways he follows the trends in the industry is by following ongoing lawsuits.
The South Dakotan says it’s important to invest in the quality of repairs. For instance, Stemper spends time investing in the safety and quality of the repair for the customer by buying what he feels is top-of-the-line equipment. Along those lines, he purchased three resistance welders.
Amendola also establishes goals, and makes certain to clearly state those to his staff. Then, he tries to allow employees to follow-through without micromanaging. He also provides his employees a 401K as a way to help them prepare for their futures.
Adapt to bring in business to your market.
Since his body shop is located in an area far away from training centers and hotels, in a South Dakota town with a population of roughly 7,000, Stemper built a separate space that trainers can stay in when they visit the facility.
That space serves as an onsite hotel for trainers or any other industry guests, Stemper says. It features sleeping quarters, a kitchen and a washer-and-dryer. Now, when an I-CAR trainer comes to the shop, he or she can stay for free, just a few steps from Stemper Auto Body’s shop floor.
Amendola has also made an effort to adapt to the collision repair industry’s ebbs and flows. About 15 years ago, his shop had 12 DRPs and gradually withdrew from those partnerships, except for one that now makes up about 4 percent of the shop’s business.
And, in the short-term, Amendola’s shop recently completed a three-year reinvestment program that cost $500,000, Amendola says. For business finance tracking, the shop uses a Padgett business service.
“We’ve learned that we have to become the bank,” Amendola says, with regard to shop finances.