Shop Life

How I Work: Bucky Covington

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Bucky Covington has gotten a taste of Hollywood life. He appeared on the fifth season of American Idol. And soon, he’ll appear on the big screen with established actors like Laurence Fishburne, in the movie Brother’s Keeper.

Yet, despite his brushes with fame, Covington spends most days toiling in Tennessee body shops. In fact, for the better part of a decade now, the country singer has co-owned two facilities in northern Tennessee, along with his twin brother, Rocky.

“I can go to any state and there’s people that know who I am,” says Bucky, 41, who has had seven singles reach the top 75 of Billboard magazine’s hot country songs chart.

“But I don’t know if that’s any different than living in a small town and owning a business, because everybody knows who you are [in that situation], as well. And, if you start doing shady things and not being a good person, your business will suffer—same thing in the music business.”

Through his music, Bucky Covington tends to bare his soul. Similarly, his main business philosophy is to be unfailingly honest with customers. That fact has helped his collision repair centers in Gallatin, Tenn., and nearby Westmoreland gain traction, as evidenced by the Gallatin shop’s 4.8-star rating on Google.

Whether it’s during the roughly 30 hours per week that Covington is at his shops in Tennessee, or if it’s through the local TV ads he writes and produces for the shops, he tries to be forthcoming with customers.

“Through my years of music, I’ve always tried to be honest and up front,” he says. “And I believe now, with the collision centers, I think when people drop their cars off under the Covington name, it’s about being open and honest.”

Body shops have been in the Covington family for almost 70 years, since the twins’ grandfather, Buck Covington, started at a repair facility in North Carolina. And, Bucky hopes his unique approach to marketing can set his two Tennessee facilities up for success for years to come.

As told to Kelly Beaton

I arrive at the shop at 7:30 a.m. each day, and I’m usually here until 5:30 p.m. I devote about six hours each day to the financial side of the business. On top of that, we set aside about six hours per week for marketing; but really, marketing in collision repair is kind of like marketing in music—it’s a constant, and when the idea hits you, you act on it.

Whether we’re selling music or collision repair jobs, it’s still a branding thing. The marketing process is similar for both industries; it’s a name with a face, and a sound that goes out all over. So, what we did is start making commercials and getting the word out. And, we’ve been using the branding we’ve done for all the years in music and kind of turned it around for the collision repair center. And it really did help out, a lot.

We take ownership of our shops’ TV ads. I write and produce all my own music. I write the commercials. The last commercial we put out has a slogan, “We do that,” and I wrote that. I’ve got a music video “Drinking Side of Country”—Kellie Pickler was in that video, and so was Shooter Jennings, Waylon Jennings’ son. Doing those types of things, you definitely start learning how to write out a visual for people to go, “Oh, OK” and get on board with it.

These days, for shop TV ads, you’ve got to learn to keep costs down. If you look at the entertainment business, the money just isn’t what it used to be. I mean, back in the day, we were throwing $20,000–$50,000 in a music video. In the video for “Drinking Side of Country,” I think we had about $15,000 in that video, and that was a cut rate. Now we’re making body shop TV ads, and you can do good ones for around $10,000—we just did one and I think we might have $7,000 in it, altogether.

In general, we watch our finances closely. A lot of people can buy a collision repair center, or any business for that matter. And some people, the first thing they’ll do is go to a bank. But we’ve tried to stay away from that. We’ve tried to stay away from payments on frame machines and paint booths and things like that. I do believe if you go in like that, you could very easily find yourself in a pinch, just like buying a house improperly.

As far as staffing goes, though, we take care of our employees. We pay our employees, and take care of them. That way, they become an asset and not a liability. We have a great staff that’s a family and a team—and that’s the only way to run a successful business. That said, it’s not like you just throw money at people and they become awesome; I’ve done that before and I’ve lost six ways from Sunday. But when you’ve got a trustworthy staff member, keep ‘em around. Put money in their pockets and let them know they’re appreciated.  

When we added a shop a few years ago, we did lots of research first. We did research on nearby locations—how many collision centers were in the area, and what’s the word on those collision repair centers? Do they have a good name, or a bad name? And, being in a rural area, we wanted to keep our second shop small. Because it’s like in music: you don’t want to play in an arena if you can’t fill it. Basically, you want to fill the building up and have ‘em waiting outside.

We adhere to the schedule we gave a customer at the time of drop off. We try to be open and honest with customers. If we say a repair will be ready within three days, it  needs to be back in the customer’s hand in three days. We thrive off of customer service and honesty. People like dealing with us. I always say to keep your customers informed. They’re already going without their car, so you don’t want them feeling like they need to call the shop three or four times to get updates.

We call the customer the day before the vehicle is done, so they can make arrangements to pick up the vehicle. And we make it a point to call customers with several updates prior to that. I find it more personable to call them, unless they specify that they’d prefer email or texts. I’ve found that, if you have to deliver bad news to customers about a repair, that news will be received a lot better if you just go ahead and call the customer and let them know, versus have them running you down. Of course, if your repairs are on schedule, you don’t have to call them often.

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