How I Work: Daniel Johnson
Daniel Johnson has always had an ownership mentality when it comes to his work. As owner of Cline Collision Repair LLC, in Chambersburg, Penn., Johnson takes a leadership approach in which he empowers his staff to make decisions on their own and in return becomes inspired by them.
Johnson took over ownership of the body shop in 2016, after the owner, Rodney Cline, passed away. Johnson had been at Cline Collision Repair LLC since 2007 and, before that, spent roughly seven years managing a collision repair shop at a dealership. Johnson bought a small equity position in Cline Collision Repair and then, over the next year and a half, purchased the rest of the shop.
“When I transitioned from general manager to owner, there wasn’t a big shift mentally because I’ve always had an ownership mentality,” Johnson says.
Johnson started at the shop as an estimator and then worked his way up the ranks. As a manager, he always had someone else to turn to when a decision was tough. But, in 2016, Johnson started navigating the leadership waters solo.
Suddenly, he had to learn not only how to make decisions on his own, but also how to make sure he had a well-balanced work-life so that he didn’t get burnt out. Today, Johnson runs a $2 million business with a staff of 13 people.
Every day, Johnson works to empower his staff and spend face-to-face time with customers.
As told to Melissa Steinken
I need to be available to deal with the unusual stuff. I spend most of my time in the front office. I greet customers and answer the phone. Most of my attention goes to dealing with any issues that arise with customers. Whenever there is a problem and it goes sideways, I need to be able to handle that situation.
Since I have spent most of my time in the office, it also allows me to focus my attention on the higher-level projects. I can spend time looking at the training I can invest in and decide how much to invest in that training.
I’m not on a tight schedule in which I come in by a certain time and leave by a certain time. I come in when I need to get work done and am able to stay for however long I want to help out with work or customers. Sometimes I’ll offer the customer a ride back to their house or destination. If I had to narrow down a time, I usually come into the shop around 8 a.m. and then leave for the day around 6 p.m.
Often, I can build a relationship with a new customer in just 30 minutes. I like to talk to the customer during the half hour when the estimator is writing the estimate on the car. Or, if the car has small damage, then I might be spending even less time talking to the customer.
We don’t have a structured business budget here. I’ve definitely entertained the idea, but most of the time, I just based my financial decisions off historical data off our budget. I look at the previous year’s sales and the year before that. I use those previous years to predict where we will be at in the future.
Since I spend most of my time at the front desk, I can spend time looking into the bigger picture and managing the shop’s budget, and making financial decisions. In fact, one area I did invest in to better the shop was I-CAR Gold training. We just received our I-CAR Gold Class certification.
I do use a combination of CCC ONE for workflow and estimating and QuickBooks so that I don’t have to compute everything by hand.
One of the new things I’m dabbling in is radio advertising. This winter, we were approached by a radio company’s outside sales team that offered package deals to do radio advertising on their station.
They offered X amount of weeks with 15-second time slots. And, along with that, we were on the radio station doing 8- to 10-minute interviews. I went into the station and recorded them myself. It sounds like the interview is live but it’s pre-recorded. Another great benefit to investing in radio advertising is the fact that the radio ads and interviews we’ve done for the shop stay on the radio station’s website long-term.
Some topics that we’ve covered are what to do if you have an issue with an insurance company or what steps to take if you’ve been in an accident. The radio station itself was a talk radio station and it was a conservative station that a lot of other small business owners listen to in the area.
We have people come in saying that they heard us on the radio and then those people will tell their friends and family. It definitely is a trickle-down effect.
Our business has typically been built on reputation. Just three years ago, we didn’t have a website or business page. So, while we were working on building a business website, the radio station’s website helped us get a foot in the door online.
We hired a firm to do our website, logos and business cards. It took a while for it to get done because, primarily, they would send something to approve or look at and I was too busy to get back to them right away. Most of our interactions were done online but I also met with them face to face about every other month. Overall, that was roughly a six-month process.
I’m also a member of our local chamber of commerce. The chamber is currently doing great stuff to revitalize our downtown area and I like to support that. I attend a meeting about every two months and these meetings are very easy to go to since they’re open-door and are after work hours. Typically, they go from 5–7 p.m.
The other members take turns hosting the meetings in their businesses around town. It’s one of my future goals to host the meeting at our shop. We haven’t hosted it yet because we only have a small waiting room and reception area in which we could hold it right now.
Fixing the car is secondary. The business is really about people. People come through our door and we need to find out why they want to get their car repaired. We treat our customers like regular people because we will also be seeing them in town, maybe at the local grocery store or church.
So, our shop prioritizes relationships with our customers. I’m usually a numbers guy but this is a spot that I realized is very important to focus on for the longevity of the business.
SHOP STATS: Cline Collision Repair LLC Location: Chambersburg, Penn. Operator: Daniel Johnson Average Car Count: 19 cars per week Staff Size: 13( 2 in paint department, 4 body techs, 1 apprentice tech, 1 detailer, 2 estimators, 1 student working through a co-op program, 1 secretary, 1 owner-Daniel) Shop Size: 13,000 square feet; Annual Revenue;$2 million