How to Make It as a Young Owner
According to the Collision Repair Education Foundation Snapshot of the Collision Repair Industry report from 2016, the number of collision repair businesses continues to decrease year after year. The repair centers that endure, however, have been in business for more than 30 years, begging the question: How can young owners foster a lasting business?
Chris Homrich, successful owner of CARSTAR Hamlin Collision Center, is one of these young independent owners who is making his facility last; he opened his business around age 30 and is still going strong today, almost 10 years later.
"I job-jumped a lot from when I first entered the field,” Homrich says.
"I worked in the shop, did sales for a bit and eventually I found my way to a facility where I made great money, but did not enjoy going to work every day. I worked there for eight years, though, because I was making almost a six-figure salary. I wanted to save every penny to branch out, work for myself and run a place I would want to go to every morning."
Raised by his grandparents, Homrich was taught the importance of saving and not living outside of his means, which he cites as the best advice he ever received as a young business owner.
“My grandparents taught me to live off half of what I make so I do not have to rely on others. This means if I made $80,000, I acted like I made $40,000, so that I could save the rest. This is really how I was able to save up and buy my current facility.”
Homrich (left) and the staff at CARSTAR Hamlin Collision Center
The first years of owning his repair center were difficult because although he was able to save enough to buy the equipment and space, he did not have enough to cover the day-to-day operating costs. Closing down his center for weeks to earn labor money elsewhere or flipping cars on the side were just a few things he did in his early days.
“The financial hurdle was one of the biggest obstacles to overcome when I first opened my doors as I knew the failure rate for small business owners is about eighty percent,” continues Homrich. “I never wanted to compromise on repair quality or cut corners to save a dollar, because firstly, that’s not who I am, and secondly I also knew I would never get a referral on bad work—it’s just not a way to build a business.”
Now, Chris enjoys going to work every day and prioritizes time above all else. He has built a facility that he is proud of and defines this success in the corporate culture, the attitude of his employees and being able to give everyone in his shop time to enjoy their lives outside of the repair center.
Make Your Business Last
Are you a young owner looking to make your business stand the test of time? Homrich offers a few strategies to look ahead with confidence:
Make a pros and cons list: Before opening a repair center, list all the pros and cons of becoming an owner. Realistically look at your finances and determine if you can afford to enter into a business. If this is your only con, be sure to start saving.
Review your strengths and weaknesses: Take an honest look in the mirror to identify the things you excel in and plan to spend money hiring where you need help. For example, if you get frustrated with customers, be sure you budget to hire a quality customer service representative for your front desk.
Hire right: People can be trained, but attitude is hard to fake. If you come in eager to scrub bathrooms and shop floors with energy to learn more, that shows ambition. Hire employees who have a positive attitude, who are willing to learn, open-minded and reliable—your success will be inevitable.
Stay grounded: No matter how big we get or how busy our business is, we are never too big to make our customer the priority. I’ve worked in other places where they would trip over a customer to pick up a dollar (so to speak), and that’s just not how you should operate.
Prioritize communication: Keeping our customers informed through every step of the repair process is absolutely essential. Whether it is a car enthusiast or someone who does not know a thing about vehicles, we use the same open line of communication for each repair.
Get support when needed: I knew I would need additional support with my insurance relationships to compete with the big national chains and keep my business going. Joining CARSTAR made sense for me because of its premier reputation and focus on customer service, which aligns with my values—plus, I retained ownership, which was important to me.
Founding a small business with 30+ year staying power is no easy accomplishment. Independent owners should take advantage of every opportunity available to help their repair centers succeed.
CARSTAR has insurance, operations, marketing and customer service support available to its franchise family to help independent owners thrive in their communities. To bring additional support to your facility or find more information on joining the CARSTAR family as a local owner and operator, call 844-906-9764 or visit CARSTARFranchise.com.