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Kim Barks dabbles in a bit of everything at her shop, from operations to owner. Like many collision repairers, the owner of Complete Car & RV Repair’s knowledge of the industry was passed down by her father. Yet, before joining the shop and taking over for her dad, she earned a B.S. in business marketing with an emphasis in non-profit administration. 

Barks has brought her passion for marketing and nonprofit administration into the body shop. Since coming on board, she has increased the shop’s size to a staff of 17 people, annual revenue to $2.5 million, and more than three partnerships with local charities. 

“I’ve always been very hands-on in my work, and when I was younger, my dad showed me around the business,” she says.

As a relative newcomer to the industry (See Sidebar: Bark's Business Plan), Barks had to rely on her education and drive to learn. If she doesn’t understand how a certain part of the shop operates, she finds a book on the topic and dives into research. She also attends as many I-CAR meetings and local chamber of commerce meetings as possible. 

While learning more about the industry, she learned one key piece of information that led to a breakthrough for her as a leader: In order to be successful as a leader, you need to be assertive in your marketing tactics. 

Barks took that knowledge and framed her plan around an open door policy for anyone, whether it’s a customer seeking repair help or another woman in the industry looking for career advice.

 

Sidebar: Barks' Business Plan 

Kim Barks, owner of Complete Car & RV Repair, shares how she set up her shop to tap into an additional, profitable market. She got into the RV industry in 2012. After seeing the occasional RV pass by and often break down, she realized that in her town of roughly 70,000, RV customers didn’t have many options when it came to getting their vehicle repaired. 

The Buyout

Barks bought Hazelwood REC TEC, which was struggling, and renamed the shop to include RV repair in the title.

The Challenge

Scheduling programs for that side of the industry were far more antiquated than those the shop was used to. The shop uses CCC ONE for their management and scheduling system. She tweaked the platform so it included tracking RV repairs, but inputting an RV production line into the system required a new pricing matrix. The matrix creates labor rates and itemizes the labor.

The Payout

Barks and her staff repair roughly 50 RVs for both body repair and service repair per month. When a customer searches for an RV repair shop in St. Charles, Mo., the first listing they’ll see pop up is Complete Car & RV Repair.

 

 

Assertive Marketing Efforts

Using her degree in business marketing, Barks focused mainly on increasing the shop’s marketing efforts.  She knew that the best way to expand the business was to constantly be in front of the customer in some capacity.

Barks expanded the shop’s marketing to include all social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. She says the most successful posts are ones that include jokes or memes about the repair industry. 

“I’ll post jokes, memes, pictures of the shop, really anything to get the customer feeling comfortable stepping into the body shop,” Barks says.

Now, 25 percent of the shop’s business comes from social media, she says. Barks or a front office employee ask every customer coming into the shop how they heard about the business. Then, they write it down. After the job is closed, the team adds that information to their own internal spreadsheet.

Before a customer leaves the shop, Barks is also not afraid to ask for a review. Complete Car & RV Repair has over 100 reviews on Google, and is on sites like Carwise, as well.

 If the shop gets a negative review, Barks says she personally responds. She apologizes to the customer, gives the customer her personal phone number, and asks them to come in or call to discuss the issue. 

“I put myself in their situation,” she says. “I ask myself how I would feel if I walked into a store and this is what happened.”

By simply making sure to promptly respond to the reviews, Barks has turned around customer’s perception of body shops. In fact, one customer attended the shop’s annual Christmas party and apologized to Barks for the bad review.

 

Proactive Relationship Building

Barks learned the most about collision repair from being around her father in the body shop growing up. As she got older and gained a permanent leadership role in the business, she realized that one way to increase the shop’s customer base and become well-known, was to partner on educational events in the community.

It’s all part of her “open door policy” in which her team members and others in the business community are always welcome to come to her for advice. She implemented the policy early in her time with the facility.

In order to get her business noticed, she made calls and attended as many meetings as she could in the community.

Barks first reached out to three local community colleges for help. She reached out to the Lewis and Clark Career Center, St. Louis Community College and Lincoln University. She talked to the leaders of their automotive programs and asked to speak in the classes. She also asked if they had anyone they thought could be a potential hire for the body shop. 

After working with local schools, Barks initiated a class that she says is an important step for someone trying to grow their body shop.

She created an all-women repair class that she hosted twice per year. The class is free to women in the area, as long as they RSVP to the event on Facebook. So, in the process of hosting the class, Barks brought more women out to her shop in person and to the shop’s Facebook page. Roughly 12 to 15 women attend each class. 

The course offers time for Barks to touch on safety with the vehicle and answer any general questions they have on car repairs. By hosting classes annually, she builds her reputation as an automotive expert in the community. 

In addition to partnering with local colleges, Barks partnered with animal shelters in the area, including the Five Acres Animal Shelter. She hosted an event for the shelter at the Missouri facility. The body shop team spent the day loading bags of dog food onto pallets so the animal shelter could then transport the pallets around town.  

Barks partners only with charities that she audits first. She’ll make sure to spend time reading about the charity’s mission and vision.

“I’d turn the body shop into an animal shelter if I could,” Barks says, referring to her passion for dogs and how she’s used every avenue available to have the shop help out the local humane society.

She’s also the youngest member in the local Rotary Club.  

Overall, her drive to be an expert for anyone who needs it has led Barks to continue to be creative and grow the shop’s reach. Customers might even find her at the local hair salon, taking time to write an estimate here and there.

 

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