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SHOP STATS: Porter's Body Shop   Location: Brookhaven, Miss.  Operator: Patrick Porter  Average Monthly Car Count: 65  Staff Size: 17 (12 back-end/5 front office)  Shop Size: 16,000 square feet; Annual Revenue;$2.2 million   

Rain, sleet or ice, the tow truck for Porter’s Body Shop can be seen out on local roads and major highways. 

On one occasion, the shop’s tow truck service reputation preceded itself. Clay Smith was called to a scene late at night and asked to drive four hours from the shop. It was snowing heavily (yes, even in Mississippi, it snows) so most of the town hunkered inside. Roads were treacherous, but, because Smith had training and was one of the few tow truck services open in the conditions, he was asked to tow a car out of a lake. 

Having a tow truck service can often be precarious and unpredictable, Smith says. Yet, for all the times that Smith and his general manager, Patrick Porter, have been called out to an unusual wreck, the service has brought along advantages that’s helped the business grow.

“At any given time now, you can look out the window of the shop’s front office and see about four cars in our lot that came from tow-ins,” says Smith, the assistant manager, wrecker service and estimator for Porter’s Body Shop in Brookhaven, Miss.


The Backstory

Porter’s body shop has served southern Mississippi customers since 1960. 

Smith driven the shop’s tow truck for nearly 20 years. In that time, he’s built a reputation of being able to tackle multiple tasks effectively. 

Smith manages the shop’s one tow truck and works a typical 40-hour workweek between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Or, a typical workweek, that is, until he receives a call in the middle of the night to tow a customer. If he’s not available to work, it will forward to his apprentice, a shop technician that’s training to become another tow truck driver. Over an average weekend, he tows 3–4 vehicles. During the week, he might tow as many as 12–15 cars.

The shop isn’t the only one in the area that offers a towing service. Early on, the team knew it needed to develop a relationship with law enforcement and highway patrols. Despite having a relatively good relationship with local police departments, most of the shop’s business came from word-of-the-mouth referrals. 

Smith needed to increase the tow truck’s business.


The Problem

While the Mississippi shop had a well-established presence in its community, there was one relationship it was missing, Smith says. 

When he came on board, he realized the shop was not on any highway patrol rotation. While the tow truck service is a separate entity and simply part of Porter’s Body Shop business, a beneficial way for the service to get more customers is to be on a highway patrol list.

That way, when there are accidents or customers have their cars stall, Porter’s and Smith get a call to pick up a customer.


The Solution

While it’s different in every state, Porter’s Body Shop needed to figure out how to be added to the list of highway patrols. Customers can choose which body shop to be towed to, but when no customer preference is indicated, department personnel will request service based on a rotation list.

To get on rotations, the shop needed to fill out a form for a city rotation, a county rotation and then an overall state rotation. The forms typically include a document that outlines all requirements (See Sidebar: Requirements for Rotation List), and has the owner of the shop sign off on them. 

Porter says that the shop had to send in a certificate of insurance for the facility and the tow truck. Then, the state had to send out inspectors to inspect the shop’s equipment and make sure it was up to date and running properly.

Since the change was pretty straight forward and the process for towing cars didn’t change, Porter says the shop did not add staff or change production to accommodate the extra work.


Requirements for Rotation List 

According to the state of Mississippi, these are some of the requirements a shop owner must meet to be put on a highway patrol rotation list. 

1) Standards, Equipment Rollback Wreckers: One truck with a 14-foot bed and dual wheels, one power winch with 8,000 lb capacity, brake lock device and a minimum of two safety tied down chains or nylon straps 10 feet.

2) Standards, Equipment for Large Wreckers: Air control valve to provide braking capability for a car being towed, air brakes constructed as to lock the rear wheels automatically upon failure, supply air to disabled cars,  external air hookups and hoses, hydraulic spade or two metal chock blocks to prevent rolling, a minimum of 200 feet of cable at least ⅝-inch diameter on each drum or ¾-inch diameter cable on a single drum, one pair of bolt cutters with a minimum ½ inch opening. At least six safety cones and two fire extinguishers

3) Record Keeping: Date and time the company was contacted, name of person requesting service, location of car, description of towed vehicle, owner or driver of the car, service charge and fee, response time from call to arrival on scene.

4) Company Contact Information and Hours: The company will be staffed during normal business hours, between 8 am and 5 pm, each wrecker company will maintain 24-hour service availability, provide the Troop Commander with one telephone number to be used for service requests during hours and one for after hours, with call forwarding.


The Aftermath

Incorporating a towing service and making sure the body shop is getting calls for its service are vital to offering customers a one-stop shop experience, Smith says.

After joining the rotations, the shop received an influx of calls, specifically from the state highway patrol. Now, the shop repairs $8,000 jobs when it tows in a wrecker to the body shop.

While the customer that gets picked up by the tow truck can be towed to any body shop of his or her choosing, Smith does say that when the customer chooses his body shop, it makes the repair process very convenient.

“For the customer, we can do it all from start to finish,” Smith says.

During the ride, Smith also hands out his business card to the customer. He makes sure not to persuade the customer one way, but he does give out his card with his direct number on it in case they need help down the line.


The Takeaway

Through the towing service, roughly nine times out of 10, the shop will repair a vehicle that is towed to the shop. That’s 50 to 60 percent of the business coming directly from tow-ins, says Porter. 

“The wrecker service gives you the exposure that some shops don’t have,” Porter says. “I have found that it makes a difference if the tow truck driver is customer-service oriented and great with customers.”


Breakdown: Top Tips for Towing

Clay Smith, assistant manager for Porter’s Body Shop, shares his tips for offering a well-rounded towing service at a body shop.

Tip No. 1: Offer the service 24/7.

On average, Smith tows in about four cars every weekend. By offering the service even when the body shop is closed, the shop can increase its reach and be in front of more customers.

Tip No. 2: Offer a standard rate.

Smith charges about $3 per mile for his towing service. Look into some of the going rates in the city and base a standard rate off that number. 

Tip No. 3: Offer a wide range of service.

It’s better for the shop to branch out with its service to attract customers from other market areas.  Most of the time, Smith will tow a vehicle in from as far away as 60 miles.

Tip No. 4: Offer training to other staff.

The shop owner should teach not just one person on staff how to use the tow truck but teach at least two, Smith says. This gives the tow truck driver a chance for a break and to switch off jobs when calls come in.

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