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How I Work: Curt Bacon Body Shop

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SHOP STATS: Curt Bacon Body Shop  Location: Fort Dodge, Iowa.  Operator: Curt Bacon  Average Monthly Car Count: 60  Staff Size: 13  Shop Size: 12,000 square feet Annual Revenue: $2.8 million  

Curt Bacon runs his Iowa repair facility with one guiding philosophy: either you’re in the business to do it right or you should get out of it.

Bacon joined the collision repair industry in 1980 and is now preparing his $2.8-million-per-year body shop for the future generations to take over. 

When the shop first opened, Bacon says it switched locations five times because the team kept outgrowing the space. The current, 12,000-square-foot space was built from the ground-up and can catch the eye of any driver with its unique branding. Customers will see a play on words and the name of the shop owner himself on the shop’s signage.

Anyone driving past the shop in Fort Dodge, Iowa, can catch a glimpse of a cartoon pig wearing sunglasses and holding a paint gun. 

“We had a record-breaking year about two years ago and this year was a hail storm so it was almost as successful,” Bacon notes. 

Bacon’s facility was voted the best body shop in Fort Dodge for nine years, including several times over the last decade.  

Bacon maintains the shop’s strong relationship in the city of about 25,000 people through word-of-mouth marketing and an adherence to seeking advice from other experts in the industry.

As told to Melissa Steinken

I get into the shop around 7:30 a.m. and leave around 5:30 p.m. every day. My schedule used to consist of me going into the shop every single day but that led to an unhealthy work and home life. I’d lay awake at night thinking about the business too much and then have insomnia.

Now, I’ve learned that if I’m behind in paperwork, I dedicate time in the morning to catch up on it and not take time out of my life outside of work.

I’m in the front office all the time. I help team members if they have issues, help paint match vehicles and research repair methods and procedures. If we’re doing structural repairs, it will take me a bit longer to help research the proper method because it’s more detailed. If we have supplements, I’ll try to run back and help with those. We have a team of 13 people right now so I help out when I can.

Right now, my daughter is here with me at the front desk. She’s learning the ropes so that she could potentially take over the business in the future.

In the mornings, the first thing I do is read through my emails and respond to those. I reply back to parts estimated time of arrivals and check in on any other ones. If there’s paperwork leftover from the previous night, then I prioritize that after my emails.

I see my job as being up front to make our jobs profitable. I have to make sure that money is not overriding the quality of the repair. When we’re done with a car, I do an inspection on the vehicle. Another technician will join me as we go over our quality control checklist to make sure every item is checked off. 

I take a lunch break usually between noon and 1 p.m. I take this time to work on my business. I’ll read industry trade magazines to gain more tips and stay aware of what trends are heading our way . 

My niece and daughter inspired our new logo a few years ago. About four years ago, they came up with the concept of the three little pigs cartoon to incorporate a pig into a logo for the shop because it related to our last name and my wife loves the color pink.

My daughter and her friends created the logo and then I contacted a design place in California that does a lot of graphic art. They provided me with a few options. I wanted my logo to stand out and have it be something that made customers happy when they saw it. So, I went with a smiling pig.

I don’t set aside a lot of our budget for marketing. Instead, I prefer to rely on word-of-mouth marketing and getting involved in the community.  We do have one gal that lives in Nebraska and still brings her car back the four hours to get it repaired.

We do the occasional ad in the newspaper and have also worked with Fort Dodge’s Business Review  on articles to educate the public on our shop. Mostly our success stems from referrals in the community.

I’ve found that getting involved in the community helps generate more business. I attend a round table meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, about 90 minutes away, with a body shop owner. I gained a lot of insight from talking with James Rodis, body shop manager for Woodhouse Collision Center. I even had him come to our town and talk with some of the other surrounding business owners. It’s vital to hear advice from operators who are successful in other markets.

I’m also on the advisory committee for the local college. I advise for the auto body collision and restoration programs. In fact, our parts technician was hired through the program and is mentoring here.

We only hold one shop meeting per month. This will be an all-team check-in meeting. But, every other week we rely on our production board and communication with the staff to stay in touch on the status of repairs.

I developed a whiteboard situation for our production board. We’ll have line items and write down all the daily jobs on it. We’ll move a magnet along a line as the job progresses. Then, on another whiteboard, we have a list of customer comments. 

Now, I’m working mostly on the business and helping to train my team around me to work in the business long-term. I’m 66 years old so I think these years are my last hurrah and chance to set the shop up for future profitability.

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