Running a Shop

Doubling Down on Customers and Community

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Shop: Elite Collision Center Owners: Kevin and Deana Morse Location: Battle Ground, Wash. Staff Size: 12 Shop Size: 12,000 square feet Average Monthly Car Count: 50 Average Repair Order: $4,800 Annual Revenue: $2 million

 

Located in Battle Ground, Wash., Elite Collision Center is a staple of the seemingly small (more on that later) community, providing support, and above all else, proper repairs. The family-run shop has grown from a home garage into a Main Street giant, all for the betterment of its hometown. 

The married owners of Elite Collision Center, Kevin and Deana Morse, both say they believe it’s their shop’s level of dedication to its customers that sets it apart from the competition. Elite Collision leads the way by providing OEM-certified repairs, breaking from insurance agencies, and sponsoring local events.  

With a staff of 12, Elite Collision brings in roughly $2 million annually, despite some obstacles. Here’s more on the little shop that could. 

 

Laying a Foundation

Kevin Morse started his journey in the automotive industry at his father’s mechanical repair shop. He learned the trade by working at the heels of his dad, Art Morse, Sr., who died at the age of 52. Following his father’s passing, Morse stepped in to carry and eventually grow the family business. 

After running the shop for more than 10 years, Morse says he was ready for a change of scenery. That’s why in 1999, he left mechanical, handing the reins of the business to his brother.

“What compliments a repair facility?” he asks, remembering how he and Deana ran the numbers then got to filling out a mountain of paperwork. “A collision center.” 

Morse says it took almost three years for Elite Collision Center to become a reality, but in 2003, it opened its doors. 


Precarious Placement 

Once home to the Klickitat tribe, Battle Ground, located three hours south of Seattle, is now home to a population of just over 20,000 people. 

“Don’t let the population fool you,” Morse says, “We service a lot of areas.” 

Just 30 minutes north of Portland, Ore., Morse says Elite Collision serves some 150,000 people. Known for its serene views and proximity to national parks, Morse says Battle Ground is a common stopover for travelers in the Pacific Northwest, especially those with high-end vehicles.

“There are a lot of mom and pop shops [in Battle Ground], but we are about the only OEM-certified collision repair facility,” he says. “We’re the type of facility people want to drop their $50,000 car off at.” 

 

Keeping it in the Family


Kevin Morse, co-owner of Elite Collision Center, says the family business began in the late 1980s, when his parents ran a three-bay shop out of their garage. 

His father worked on the cars while his mother ran the office, he says. That was until she suggested buying property in Battle Ground, marking the Morse family’s entrance into the quaint community.  

Today, Main Street is home to more than one automotive facility owned by the Morses.

Art Morse Jr., Kevin’s brother, owns Art Morse Auto Repair, which is just next door to Elite Collision Center. Also next to Art Morse Auto Repair is Battle Ground Quik Lube, which Morse says is run by his nephew, Hunter Morse. 

“We have our own little mini mall,” he says.

 

Direct Repair Pitfalls

Morse says Elite Collision Center is a consumer-advocate shop and therefore is not part of any direct repair programs.

“When I was working for DRPs, I had to make choices I didn’t like,” he says. “Insurers were dictating and grading the parts I would use, and it felt like a conflict of interest.” 

Morse says when he began to feel like insurers were his clients—and not drivers—he knew it was time to leave the programs instead of continuing to compromise his integrity.  

Less than three years ago, Elite Collision Center received more than 50 percent of its business from DRP referrals. As soon as it began leaving the programs, Morse says the shop’s profits took a hit of 25 percent, but managed to slowly climb its way back, until removing the final DRP, State Farm, which led to another 30 percent hit. 

 

Making its Mark

As Elite Collision Center began to leave its DRPs, Deana says the shop began to target customers differently, hoping to sway them away from the competition. 

Morse says they worked to differentiate the shop through customer service and a more hands-on approach, directly targeting consumers to teach them about the importance of safety and the complexities of the repair process. 

“It matters who is fixing on your car,” Deana says. “We did a lot of work to emphasize why people should choose Elite.”

The shop was able to make its way back to bring in $2.2 million in 2019. Even with the effects of the pandemic, Morse predicts 2020’s revenue to be near $2 million. He says the shop in 2019 spent 2.5 percent of its revenue on marketing, totaling about $50,000. The money went toward increasing Elite Collision’s online presence and also hiring a marketing team.

Deana, who works directly with the marketing team and handles the shop’s front end, says the team “helps bridge the gap between car people and non-car people.” 

When the pandemic hit last March, Deana says she focused on staying in contact with the shop’s customers via social media, personal connections, and by responding to online reviews. Elite Collision currently boasts a 97 percent recommendation rate on CarWise, 

“We respond to each review, either good or bad,” she says. “It shows we are involved and we care.” 

 

Kevin Morse, co-owner of Elite Collision Center, says, “Advanced driver-assistance systems are here to stay and only going to get more active in the coming years.” 

Here are a few of the steps the shop is taking to tackle the trend:

  • Creating its own area to conduct calibrations according to industry guidelines. “We have enough space in our shop, but it’s a matter of allocating and designing it,” Morse says. 

  • Identifying a point man for calibrations. Morse says he’s tapped a younger technician familiar with software and interested in diagnostics. 

  • Having estimators and technicians take calibration courses from OEMs like Nissan.

  • Planning to invest in equipment dedicated to Toyota, Honda, and Subaru ADAS calibrations, because those are the vehicles the shop sees the most. 

 

Community Oriented

Each decision made by those behind Elite Collision Center is done with its community in mind, says Morse. That’s why the shop is involved in several initiatives that give back to a community, which in turn, benefit the shop right back.

The Harvest Night Car Cruise is one of the biggest draws to the town of Battle Ground, closing down Main Street and requiring hours of planning. Morse says he and the shop have been involved since the very first cruise night, helping to coordinate each July. Elite Collision is also a participating partner in the National Auto Body Association’s Recycled Rides program, which refurbishes vehicles for U.S. veterans. 

“We are small enough to know our customer,” says Morse, “but big enough to be professional and state of the art.”

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