Shop Life Columnists

Rains: 5 Stages to Grow a Shop

Order Reprints
Career Paths

Body shop owners and their shops go through five distinct development stages:


  • Creation: The vision stage, also known as the honeymoon stage
  • Chaos: The “What have I gotten myself into?!” stage
  • Control: The “order out of chaos” stage
  • Prosperity: The “I own a business, not a job!” stage
  • Freedom: The “Let the good times roll!” stage


According to business writer Eric Dombach, these stages are predictable whether you are launching a new shop or launching a second (or third, etc) location. 

In this column, I want to look at the Creation Stage. For those of you who have graduated out of this stage, congratulations! But, keep in mind it’s a good idea to occasionally check the foundation of what you have. Stage 1 is the foundation and if there’s a crack in the foundation, now is the time to shore it up. As with houses, the stronger the foundation, the stronger and safer the build will be. 


Stage 1: Creation 


This is the stage where you don’t know what you don’t know. This is the dreaming stage. You don’t want to rush this stage and try to get down to the “real work.” No, this is a time to let your imagination go. This is a time before you launch to dream big. This is the time to not hold back. 

There are several things you want to accomplish during this stage. First, it’s important to establish your “Why?” Why are you going into business in the first place? Maybe you got sick of working for someone else who didn’t treat you right. Maybe you worked for someone else and you just know you can do better. While not a bad place to start, these are negative reasons. Is it about money? Freedom? What happens when you have achieved the money and the freedom? Then what? This is where you start to peel the onion of what you really want. What is your vision for this business, the big picture? How will it stand out from the hundreds of other shops? To do this really well requires both time alone and also the input of wise and trusted advisors.

This is also the time to name not only your vision but also your values. What will you stand for? What will you not stand for? What are some things that will get someone fired in your new organization? What do you do better than anyone else in the world? I used to think that with all the big competitors I didn’t have a lot to offer. The more I thought about it, though, I realized the opposite was true! My Big Box competitors didn’t really care about the neighborhood I was in the way I did. When I started in this industry, our first shop was in the neighborhood where I lived. We weren’t perfect but I fought hard to make sure we did right by every customer. Why? Because they were literally my neighbors! I had to face them on an everyday basis. I didn’t want to go grocery shopping and run into someone whose car I didn’t fix right and have to look him or her in the eye knowing I didn’t do a good job. 

As you define your values you’re also starting to create your culture. The culture of your business is what sets it apart from other shops. It’s the vibe, the unspoken reality that everyone knows but can’t quite put their finger on. It’s how you live—or don’t live—out your declared values. 

There have been some really helpful resources developed recently that can help with the Creation Stage. Michael Hyatt’s book, The Vision-Driven Leader: 10 Questions to Focus Your Efforts, Energize Your Team, and Scale Your Business is a very approachable, actionable guide to clarifying your vision. In this book he discusses how to develop a vision script, a 3-5 page document that serves as a tangible, useful guide for your business. I also like to recommend the book Traction by Gino Wickamn. This book and the coaches in his wider organization have great tools to guide the vision and values creation stage but also simple ways to keep them alive and regularly reviewed as businesses scale. 

The most important thing you can do at this stage is to really understand and develop your USP, your unique selling proposition. What is it that you can do better than anyone else in your region? All shops are going for quality, speed, and customer service. But is there one of those that you excel at? Is there a combination of those or even something completely different that sets you apart from your competition? This is something that needs to be front and center. It becomes your brand promise and the thing that everything else gets measured by. 

This is my dad’s 50th year in this industry. I’m proud of this milestone in our family business! Dad’s USP many years ago was centered on speed. When a local dealership asked him to repair and paint a used car they were trying to sell, he repaired, painted, detailed and got it back to them in one day. Amazingly, he was able to do this all by himself with no other team members! They couldn't believe he did it so they gave him another one and guess what? He did it again! Then again. And again. Eventually he had business cards printed up for “Gary’s Paint and Body” with the tagline on the card “Same-day repairs.” And with that USP, our family got started in this industry in 1971. From those humble beginnings, we now have grown to seven shops between my dad, my sister and myself. 


Recommended Products

2015 FenderBender How I Work Survey: Complete Report

2013 How I Work Survey: Complete Report

Related Articles

5 Steps to Add a Shop Position

Stages to Operating MSOs

Rains: Being a Talent Magnet

You must login or register in order to post a comment.