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2022 Best Workplaces: Maryland Collision Centers

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SHOP STATS: Maryland Collision Centers Location: Seven locations in Maryland  Owner: Jim, Shane and Jimmy Mudgett Staff Size: 92    Average Monthly Car Count: 620  Annual Revenue: $22 million

Thirty years ago, Jim Mudgett had a wake-up call.

Within a span of two weeks, three of his five technicians left.

It took six months before Mudgett was able to get this staff back to full strength, and even moreso, the mass exodus made him question his leadership. 

“I realized I couldn’t let that happen again, and so I decided to do some things that could help us control what we could control,” he said. 

Fast forward to 2022, and Mudgett  is eight years into his latest body shop venture, the seven-location Maryland Collision Centers, which he co-owns with his sons, Shane and Jimmy. In the 30 years since, Mudgett has steadily grown his business into one that employees seek out. The addition of an increased benefits package, extra perks for workers, a thriving apprenticeship program and increasing room for growth have all helped cultivate a culture worthy of being named one of FenderBender’s 2022 Best Workplaces. 

An Ever-Evolving Process

When Mudgett first began in the industry, he worked seven days per week. Prior to owning Maryland Collision Centers, he had a stake in another collision repair business. He remembers going to his partners and saying he couldn’t sustain the workload, so they lowered it to six days per week. A few years later, Mudgett had kids, so it went to five days per week. 

It’s stayed that way for 15 years, with everyone working the normal 9-5 Monday through Thursday, but the shop closes an hour earlier on Friday and pays everyone for that final hour. He considers it a “jumpstart” to their weekends.

“It doesn’t seem like much, but every employee gets excited. It’s cool to go home earlier and it gives you just that added opportunity to do something enjoyable on Friday night,” Jim’s son Jimmy Mudgett says.

The policy was brought on through an evolution of understanding what their employees valued, Jimmy says, and what the ownership values. They enjoyed the extra hour off and figured the whole team would respond similarly. 

Mudgett’s willingness to adapt can also be seen with its apprenticeship program. It started nearly 20 years ago, Jim says, when they had an issue losing painter’s helpers. He kept seeing helpers leave as they saw nowhere to advance. He also noticed painters were hesitant to help train for fear of losing their jobs to those helpers. 

So Mudgett created his own apprenticeship from scratch. Now the company has apprenticeship paths for office staff, technicians and painters. That’s in addition to the I-CAR-, ASE- and OEM-specific training that the apprentices and regular staff complete. Mudgett estimates 50 percent of the current staff started with no experience in the industry and went through the company’s apprenticeship program, which can take up to three years depending on experience. 

The program allowed the shop to hire on painter’s helpers and retain them long-term, while also giving them an opportunity to advance. The apprenticeship program has coincided nicely with the company’s growth, which has steadily added an additional shop about every 18 months and been able to seamlessly place apprentices in the new shop, quelling any concerns by existing employees that they would get replaced. 

The company has, at times, been unable to retain apprentices because of capacity issues, but Tommy Keeny, general manager of the company’s Silver Springs location, sees that as a strength. As soon as they do have space for them, they’ll bring them back, making the hiring process much easier because they don’t need to go out and hire someone they don’t know. 

That sense of having room for growth is a main motivator of the company’s growth plan, as it continually wants to find room for its improving team. 

“It’s been really valuable,” Jimmy says, “It’s nice to bring youth into the company to bring in more excited and hungry people. 

Crafting the Culture

To Keeny, the key to establishing their strong culture lies in their hiring, and it isn’t using innovative interviewing practices or outside-the-box marketing strategies. It’s the product of a simple mindset that Keeny doesn’t think is prioritized enough in the industry. 

“What sets us apart from a lot of companies in the world (is that) we hire good people. We hire nice people. We hire people who care,” Keeny says. 

With an established apprenticeship program in place, the company has been able to emphasize experience. But even when they require experience for a certain position, keeping the mindset of hiring nice people is at the forefront. 

That has naturally led to a culture that doesn’t take a ton of work to maintain, because the employees are the biggest cog in keeping it running. 

“If I walk through the shop in the morning and the trash is full I don’t make the detail guy do it,” Brad Groft, general manager of the Catonsville location, says. “I do it, and all our employees do the same.”

And it is backed up in its benefits package, which includes a 401(k) plan that they continued to grow over the years. It also includes PTO, medical, disability and life insurance, uniforms, training reimbursement and a health savings account. 

Those principles have allowed the company to successfully expand. Generally, each additional store might dilute the culture, as new bodies are added and the company feels less like a tight-knit family. 

That’s been a pivotal feeling that the Mudgett’s have actively tried to avoid. The ownership knows each worker personally and takes time to make a connection. It’s a matter of taking just a few minutes to chat with each employee informally, Jim says. That has made a difference. 

“At the bigger chain stores, people at some point just feel like they get a paycheck from whomever owns it,” Keeny says. “We are not that way.”

The ownership also makes it a priority for the different stores to interact with each other to maintain that close relationship. The company holds an annual Christmas party for everyone. Anytime a new shop is added, all the existing employees are invited to the open house. The Mudgett’s have taken the staff to Baltimore Orioles games and they host a fishing trip for any employees that are interested. 

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