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A while back, one of my clients was considering whether to join a shop cooperative. He wasn’t selling to a consolidator. He wasn’t giving up ownership. But he would have to append the group’s name to his shop’s name.

There were, of course, other pros and cons.

“Shop owners who fail to take advantage of membership in their local autobody association are missing out.”

The group had some marketing power and would likely deliver new DRP relationships. The group also had purchasing power for things like parts and paint, thanks to economies of scale. And at first glance, there appeared to be some other real financial advantages.

But there was one downside my client just couldn’t shake: Some of the smaller shops in the co-op weren’t as well-developed or as strongly positioned as his business. He had grown his shop to 50,000 square feet with nearly 100 working bays. He already had a few strong DRP arrangements, and he employed about 40 people. And so he feared that by becoming part of the group he might be judged by its lowest common denominator—the least sophisticated shop in the group.

He decided not to join.

POWERFUL CONNECTIONS

Just about everything that moves in the physical world draws power from some outside source. Plants draw power from the sun, air and water. Animals and humans draw power from plants and other animals. Our many machines draw on power grids and the fuels that drive them.

In business, our human connections sustain us. Generally, the more connections we have, the more our businesses will prosper. But my client was right in questioning whether this new connection would be a positive one or a negative one. As with all things, there can be degrees of positive and negative. Connecting to a group of criminals puts one’s entire life at risk. But connecting to a group of very positive business people could be expected to produce many positive benefits.

YOUR PERSONAL POWER GRID

Human connections are often clouded by major racial, political and religious differences. Even within an industry like collision repair, differences of opinion have split group efforts into many societies and associations. An umbrella group like the Society of Collision Repair Specialists strives to align many smaller groups and channel their efforts in a common direction.

Each group includes many people of good will and determination. Connecting with even a few of these individuals would likely bring more enthusiasm and energy to your personal power grid. The body shop business is a demanding one, and not many owners or managers have a lot of time to devote to outside activities. I’ve observed many who rarely get out to see what other shops are doing, or to speak with noncompeting shop owners. Membership in a cooperative group could open up the possibility for even a small independent shop owner to learn about profitable new efficiencies and marketing opportunities.

THE MAVERICK MINDSET

Many shop owners are mavericks who prefer doing things their own way. The idea that a cooperative might dictate purchasing from one paint company—or using one estimating system or working with one insurance provider—could rub these maverick owners the wrong way. Group affiliation is not for everyone.

Fortunately, local autobody associations are more fraternal in nature. They join forces to lobby against government restrictions on their businesses and to fight for legal limits against the likes of insurance steering and paint price capping. These groups provide complete freedom to operate your business as you choose. Yet there remains that excellent opportunity to share viewpoints with other shop owners and managers. From what I have seen, shop owners who fail to take advantage of membership in the local autobody association are missing out on a significant opportunity.

Still skeptical? Consider that at a recent local association meeting, a panel of shop owners described in great detail their experiences with and the costs of switching to waterborne paint. Learning from their comments could save thousands of dollars for a listener preparing to make the switch.

NEW CONNECTIONS, MORE POWER

In this electronic age, numerous power outlets in the workplace are essential to connect the many pieces of equipment driven by electricity. If you plugged in to one positive human connection every day—whether with a new customer, a referral source, a supplier, an information provider or simply a like-minded person with whom to exchange views—these new connections would be certain to empower you and your business.


Tom Franklin, author of Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth, has been a sales and marketing consultant for more than 40 years.

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