Six Steps To Growth
Launching an entirely new independent repair center under a new brand and building it into a $3 million-a-year shop is no easy task in today’s competitive market.
It would take many shop operators years to achieve that kind of production from a 10,000-square-foot shop. But sisters Lauren Angie and Jill Strauss, a couple of collision repair veterans who opened LJI Collision Center in Orange Village, Ohio, are projected to earn $3 million in annual revenue after just six months in business.
As the daughters of collision center expert Michael Giarrizzo Sr.—founder of JSI Collision Centers, which became Sterling Autobody Centers in 1999—Strauss and Angie come from a family with six decades of experience in the trade. Their brother, Michael Giarrizzo Jr., founded DCR Systems, which offers outsourced turnkey repair centers focused on efficient production. So it’s no surprise that Angie and Strauss are now blazing their own trail in the industry.
“We don’t even know our capabilities yet,” Angie says. “But we’re set up for nothing less than success in production.”
About a thousand miles southwest of LJI, another shop team, husband and wife Dan and Wendy Ott, are finalizing expansion plans for their own rapidly growing business. Since Dan Ott sold his chain of four small repair centers in 2006 and focused solely on Auto Body Concepts in Gainesville, Texas, the shop has rocketed from $10,000 a month in revenue to $125,000 a month.
Dan Ott, who developed his own brand and grew into a successful multi-shop operator before he was 30, found he was stretched too thin and was still a little too green to run multiple locations. But now that he has concentrated on one business for several years, he’s gearing up to grow again after having learned quite a few lessons.
“If [I’d written] them down, I could have written a book on them,” Dan Ott says.
If not a book, then an article, at least! We asked these two dynamic duos to share their business-building methods. They break it down for us in six key categories: finance and operations, leadership, education and training, human resources, sales and marketing, and customer service.
Use a management system. Embrace lean.
LJI Collision Center: Strauss and Angie call LJI Collision Center a “process-centered environment.”
One side of the shop is designated as the “work-in” area and the other side as the “work-out” area. Visual tools such as signboards and different colored cones are used to identify different stages in the repair process. Angie says you can understand how the visual tools work standing 10 feet away. “Visuals constantly reinforce the focus on the process,” she says.
Standardized work is one of the most important tools; each step is defined and performed repeatedly in the same sequential steps. Everything is geared toward efficiency and enabling employees to make decisions for themselves.
The shop has no tool boxes, only portable rolling tool carts in the disassembly, structural, body and reassembly departments. The shop uses a Summit Software management system and a CCC One estimating system.
Auto Body Concepts: Auto Body Concepts recently started using Mitchell RepairCenter to make its day-to-day operations more efficient. Like LJI, the shop uses a CCC One estimating system.
The Otts are working on implementing lean processes. One of the first steps toward lean was performing complete vehicle teardowns. All parts are ordered first and repairs don’t begin until all of the parts are received. For bumper jobs, the shop will order the bumper and have it painted and ready for placement when a customer arrives.
Delegate tasks. Trust your team.
LJI Collision Center: Leadership and culture are priorities at LJI Collision Center, Angie and Strauss say. “We believe in taking our employees [places] they have never been,” Angie says. The sisters lead their team of 10 employees to be self-motivated through discipline. They foster high standards of work in a clean, safe environment with mutual respect for all.
Auto Body Concepts: Dan Ott ran several dealerships and had great success using a team system, which he still relies on today. Ott leads his team by example, which is how he learned the trade. He grew up in the collision repair industry with his father as a mentor.
Dan Ott learned early that as a manager, he couldn’t be involved in every aspect of the day-to-day operations of his shop. He steps in where he has to, but he’s not afraid to delegate tasks and he trusts his team to get the job done right.
Educate for excellence.
LJI Collision Center: Angie and Strauss say they believe in excellence through continued education. Their staff is always taking the latest courses and boasts I-CAR, ASE and AkzoNobel certifications.
Auto Body Concepts: The Otts’ staff has I-CAR and ASE certifications. The Otts themselves attend as many continuing education courses as they can. Most recently they took courses on improving estimates and advancing their lean processes.
Treat everyone with respect.
LJI Collision Center: Angie and Strauss hire individuals who can thrive in a team setting. The highest certifications mean nothing if the person can’t work well with others, they say.
They offer quarterly performance evaluations, and shop employees are on an hourly pay plan with the opportunity to receive bonuses every two weeks.
Auto Body Concepts: Auto Body Concepts has had nearly all of its current techs since it opened. The Otts say paying attention to employee needs and treating everyone with respect are big reasons for that.
Some employees are paid on commission and others are hourly, with an opportunity for pay advancement each year. The Otts are good about taking their staff out to dinners and other events outside the office, to develop a stronger relationship with them.
Be involved in the community.
LJI Collision Center: LJI Collision Center takes a different approach to marketing—advertising heavily in local fine arts programs. Many of the customers they are hoping to attract are involved in those programs, Strauss and Angie say. The shop owners are also members of the Beachwood Chamber of Commerce and support local school activities.
Auto Body Concepts: Being involved in the community is Auto Body Concept’s main form of advertising. Dan Ott coaches youth football and soccer and his shop sponsors several local teams. You won’t even find the shop listed in the phone book; the shop is largely dependent on word-of-mouth advertising.
Wrap your arms around your customers. (Figuratively speaking.)
LJI Collision Center: “Our focus every moment of the day is to wrap our arms around the customer, so it’s an experience,” Strauss says. “And we’re going to follow through with quality repairs and reasonable and efficient turnaround. We want them to feel our energy.”
Angie says each customer is treated as if they are the only customer. The shop offers a lifetime warranty on parts and labor, rental car and towing assistance, pickup and delivery, and 24-hour live assistance.
Angie and Strauss also cater heavily to women with a modern, homey lobby and an onsite art boutique. The shop has an indoor drop-off and pickup area, and the waiting room has free Wi-Fi, a coffee center and a TV.
The shop has one DRP and is planning for more. Angie and Strauss expect their early success to help them get the attention of area insurers.
Auto Body Concepts: “Customer service is the No. 1 thing,” Dan Ott says. “I know that’s why we’ve made it.”
The Otts purchased their own rental fleet a few years ago to make sure customers aren’t without a car. They also offer a lifetime warranty on their work, as well as free pickup and delivery, and towing assistance.
Auto Body Concepts details each car to look better than new before it is returned to the customer. The shop handles every aspect of the claim process for customers from start to finish and tries to make it as painless as possible, the Otts say.
The shop has four DRP relationships, which is where the bulk of its work comes from. Dan Ott says he shows insurers the same patience, kindness and respect he shows vehicle owners. He makes doughnut runs for insurers every two weeks to make sure his shop is always on their minds.