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During tough economic times, it’s only natural for a shop owner to cut costs and eliminate expenditures when possible. But there is one area where it would be unwise to cut back, and that is on the training, education and ideas that can propel your shop to become the best in its market. When business is slow, there is no better time to get technicians trained on the newest painting, welding and body repair procedures. There is no better time to get estimators trained on the best sales tactics. And it may be the best time to get some top management training yourself, perhaps with a focus on more effectively managing insurance claims.

How can you be sure this will improve your business so much that it’s worth your dollars in these tight times? Consider the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S, as featured in the September issue of Inc. magazine. While there are no collision repair facilities included in the dozens of companies with an average of 800 percent growth, there are a few that require a similar approach to growth. One such company is Direct Exteriors, which has seen that 800 percent growth rate every year for the past three. Rather than working with auto insurance companies, Direct Exteriors works with homeowners’ insurance companies to assess damage and expedite claims. Starting in 2007, when the current economic turndown began, Direct Exteriors shifted its emphasis from simply repairing wear and weather damage to finessing the claims process. They also created catastrophe response teams to quickly assess damage wherever extreme weather damage hit homes and businesses. Revenue has grown to $5.4 million since the company started in 2003.

"With a little negotiation, you should find multiple suppliers eager to help you increase the quality of your procedures and end product."

BE SPECIFIC

Remedy Roofing, a similar company, averaged 600 percent growth each year over a three-year period, focusing specifically on repairing damage from hail, hurricanes and wind in Texas. Another company that has seized on excelling with a specialty is Fortis Construction in Portland, Ore. They have averaged nearly 200 percent growth per year for three years. This has been accomplished by focusing on high-tech projects with an emphasis on green building techniques, plus selling earthquake proofing with seismic upgrades.

While these companies address a market very different from the collision industry, the message is clear: Growth in slow times depends on a specialized response to the needs of the day. And that may require some training.

SUPPLYING THE EDUCATION

At first, this suggestion to get additional training to excel with one or more specialties may seem like an invitation to spend more money, and possibly to go into debt. But that would ignore the potential help your suppliers might offer.

Welding equipment manufacturers know that if your people are trained on the best equipment, you will be more likely to buy that equipment when the economy recovers. Your painting materials and equipment supplier knows that if your people are trained on the best spraying, heating and drying equipment, you will be more likely to buy that equipment when the economy recovers. Your frame machine supplier knows that if your people are trained on the best frame straightening and measuring equipment, you will be more likely to buy that equipment when the economy recovers.

With a little negotiation, you should find multiple suppliers eager to help you increase the quality of your procedures and end product. After all, they are probably going through a slow period too and are likely to have some unused training capacity.

POLISH THE GEMS

You might be wise to heed the advice of Joel Chandler Harris, an 1880s Atlanta Constitution writer, who admonished his fellow scribes: “Polish her until she glimmers!” If you polish the quality of your company’s expertise until it shines like the finest car you refinish, you just might begin to enjoy some of the phenomenal growth of the superstars seen in Inc. magazine.

There may even be an additional benefit to this approach: your mental health. A business downturn can tend to worsen your emotional outlook. Pessimism can creep in and become self-fulfilling. By upgrading your knowledge and skills and the abilities of your people, you restore a sense of pride and optimism. And it’s hard to put a price on that.


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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