Partners for Life
Lisa Korte sat outside the Chamber hall—nervous, scared. There was no way she was going to get out of her car, walk through those doors and network with complete strangers.
That was before she called Matt.
“I remember saying, ‘I can’t go in there. It’s like walking through fire. My body is telling me no,’” she recalls. “Matt knew me well enough to say, ‘Get beyond this and you’ll do fine. We need it for the business. We need to know these contacts. It’ll be good for us. Just take one step in the door.’”
They say opposites attract, and that’s definitely the case with Lisa and Matt Korte, owners of Korte’s Collision. For years Matt—open, exuberant, focused on the big picture—ran a steady, trusted shop in Dearborn Heights, Mich., while Lisa—reserved, conservative, focused on the details—stayed at home with their four children.
But when Lisa joined Matt at the shop full-time a few years ago and those two worlds collided, everything shifted. Matt, an industry veteran who is motivated to improve processes and churn out quality repairs, became aware of the importance of marketing and financials, while Lisa, a past bookkeeper and marketing director for several start-ups, educated herself on the collision industry and grew as a businesswoman, eventually becoming president of the local Chamber of Commerce she was scared to approach years earlier.
Today, one can’t imagine running the business without the other, and Lisa and Matt’s daily schedules have combined for one efficient team of ownership.
Matt: I open up the shop every day around 7:30 a.m. Two of our sons go to school for engineering and work for us part time, and I had them put together a schedule on a television screen out in the shop. That screen has all the cars, labeled with the insurance company and the customer’s name. I update the screen every day to set the pace of what’s coming in, what’s here, where it’s at in the process, who’s doing what, the drop-off date, the start date, the delivery date, when it goes into body, then into paint. Everybody can track the flow of the job.
I’m shifting between the office, the repair floor and the front counter. When customers come in for estimates, I write them up and we input them into the computer. We track the cars throughout the day and change that screen as they cycle through the repair. If it’s in body faster than expected, we bump up the refinish date so everybody can see the change.
I coordinate with the techs on any changes that have been made. I come out to the shop and make sure everybody understands where to make all their splices on the cars, all the repair procedures, answer any questions, see if anybody needs parts.
My focus is to make sure any tech that works here is quality minded, a good people person and knows we’re here to take care of customers. I want to make sure that every vehicle not only looks good, but also is safe and repaired properly. I don’t want anyone who will be cutting corners in the repair process.
Lisa: His personality is big picture. He could be running from the office to the customer out to the shop floor, where I’m more about the detail, the business side. From the beginning, I helped set up our LLCs for the business and property with our accountant and worked out the land contract deal with the previous owner.
I come in and check my emails and post on social media, which can take up quite a bit of my time. I used to post content every day, but it seemed to feel like too much of nothing. I now like to take a little more time to find some relevant issues and post or share those. Posting is always on my mind and I take notes on thoughts or conversations that come up with friends, customers or family. I’ve also been known to pull over or stop what I am doing if I see something picture worthy. We have around 800 likes on Facebook, and usually get at least a dozen, sometimes several dozen likes and shares. It’s because it’s not just lip service. Our posts show that we care about the customer.
Then I do all the bookkeeping: quarterly reports, payroll, the invoicing. I’m a big numbers nerd. I’ll move them around 100 million ways to see if we’re actually losing money on paint and materials, if we could save by switching to another paint line. There are always little tweaks we can make to processes that can save money without sacrificing quality.
Lisa: I noticed the gas bill went up quite a bit one month. I knew we needed to ask the painter what was going on and what the reason for it was. He said, “Yeah, the dampener has been stuck open.”
Matt: Lisa always brings those kinds of things to my attention. Take, for instance, core charges on headlights and fenders and bumpers—we were throwing on those parts and ignoring the core charge and throwing away good money. She pointed that out and we developed a way for guys to track them all, write them down and then get our credits.
Lisa: The system added an extra expense account for cores. Last year we lost $1,400 in cores. Now we have it printed out regularly, show it to the parts manager and make sure these cores have been marked and will be returned. Then the office staff sees it on the invoice. It’s helped to alleviate that $1,400 and then some.
Matt: It’s her due diligence that found that $1,400 loss I would have never noticed. Now I carefully track those parts and make sure techs are aware of any core charges when they take parts out of inventory. The office had to learn how to communicate better with the body shop.
Matt: Our public image has really gotten better since Lisa joined. Our community work and networking with the local Chamber has become a big part of our growth. I’ve always been a people person, and had no problem talking to people about the shop. But Lisa has come in and she knows all the numbers. She knows how to talk business and actually show people how we’ve grown and why we’re a trusted shop.
Lisa: Matt can sell our shop all day, but he really is almost frustrated by money. He always wants to help people at any cost, and I have to tell him, “You can’t cut the labor rate and then at the end go to deliver the car and take more money off at the end, too.” Before I got there, if the insurance company refused to pay for anything besides an aftermarket part, he’d put in on himself for no charge. I’d say, “No, actually, we need to negotiate and save that money.”
Matt: Her advice has helped me to focus my efforts and pick and choose my battles. We can’t help people if we go out of business.
With both of us focusing on the community and making sure we respect our customers as well as each other, our technicians are feeding off our attitude of keeping positive and always being open minded. It keeps the whole shop moving. It’s what works for us.
Lisa: You would think spending all day together wouldn’t work. My friends always say, "I could never work with my husband." But he’s doing his thing and I’m doing mine, and it’s really no different than anybody else going into work. You don’t have time to talk about the kids. It’s like any other partnership.
I have seen several business partnerships dissolve. I think it’s because you start feeling resentful when one personality is holding you back. When one person who is more open wants to buy more equipment and try the latest trend, they feel like they’re being held back by the person who wants to conserve the money or break down those costs to make sure it’s efficient.
When you’re married, you really can’t give up. You have to work through it. There’s always that difficult time of who’s right and who’s wrong. But you just have to trust each other. If a customer comes in about an estimate while Matt’s on break, I can’t say anything because there’s a dent I’m going to miss.
Matt: We’ve gotten to the point where we agreed not to do each other’s jobs. If someone asks me if Korte’s would like to donate money to this cause, I have to say, “I’m sorry, the budget is Lisa’s department. You’ll have to talk to her.”
Like any good business partnership, we rely on each other to be good at what we do. That’s the unique thing about us. I don’t want to do her job and she doesn’t want to do mine. We both trust each other to be very good at what we do. It works out really well.