The 2014 FenderBender Awards
If you’ve read FenderBender during the last seven years, you’ve probably come to know some of the personal attributes this annual section celebrates: skill, commitment, determination, goodwill, passion. These are the qualities found in the industry’s top professionals, the ones making a daily difference in the lives of their customers, colleagues and the industry at-large.
Each year, we call on readers to nominate individuals who possess these qualities, and each year, the nominations are more impressive. This year was no exception. The inspiring people profiled on the following pages set the bar for the collision repair industry. They are the drivers of a prosperous future. They are the winners of our 2014 FenderBender Awards.
THANK YOU TO THIS YEAR'S FENDERBENDER AWARDS SPONSORS.
The Master Motivator
Kim Parson, Owner, Automotive Collision Technologies
seven locations in Maryland
Throw out the steep revenue growth, the recent expansion to a seventh facility, and even the seemingly countless local and regional business awards she’s earned through the years.
Ignore the fact that she’s one of the most successful female entrepreneurs—regardless of industry—in the state of Maryland. And don’t even mention that, for two straight years, she has received numerous nominations for this award. (She was last year’s runner-up.)
If you ask Kim Parson what makes her most proud about her business, Automotive Collision Technologies, she won’t mention one of those accomplishments.
She’ll just tell you a simple story:
Recently, an elderly female customer demanded to see Parson after getting her car back from one of her facilities. Parson, not sure of what to make of the request, approached apprehensively.
“And she just said thank you over and over and gave me this huge bear hug,” Parson says. “She lifted me right off the ground.
“That’s what I think about. In this industry, we do this to fix cars to protect people and give them something back that, when it came to us, wasn’t right. It makes a difference to them. I like to say that, as a company, we’re here to fix people—get them back to their lives—not just fix cars.”
And Parson’s extremely impressive execution of that goal is what makes her this year’s clear-cut winner of the executive award.
Make no mistake: Automotive Collision Technologies (known locally as simply “ACT”) offers its customers more than just free hugs. And, Parson, as a business leader, offers the rest of the industry more than simple anecdotes about connecting with customers.
Parson founded the business in 1994, an abrupt change from her previous career as a sales engineer in telecommunications for IBM. It was a passion for helping others that drew her to the business, but it was her foundational understanding of the importance of systems and processes—ingrained in her from her 15 years at IBM—that made ACT a success.
Parson implemented scheduling tactics based on workload and work mix. She put an extra emphasis on customer follow-up and teaching vehicle owners about the repairs. She tracked key performance indicators, before KPI became a buzzword. As the shop’s name would suggest, Parson invested in the latest tools, equipment and training.
She spent 10 years growing that first, 5,000-square-foot Randallstown, Md., location into a $1 million company, bursting at the seams. Parson expanded to a second location in 2002, and the company took off from there.
Today, ACT employs 108 full-time staffers out of seven locations that span four counties of Maryland. The company is on pace to generate nearly $20 million in revenue this year. Parson was named one of AkzoNobel’s Most Influential Women in 2012, and has earned honors locally and regionally, including the 2013 Innovation Award from her local chamber of commerce.
One of Parson’s more impressive feats, though, is how the business and its employees seem to perpetuate her infectious, positive attitude.
“If you’re not in a good mood, she’ll put you in one,” says Diane Pokoj, Parson’s younger sister, who serves as an administrative assistant at the company’s Annapolis location. “She walks into a room and energizes.
“Everyone here just feeds off her and her energy. She’s just amazing. Any chance I get, I brag about her and what it’s like to work for her.”
Parson rewards her employees in unique ways with a substantial benefits package comparable to a much larger corporation, and through various company events and award programs. That’s why more than 25 percent of her staff has been with her for 10-plus years.
She takes pride in retaining her staff.
“We really have an A Team at every location,” Parson says. “That’s what makes us successful. There’s one other MSO in Maryland (Gerber Collision & Glass) that has seven locations. Otherwise, it’s just us. No one’s fearing attrition and consolidation.”
“We have a small-shop mentality and we’re working to do those little things right,” she adds. “That’s what keeps us driving forward.”
Since purchasing CBS Collision in Shreveport, La., in 2003, Larremore has grown the company exponentially. It did just $670,000 in total sales that first year. With three locations in 2014, the company is on pace to generate roughly $9 million in revenue, and is looking to expand further.
Larremore has put an emphasis on training and technology with his team, while maintaining the customer focus of a small shop. He works closely with local charities, such as the Deaf Action Center, the Shreveport Regional Arts Council, and Little League Baseball, and helps with the local VFW.
Leading the Industry’s Future
Cam Mashburn, manager, Mashburn’s Collision
When Cam Mashburn first rejoined the Lawrenceburg, Tenn., shop his father, Mike Mashburn, opened in 1981, the business felt stagnant—and underperforming. This was 2007, and Mashburn was a 24-year-old manager, unafraid to give his opinion for how to boost business.
Take the shop’s marketing budget as an example: Mashburn’s Collision Center didn’t have one.
The shop did little or no marketing at the time, and one of the first things Mashburn did was work to convince his father how badly that needed to change.
“Eventually, I convinced him to give me a budget of just $500 a month, and I had to fight tooth and nail for that $500,” Mashburn says with a laugh.
The first thing he did was attach a lifetime warranty and a satisfaction guarantee to every job.
Taking full advantage of the dynamics of a small-town market, he threw the marketing dollars into radio spots, newspaper ads, billboards, direct-mail campaigns—every underutilized avenue he knew would attract the eyes of consumers.
He commissioned the shop’s first website, and got the business up on social media.
And it wasn’t just the obvious marketing ploys: Mashburn created a Facebook video series where he answered customer questions.
Shop revenue grew exponentially, as did the marketing budget. Today, the shop has a strong web presence, and such a growing customer base that work has to be scheduled two weeks out.
Marketing is not why Mashburn is this year’s winner in the management category, though. It’s just one example of the forward-thinking, business-altering approach he has brought to his family’s business.
Some other examples? Mashburn has overhauled the team’s production system (switching to a team-based model), implemented new selling tactics at the front counter, altered the company’s customer follow-up practices, implemented mobile estimating through the use of tablet computers, and is now overseeing its in-process, 4,000-square-foot expansion.
In the seven years since Mashburn, 31, took over as manager, the shop’s revenue has nearly doubled—from just shy of $700,000 in 2007 to north of $1.2 million 2013—without adding staff or space. Cycle time has dropped by more than 2 full days to 4.6. The shop’s closing ratio now tops 90 percent, and CSI scores hover above 97 percent.
Still, that’s not the reason Mashburn won, or even the true reason his father feels he’s deserving.
“We need more young managers to step up and lead in the collision industry,” Mike Mashburn says. And his son is a glowing example of someone doing just that—a bright, well-educated thirty-something, who isn’t afraid to challenge the shop’s (or the industry’s) status quo.
“Even though Cam is in his early 30s, he understands how the industry has changed and where it is headed,” Mike Mashburn sums up nicely.
And as he grasps tightly to the day-to-day reins of the business, Mashburn’s only goal is longevity. He wants Mashburn’s Collision to be a sustainable business long-term, not susceptible to the industry-wide trend of consolidation.
Flashback to 10 years ago, though, and Mashburn was an electrical engineering student at Tennessee Tech University, hoping for a career in the music industry. Instead he took a job in sales with Verizon Wireless, before coming back to the business he grew up in just two years later.
Now he’s where he truly wants to be. Mashburn plans to someday split ownership with his younger brother, Lee, who runs the shop floor.
“This is a true family business, and that’s the way I look at everything, like we’re family,” he says. “We always say that if you’re here, you’re a Mashburn. We’re all straight forward with each other, because we all want the same thing: for this business to be successful.”
With Kelly Domer at the helm as operations manager, Jordan Road CARSTAR has quadrupled monthly revenue (from roughly $100,000 per month to $400,000) in the past seven years. Domer is a “highly organized” and dedicated manager, according to her nominator, and also plays a large role in planning and executing a number of company events, like CE courses for insurers, tech training programs, and a weekly industry professionals breakfast.
She is also heavily involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Colorado Veterans Hospital, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, among other causes.
The Do-it-all Technician
Paul Mitchell, technician, Checker Auto Body Repair
As a do-it-all shop technician at Checker Auto Body Repair, a niche collision repair shop in Huntsville, Ala., Paul Mitchell is a straight-talking collision repair veteran with the mantra that no project is beyond his capabilities. He has nearly 30 years of experience, with a devout local client list that includes large feet accounts such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Sikorsky, the City of Huntsville, and the U.S. Military’s Redstone Test Center and General Services Administration.
Using his diverse talents that include painting, fiberglass repairs, estimating, fabrication, recreational vehicle work and general mechanical repair, Mitchell has created a reputation for hard work and immaculate repairs that has allowed Checker Auto Body Repair to capture and maintain long-standing contracts with the military-industrial complex in northern Alabama. Those relationships have brought a steady stream of unusual and, occasionally, mysterious vehicles to this small, six-man specialty shop.
All of it has made Mitchell this year’s selection in the shop worker category.
“Any technician that works with Paul has, through interaction with him, improved their repair skills and work ethic,” says Checker manager Bill Goebel, who nominated Mitchell. “His repair skill has become so well known throughout Huntsville that managers at some of the largest defense contractors in the world call for his advice and skill.”
Goebel added that Mitchell’s diverse skills continually amaze him and others at the shop, and have contributed to increasing the shop’s new and repeat customer base. Mitchell’s efficiency hovers between 130 and 150 percent, which has helped the shop grow its business by 10-15 percent every year.
Civilian vehicles make up the majority of the shop’s business, with the military and contractor business comprising approximately 10 percent of the monthly car count. Other fleet clients include local small businesses, and the area’s ambulance and bus fleets.
Mitchell prefers the diversity of actual collision repairs, but enjoys occasionally picking up the paint gun for certain projects, especially complex repair jobs, which he finds more enjoyable than a basic paint job on an undamaged vehicle. His unassuming description of his paint booth abilities is in stark contrast to his manager’s description.
“I can tell you with all modesty, his skills with a paint gun are incredible,” Goebel says.
“Our little company relies on his vision, intelligence and work ethic to keep us steadily increasing our business footprint.”
Without formal education in collision repair, Mitchell has used a lifetime of experience that includes working in a family-owned boat plant where he learned the fiberglass skills he now uses in a variety of projects, including maintaining the Huntsville city bus fleet.
“We’re a small company, so we all wear a few different pairs of shoes,” Mitchell says. “I try to do most of the mechanical work on any collision repair that we do. I try not to send anything out unless we absolutely have to.”
The company’s military business typically involves government or military vehicles—including some from NASA—being brought in to the shop with many critical features or weapons removed, leaving the shop to occasionally guess the vehicle’s purpose.
“You can tell they’re specific-use vehicles,” Mitchell says. “Sometimes you wonder what they do with this truck when it’s 10 years old and [only] has 1,000 miles on it.”
When he’s not wrenching or painting on missile-launching semi-trucks, Mitchell makes time for helping people in need, including older family members. Goebel adds that customers know that, if needed, Mitchell will drop everything to help them out in a pinch.
As an example, the Huntsville-area Handi-ride busses are used to deliver dialysis patients to and from the clinic, and aren’t able to be immobilized for even a few hours. In these instances, Mitchell’s ability to produce quality work quickly helps turnaround mission-critical vehicles.
“We at Checker Auto Body Repair would like to thank Paul for all he has done to improve the repairs of the vehicles that he works on, and his commitment to our local community and business partners,” Goebel says.
Empathy for customers and a constant drive to learn are just two reasons DeWayne White, manager of Tom Bush Collision Center in Jacksonville, Fla., nominated Fernando Gonzales for this award.
“Over the past two-and-a-half years, he has grown into an integral part of our team,” says White. “He continually puts the overall success of the shop over his individual accomplishments [and] will be a leader in this industry for many, many years.”
Gonzales has spent hours of free time studying the trade, and is always looking for new methods to minimize downtime. As a bonus to the shop, Gonzales is bilingual and assists as a translator when needed.
Alysia Hanks, office manager, Lakeway Collision Center
Few, if any, administrative support nominees handle as much on a daily basis as Alysia Hanks, office manager at Lakeway Collision Center in Mandeville, La. When she’s not doing accounting, payroll, writing estimates, dealing with insurance companies, ordering parts, updating office technology or answering phones, she’s working to grow the Louisiana Collision Industry Association—the organization she founded to change the industry through grassroots organization, collaboration and education.
Hanks’ goal in starting the association—and in her everyday actions at the shop—is wrestling the industry’s balance of power back toward shops and customers, rather than seeing it remain stacked in favor of insurance companies.
As an example, she recalled the story of a recent customer, a college student that was waiting for insurance to cover repairs so they could get to school. The provider failed to answer calls to keep the process moving, which is when Hanks pulled out all the stops to help the customer get a response.
“I take on full responsibility of these claims when they come in, because I think if they don’t have somebody like me in their corner, they might be taken advantage of,” she says. “A lot of [insurance company actions] are uncalled for, and [customers] don’t know what to do. I’m like, ‘Y’all just don’t worry, I’m going to handle this.’”
Her enthusiasm and experience going to bat for customers has endeared Hanks to her customers and coworkers at the shop, and it’s what made her this year’s award winner.
“I receive many comments on how she runs this office and takes care of all my customers,” says shop owner Roy Richards. “She really doesn’t believe insurance should tell us how to fix a car—that’s her biggest concern.”
When she first joined Lakeway Collision Center eight years ago, Richards says his office was a “chaotic paper mess” that Hanks helped streamline with modern technology. She improved parts ordering by implementing CollisionLink and OPSTRAX. The upgrades have significantly improved efficiency and workflow throughout the business.
Aside from “going to war” with insurance providers, as Richards calls it, Hanks has a calm and helpful demeanor that helps to reassure customers still traumatized from an accident or insurance dispute.
“Most of them don’t know what to do, most of them are a little shaken up and I try to handle everything as if they were my family,” she says. “I’m a very nice person and easy to get along with, [but] I have a bad side sometimes and, unfortunately, it comes out with the insurance people when they want to deny stuff.”
Her idea to start the Louisiana Collision Industry Association was first hatched a few years ago when researching current shop-insurer practices and thinking, “This can’t be the status quo of our industry.”
To gauge local interest in an association, Hanks started by sending emails to shops in the area, and seeing surprisingly strong responses. She moved quickly to build a larger email list and get the association up and running. She now serves as its executive director.
“I’m just one of everybody else who had the idea and got it out there,” she says, modestly shrugging off the achievement. “Anybody could have done it.”
Her efforts have already borne fruit, as so many shops have become involved that the association is now larger than the equivalents in Florida or Mississippi, she says. The state attorney general has been in close touch, and has collaborated in a lawsuit against State Farm that could radically reshape the shop-insurance provider-customer relationship throughout Louisiana.
Mary Collins is a dedicated office manager at CRC CARSTAR, who quickly grew her position by overseeing social media efforts, drastically reorganizing the office and, in her own free time, compiling detailed insurance compliance binders to reduce time spent looking up the same information on a daily basis.
“Mary Collins is a true inspiration that leads by example,” says the shop’s marketing manager, Bradley Gillie. “It is really hard these days to find a young person so motivated. Mary goes beyond that. She is a true diamond in the rough [and] the industry is lucky to have her.”
Inspiring the Next Generation of Technicians
Octavio Cavazos, department chair, Automotive Collision Repair Program
College of Lake County, Grayslake, Ill.
“You know the saying, ‘Find something you love to do and you’ll never work another day in your life’?” Octavio Cavazos asks. “That’s how I feel. I don’t work. I get to teach somebody something that I am very passionate about.”
While Cavazos might not count his role as department chair of the automotive collision repair program at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Ill., as “work,” his list of accomplishments begs to differ: Cavazos has singlehandedly turned an under-funded, under-staffed, under-enrolled program into a respected, rapidly growing associate degree program that is turning out qualified, passionate body technicians eager to work in a field hurting for new talent.
That’s what makes him this year’s Wild Card Award winner.
A former student at the college and master diagnostic technician, Cavazos was offered the position of department chair after going back to school at the college to earn his bachelor’s degree. Upon graduation in 2008, Cavazos began his work.
At the time, automotive collision repair was a certificate program with no facility (the program rented space at night at a local high school technology campus), few tools and even fewer students: Only 23 out of 45 seats were filled.
“The collision program started as a joke with only four courses that made up a certificate program with no funding, no full-time staff and no tools or a facility to work at,” says student Ian Zapata. “Octavio has given hope for [the students’] future in the collision repair field. He has taken the auto collision repair program and put it on track to be comparable to the best in the nation.”
Cavazos started transforming the program by any means necessary: He brought in his personal tools to use as visual aids, and trained three former colleagues to become part-time instructors.
“We brought in some of the top guys I had worked with,” he says. “They were all nervous about teaching and I said, ‘It’s like having 18 apprentices. Just treat them like you would an apprentice.’ We had a ton of fun.”
Word started to spread that the program had undergone changes and numbers started to grow, first up to 45 students and, by the spring of 2011, to more than 150.
Next, he fought tooth and nail to convince the dean and the board of directors to not only hire a full-time faculty member, but to build a 17,000-square-foot facility that will act as a full body shop, classroom and lab. The facility will open Jan. 1, and Cavazos says he expects the facility will not only bring in more students, more open lab time and additional projects, but also industry partners.
To that end, Cavazos has joined I-CAR’s Education of Industry Segment Advisory Council, developed curriculum for I-CAR and the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF), and even earned a Master of Science in workforce education to aid his ability to further the program.
“We want to open it up to as many industry partners as we can,” he says. “Anybody that has anything to do with automotive collision repair, we want them to know that we have this program, so you can start seeing the quality of work that we’re doing, which will help place all of our students.”
Ultimately, it’s those students that Cavazos says drive his passion for making the program the best it can be.
Zapata says Cavazos goes above and beyond to ensure that every student is excelling. A U.S. Army veteran, Zapata says that after his G.I. Bill funding ended, he nearly had to drop out of school due to the increased cost. Determined to keep Zapata in the program, Cavazos helped him apply for scholarships and get his applications into the right hands.
“With his guidance and help in the application process, I was chosen for two scholarships, totaling $7,500 through the Collision Repair Education Foundation,” he says. “That is a huge help in my academic career. Octavio announced this to the other students and it started a fire in many of them to apply next season. I’ve learned from him that as long as you have a strong foundation and knowledge of your chosen field, any challenge can be overcome.”
Cavazos says that grit and determination to overcome challenges is something that he hopes to impart to every student who graduates.
“About five years ago, I had a student come back to me and give me a hug. He told me, ‘You changed my life. Because of the knowledge I gained from going through the program, I can afford to feed my family, I got this great job, we own our own cars, we have our own home. It’s all because you had faith in us,’” Cavazos says. “It’s not about the money. It’s about, let’s see what we can do to better everybody and teach them to start thinking on their own and face any challenge without fear.”
?Berkheimer not only works to improve his own company, BAPS Auto Paint & Supply, but also the business of his customers: When Matthew Brown’s shop was switching to waterborne, Berkheimer supplied the shop with a painter and prepper while the regular staff received training, assigned a jobber to attend training with the staff, and stayed after hours to make sure the shop was up to speed.
“Out of 15 shops at the class, our shop was the only one who had a representative with us to help with any questions during and after the class was over,” Brown says. “Besides the outstanding service they provide, they do so much more to give back to the businesses they provide for. They have made a significant impact on my shop’s bottom line.”