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Running Hard

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It was Michael Whittemore’s plan from the start to run a multi-shop operation in Nevada. The New York transplant, a technician who moved to the desert to escape the cold and rust in 1994, put in his time repairing vehicles out West for a decade before finding a few investors and opening New Look Collision Center in 2004.

Today, a mere 11 years later, with three thriving shops (one built as an overflow facility) and a fourth on the way, New Look is generating more than $14 million in sales and repairing nearly 600 vehicles a month in the state’s largest cities of Henderson and Las Vegas.

“That was our goal from the get-go,” says Whittemore, 47. “To have multiple locations and to have a bigger footprint in the Valley and in the state of Nevada.”

FAMILY BUSINESS: New Look Collision Center Owner Michael Whittemore (in the car) runs the company with wife, Theressa (left), who handles accounting, daughter Jessica (right), the office manager, and general manager Paul Williams (Jessica's boyfriend).

The shop’s rapid rise landed it on Inc. Magazine’s prestigious Inc. 5000 list of America’s fastest growing companies in 2015, boasting 204-percent growth and 20 jobs added during the last three years. Whittemore calls it “running hard,” and there’s no sign of slowing down.

The Model

New Look Collision Center is family-run, with Whittemore's wife, Theressa, handling accounting and daughter, Jessica, working as the office manager. Paul Williams (Jessica's boyfriend) is the general manager.

The company's business comes from relationships with nearby auto malls and dealerships, 16 DRPs (accounting for roughly 50 percent of total sales), the draw of 12 manufacturer certifications and strong customer retention, Whittemore says. He is adamant about not relying too heavily on one source for customers. And, he says, a concentration on high quality repairs, unmatched service and ongoing innovation ensures his multiple revenue streams don’t dry up.   

Whittemore is a believer in knowing his market and has worked with his paint company, Axalta, to formulaically analyze demographics, market size, sales potential, and his competition, and he attributes much of his success to being in the right locations and building the right relationships. New Look lists three shops, but one—immediately adjacent to the Henderson shop—was built as an overflow facility to accommodate increased business.

The company occupies 50,000 total square feet and has 54 employees—a far cry from its start as a two-man, 18,000-square-foot operation.

The business repairs everything from Ford trucks (it is Ford aluminum recognized) to Lamborghinis, though it’s known for those higher-end vehicles. Whittemore was a BMW tech, so European makes came naturally to him and the shop has built a following in that genre (the shop has BMW Factory Trained Technicians and is Mercedes and Audi certified).

Key Strategies

Though important, being in the right place with the right relationships does not equal automatic success, even if your shop is delivering perfect repairs. And during the dark days of 2008 through about 2011, when the country was locked in the recession and its aftermath, those basic strategies weren’t enough to keep challenges at bay for Whittemore. The shop was established, but young, and with monthly revenue hovering around $280,000 at that time (compared to roughly $1.2 million today), Whittemore wondered if his dream might collapse, as other independent shops around him closed their doors.

“We went from a full lot to an empty lot. I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs,” he says. “There were a couple times where it was real tight. No sleep at night.”

Not willing to watch his business slide, Whittemore started making changes. And, helped by a resurgent economy, they started to make a difference. The second facility, in Las Vegas, was added in 2011, and by 2012, growth was through the roof there and in Henderson, where expansions were made.

Some key tactics for righting the ship:

Digital Marketing. For Whittemore, the focus here was on improving website usability, particularly for mobile users, as well as growing search engine optimization (SEO), enabling his shop to show up more frequently in online searches. He hired a company called Yokel Local to do this, as well as to improve the shop’s social media engagement, further improving website traffic. Revenue jumped from $3.4 million to nearly $5.4 million in the first year following the revamp, an increase Whittemore attributes largely to the new online presence.  

CREATING CONVENIENCE: New Look Collision Center owner Michael Whittemore with customer service representative Emma Vogt. The shop processes about a dozen mobile estimates a day through a form on its website.

“You really gotta do your homework when you pick an Internet marketing company,” he says. “The company I first had wasn’t being innovative or doing things with our website. Yokel Local just blew it up, blew up my website, redesigned it and they made the keywords so when you’re looking for a body shop or paint, our name pops up every time.”

The bill for working with Yokel Local is about $1,800 per month, which Whittemore says is covered by one good job.

Mobile Estimating. New Look’s new website offers the ability for customers to submit photos for mobile estimates. It’s as simple as uploading some basic information and a few photos. Estimates are returned to customers in under three hours.

The shop completes roughly a dozen mobile estimates per day, adding about $1 million to the bottom line annually, Whittemore says.

GOING BIG: The shop floor at New Look Collision Center's Henderson, Nev., facility.

Subletting Detailers. At the Henderson location, and coming soon to the Las Vegas shop, Whittemore sublets his detailers from a specialized detail company. The detail company, Frank Lopez Detailing, provides not only the talent, but all of the materials as well. In addition to materials and pay, subletting the work has allowed New Look to save on uniform costs, health insurance, and payroll taxes. Whittemore utilizes three detailers and expects a savings of $80,000 this year.

Growing Technicians. Whittemore says he won’t shy away from hiring inexperienced technicians right out of school, taking the time to train them in-house through an apprenticeship program. And to ensure they stick around, he says he provides high pay for his market, along with full benefits.

“We still will hire techs that are experienced, but building some of these techs, these kids who really want to do it, it helps our trade because there aren’t a whole lot of young kids coming into the industry,” Whittemore says.

Aluminum Repair. New Look invested in aluminum repair before it was hyped, spending tens of thousands on training and equipment for Mercedes, Audi and, most recently, Ford.

“Our initial aluminum investment was hard to swallow, but it has paid for itself,” Whittemore says.

MODERN LOOK: The front office at New Look Collision Center's Henderson, Nev., facility.

The shop did $360,000 in aluminum repair sales in 2014, $720,000 in 2015 and expects to be over $1 million next year.

Looking Ahead

Next up for Whittemore is the opening of a 50,000-square-foot, two-level shop in Northwest Las Vegas. The upper level will provide space for insurance partners, while the lower half will be dedicated to the shop. And Whittemore says he’s not done. He’s looking to eventually expand throughout the state and beyond. He’s done enough to retire, but he has no plans to do so.

“I could probably sell and go fly fishing, or elk hunting or go sit on a beach,” he says. “But I love this industry, I have a passion for it. I like to make customers happy.”

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