The 2017 FenderBender Awards: Chris Raeder
From Ph.D. to Shop Owner
Owner / Autocraft Bodywerks / Austin, Texas
For 20 years, Chris Raeder’s life consisted of manufacturing, production, technology, measurement, tracking, recording and an extreme eye for details—all thanks to his Ph.D. in engineering and work in the technology sector for a large corporation. And believe it or not, those skills have been key during the second phase of his career: owner of Autocraft Bodywerks of Austin, Texas.
Raeder was able to take his skills in engineering and apply it to turn a 30-year-old business that was set in its ways into a $6-million-per-year shop that is Lexus, Tesla and Infiniti certified with an ARO of $5,200. In fact, he tapped into the very core elements of engineering to revamp the business into the successful shop it is today.
Raeder knew he wanted to turn the shop into a state-of-the-art facility, so he began his journey by observing and taking stock. After purchasing the business, Raeder trained under the old owner as an estimator for three months and after officially purchasing the business, he worked as an employee as a way to further his understanding of the business. That allowed him to gain both an understanding of the position and the possible hindrances.
Once Raeder understood how the business worked, he began building a foundation for his now-successful business, starting with measuring progress.
During his time as a chief engineer in manufacturing and production, he says that it was a job that relied heavily on measurement, tracking and recording statistical data. Because of that, Raeder began putting systems in place to facilitate that tracking, starting with new systems for the shop’s IT, management, CSI, phones and security. Since there was no estimating system, Raeder started working with Estify.
Because of that, Raeder updates his numbers on a weekly basis, tracking KPIs such as cycle time, labor hours, paint hours and materials, gross profit, etc. None of that was tracked prior to him taking over. He now holds daily morning production meetings where the team goes over the schedule and those KPIs.
Raeder’s improvements helped the shop tremendously, including cutting the shop’s cycle time down by 20 percent.
He also focused on the shop floor, or as he sees it, the manufacturing component. Renovations included updating LED lighting, new spot welders, frame machines, measurement systems and computers. The goal, he says, was to get the body men as equipped as possible.
But while his engineering background has greatly helped him with the business side of things, there is one thing that it didn’t quite help him with and that was creating a good team culture. Rooted in his faith and philanthropy work, Raeder made a conscious effort to create a healthy environment for his 31 employees. He says this has become his greatest achievement, especially after going through a lot of turnover in the beginning.
“My belief is that happiness is achieved through service to others,” Raeder says. “Service to employees, customers, vendors. I’m always looking for a win, win, win. If everyone can win, that’s the scenario I’m pursuing in all cases.”
He’s done it all, from making chili and cornbread for all-staff lunches; hosting elaborate Christmas and Easter parties; and eliminating commission to where each member of his team is either hourly or salary so that no one is working for themselves. All of this has helped instill a sense of teamwork and community in his staff.
But it doesn’t stop there; he and his staff also make it a point to give back to the community. The shop supports local organizations, such as the Center for Child Protection, the South Austin Pregnancy Resource Center and St. John Neumann Catholic Church. Raeder recently began donating $10 from every vehicle to the Center for Child Protection and is also hoping to get matching donations from guests. And despite his current in-depth involvement, Raeder hopes to expand his list of charities, including the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
He involves his employees by sending them to the Center for Child Protection to understand what the center does, so they feel some sense of ownership over the project.
The impact these efforts have made in the shop became all too apparent when another shop owner visited the shop, Raeder says.
“At the end of the tour, he looked at me and he said, ‘Chris, it seems that the employees want to be here and they take ownership of what they’re doing,’” he says.
And at that moment, Raeder knew that he had not only built a strong business, but also a strong team.
“I get choked up just telling this story,” he says. “I have seven kids and this is my extended family.”