A Time to Rebuild
When Tom & Ed’s Autobody’s towing facility was no longer able to load level its work, Andy Tylka, co-owner of the Indiana-based MSO, knew it was time to reevaluate the way his facilities were run. The Merrillville location, which was run out of a dealership, seemed to be the problem, as its limited space and connection to the dealership presented a number of problems for the potential growth of the location. Tylka and his father/business partner, Tom, decided to step back and take a look at the options that were available to help grow the business. Thanks to a critical eye for business and planning for the long term, the MSO has doubled the number of locations in the past 18 months—from three to six—and re-built a new location from the ground up.
Eight years ago, Tylka made the decision to completely change his life and run the family business, Tom & Ed’s Autobody, with his father, Tom.
Tylka, who has a degree in public management and marketing from Indiana University—Purdue and oversaw a theme park at the time, didn’t have an interest in running the family business. After a heartfelt conversation with his father, he realized that he didn’t want his dad to be forced to sell his pride and joy and he didn’t want the business to leave the Tylka family. So, he made the decision to move and help his father run the Indiana-based MSO.
Even though Tylka didn’t have any experience in the collision repair industry, his business background and the employees’ respect for his father allowed him to easily enter the business and make changes.
One of the three locations that Tom & Ed’s had at the time, Merrillville, was run out of a dealership.
As it stood, the location was making it impossible for Tylka to grow the company and pursue other relationships with dealerships.
“No dealership wants to refer their customers to a competitor dealership location,” Tylka says. “We knew that if we were going to continue to pursue other dealership relationships, we would have to have a stand-alone location.”
The location was also maxed out as far as the work that it could hold. Tylka realized this when Tom and Ed’s Autobody’s towing facility was no longer able to load level its work. Adding staff wasn’t an option because its limited space had already created a bottleneck that additional people would have made worse.
The best option for the growing MSO was to find a new location. A new location would provide the capacity Tom and Ed’s needed to handle more work and develop more dealership relationships. The new space would also allow the opportunity to invest in new equipment and allow Tom & Ed’s to create and aluminum repair room, which they weren’t able to do with the limited space in the dealership.
As far as expanding, the Tylkas had a few options. They could either continue to lease, find a new location or build an entirely new facility.
“When you’re leasing, you’re careful with how you spend your money,” Tylka says. “We had to decide whether or not we wanted to put more money into the facility we were leasing or manage growth and create a new facility and develop new relationships.”
For a year, the Tylkas looked at existing locations but found that they were always finding something that wasn’t quite right with the facility.
“As we looked at existing facilities, the money we would have had to put into them to make them work was beyond what it was worth,” Tylka says. “As we continued to look at properties, we kept saying things like, ‘This building would be great if the door was over here or if the ceilings were higher or had a different parking flow.’ We kept nitpicking what was already out there. It was obvious were were just making excuses to convince ourselves to build from the ground up.”
The Tylkas decided to build a new facility, roughly 100 feet from the dealership that they were currently in, from the ground up.
The new facility includes a drive-up, six-bay estimating area that customers can drive their cars directly into, 12 body bays, and a drive-thru paint and prep station. The new location, at 13,000 square feet, is triple the size of the former dealership location and features, among other perks for the staff and customers, a heated floor, which also reduces energy bills.
The rebuild was the first project that Tylka and his father split financially, so they were both very conscious of every decision that was being made. Before purchasing the land, the Tylkas carefully considered each option and forecasted what their sales and opportunities would be in the next five years and whether or not it would be worth it to build a new facility. One of the things that reassured them that they could afford to build the new facility was the fact the business had an existing location that was already generating business and would thus provide revenue from day one.
“My father and I made a budget, and then we made a more realistic budget,” Tylka say, laughing. “It always costs more than what you think, but we had this mentality of, ‘If you build it, they will come.’”
When the Tylkas made the decision to purchase the land, they went to the same local bank that Tom got his first business loan from more than 30 years ago. The bank helped them figure out how to finance the project.
Since moving into the new location and opening in November of 2016, the location has doubled its sales. Before, the location in the dealership was doing around $85,000 per month. Over the past few months, it has generated sales of $170,000-$200,000 per month.
During the rebuild, the Tylkas added three more facilities: one was an acquisition, one was a dealership that came on the market and the last was a boat and RV division. During the first facility construction, Tylka made sure to document everything during the rebuild, which helped with the opening of the other locations. Since he kept such well-documented notes on every aspect of the process, it was easy to duplicate when opportunities fell into the Tylkas’ lap.
“Document everything,” Tylka says. “Having my files on my computer of every little decision that I made made a huge difference.”
Beyond that, Andy says to not to forget the importance of celebrating accomplishments.
“People are always looking at the next thing rather than sitting back and saying, ‘Wow, look at what we just did,’” Tylka says. “Owner needs to be proud of themselves too and take the time to pat themselves on the back. I’m not doing a great job of it, but I’m trying to.”