When FenderBender spoke with the operator of Benner’s Auto Body in June 2013 (“Rejuvenating a 100-year-old Family Business,” fenderbender.com/Benners), young owner Joey O’Neill Jr. had spurred a significant turnaround, seeing sales rise by more than $800,000 over a three-year period.
The iconic business (Benner’s opened around the year 1910) in Cranford, N.J., had endured issues with a lack of institutional control at the start of this decade, resulting in the misappropriation of funds by a controller. In recent years, O’Neill, now 30, has also seen a different, trusted controller leave to work elsewhere.
Yet, Benner’s ascent continues, spurred by, among other things, the hiring of a proven general manager, and thorough bookkeeping through the use of both a CCC ONE management system and QuickBooks. All told, the New Jersey shop has seen its annual revenue increase from $4.4 million a few years ago to more than $5.5 million in 2016.
O’Neill, its owner/president, provided FenderBender with the main lessons he has learned in nearly six years of running the family business amid frequent change.
Have Meetings that Matter
O’Neill has learned in recent years that it’s imperative to have morning meetings that are truly substantive. In his experience, early morning “rah-rah” speeches typically fall on deaf ears.
“But,” O’Neill says, “going in and having management staff tell [employees] exactly what parts came in on the second run, what cars to work on, what cars to hold off on … so they don’t waste their day” is key.
“Having a real meeting that really accomplishes something is probably the biggest thing,” adds O’Neill, whose shop has increased its average monthly car count from 165 to 225 over the last four years.
Fade From the Forefront
When O’Neill first took charge of Benner’s (not long after his late father was diagnosed with lung cancer), he attacked his work days starting around 6 a.m. He eventually learned that wasn’t sustainable.
“You like the idea, at a young age, of owning something. And the title of it,” O’Neill says. “I’m more in the back end now. … Wanting to be in the forefront as the owner isn’t necessarily the best way of doing things, because you’ll take a lot of heat, and you might lose employees, and sort of mess up customer or insurance relationships.”
Nowadays, O’Neill doesn’t sweat the small stuff quite so much.
“I take a more systematic approach to it,” he notes, “in the sense of, there’s so much that needs to go on there, that I step back and set a monthly goal, quarterly goal, weekly goal. And then the idea is, as long as we can accomplish that end of it, without messing something up behind us, that’s how I go forward.”
“I've learned it was easier to keep employees in all departments, and keep insurance relations better, if you isolate yourself with good people.”
Surround Yourself with Talent
Within the last couple years, O’Neill made key acquisitions, including the hiring of general manager Edwin Ruiz. Ruiz is well-respected after an accomplished stint working with an MSO prior to joining Benner’s.
“I’ve learned,” O’Neill says, “it was easier to keep employees in all the departments, and keep the insurance relations better, if you isolate yourself with good people.”
Additionally, O’Neill says that Benner’s overall morale has improved noticeably now that it has a trusted general manager in place.
Don’t be Afraid to Delegate
O’Neill learned early on during his time as an owner that every member of a team needs to play to their strengths. As a result, he currently trusts staff members like Ruiz to tackle pressing daily issues around the shop.
“You’d be better off not doing everything yourself,” O’Neill says. “You need to delegate, and that way you have that buffer zone, so that, if there’s an issue, it gets buffered through [employees] so you have that extra step, in case you have to use the owner step with an insurance company or a customer.”