Brian Finger has been working in the collision repair industry since he was 13 years old. Back then, his experience was pretty much limited to washing cars and getting them ready for delivery. But it wasn’t long after that he started getting interested in the electronics of vehicles and found he had a knack for it.
That led to him starting Airbags Unlimited, a diagnostics electronics company, in 2016. As working on ADAS became more common in the shops that he was servicing in the Houston area, Finger began investing in calibration and scanning equipment. That segment of the business began to grow rapidly to the point where at the start of 2022 it became clear he needed to expand. At the time of this writing Finger’s expansion plan was approved and he was searching for a property.
But where to begin? For Finger, it was a journey that he definitely doesn’t recommend taking alone, and one that has been very educational for him.
as told to Todd Kortemeier
The timing has to be right … for you and the bank.
With the way technology has grown in vehicles since I started my business in 2016, I just took the plunge as far as ADAS, invested in the equipment for all the calibrations and the targets and it's just exploded. So as we keep growing, I told [my business consultant Nina Ross] at the beginning of this year we're expanding, we've got to expand. Just the projection of the company and just how much we're growing, I've definitely got to expand.
So within that comes looking for a business loan, getting approval on an expansion loan. And one thing I found out quickly, especially with COVID, was that banks were not loaning to startups. They're not doing new business loans. But the key word is expansion. If you're expanding an existing business, they're all about it. They're interested in business expansion, not a startup. So that worked to our benefit in beginning this loan application process. That was a key from where we're at, having an existing business that keeps growing.
Do your homework up front.
I have a very good working relationship with the shops that I service here in Houston. Monday through Friday I'm in my little company van, I'm out, hands on at the shops, at the collision shops, at dealerships, at individual mom and pop shops, independent shops, I have a good working relationship with these people. And I started asking like, ‘Hey, I'm going to be expanding. Can my business manager Nina give you a call and just go over numbers projections, you know, from a year ago, two years ago to current projections?’ And the working relationship I have with my shops, they were very forthcoming, what to expect in the city, opening a shop in the city versus in the country, working with the city inspectors and just giving us tangible information, hands on information, not just Googling something and taking some numbers of something on the internet. We asked actual shop owners and gathered real-time working numbers, if you will.
That helped Nina construct the business proposal that she presented to the bank. It's not just, ‘Hey, we're going to pull some numbers here.’ It was a real-world look at what's going on right now, where the industry is at, the number of people we have in the city, it just keeps growing. So it was definitely valuable information that she was able to obtain through shops that I do work with here in town. So that was extremely valuable in getting the proposal put together.
Don’t go it alone.
If you're a shop owner, and you're good at being in the collision industry, that doesn’t mean you can go and run a kitchen for a restaurant, take over and start cooking food. I want to learn and do as much as I can, but know your limitations, and don't overburden yourself with the business. Having a professional polished business manager like Nina has been worth every penny that I've paid her.
If you think, ‘Oh OK, here, I have a good credit score. And here's my taxes. And I went online and this is what the industry is doing every year.’ That's not going to cut it if you try to do it yourself and put it together like that. They don't like that. I wouldn't be able to do it. It was worth hiring Nina and having her construct the business model.
Even with help, it does take a lot of patience. Try not to get too frustrated. I'm pretty even keeled; everything happens for a reason. But sometimes, if something doesn't go the way you want it, if a door closes, don't get frustrated. That just means there's something that wasn't the right spot, right location, right company to be doing business with. There's something better down the road.