The Keys to Making Industry Connections

July 30, 2020
A recent president of the Indiana Auto Body Association feels shop operators need to work together in order to support the multiple roles they and their techs must take on.

Shop: Martin’s Body Shop Owner: Doug Martin Location: New Salisbury, Ind. Staff Size: 16 Shop Size: 19,000 square feet Number of Lifts: 7 Average Monthly Car Count: 110 Annual Revenue: $3.5 million

Think back to your first few years owning or managing your shop. Did you have someone to rely on, maybe a close friend or relative that mentored you? If so, you’ll hopefully have good memories of working with them and trusting them. They could still be in your life now, helping when it’s necessary but admiring your own progress.

“We need to work together,”  Doug Martin, owner of Martin’s Body Shop in New Salisbury, Ind., says. 

It’s a short statement, but a powerful one. It’s one of Martin’s core beliefs that when working in the auto industry, people and a variety of shops working together isn’t just something they should do— it’s something they need to do.

Reasons like these were why Martin joined the Indiana Auto Body Association in the first place. He felt so strongly that shops needed to work together in order to support the multiple roles they and their techs must take on. He recalls connecting with other shop owners in his early years as manager and the positive relationships he formed with them.

Martin has continued to uphold those beliefs along with the association. Although his role has changed, his commitment has not. Martin rose quickly to the position of president and remained there for four years, and recently stepped down to continue as the vice president where he retains a great deal of influence among his peers. 

Not only is he involved in the association, he also values working together with his staff and is committed to ensuring the creation of real interpersonal connections. 

Martin has taken all these aspects of his life and combined them into a strong ideology. It’s one that’s been with him almost since the start of his career, and continues to this day. His philosophy is that we all need to work together.

First Steps

Martin has been the owner of his shop for just over a year now— since April 2, 2019, when his father signed the shop over to him. Before that, he had been managing the shop for nearly a decade.

Martin worked part time in the shop throughout high school, but always planned on working in his family’s shop. He graduated from college in 2007 and started as an estimator while his father and uncle ran the office.

“It’s kind of a funny story how I started in a managerial position,” Martin says. “My dad and uncle decided they were gonna go on vacation for a few days, so they made me manager and I hit the ground running from there. Kind of a ‘baptized with a fire hose’ type thing.”

From there, he learned how to use various softwares and started to develop his own managerial style. He also tried to immerse himself in the industry as much as possible in order to continue learning. He did so by going out and meeting other shop owners; additionally, once he was part of the state association, attending conferences became an integral part of his role and served as a great way to communicate with other shops.

“I’m so lucky to have been able to meet such gracious shop owners,” he continues. “They’ve been successful and I’ve tried to align myself with them, build relationships with them.”

The Makings of a Team

Martin’s early experiences with other shop owners were essential in developing his belief in shops working together, but the staff members he worked with shaped his focus on interpersonal connection. 

Many of Martin’s coworkers have been with the shop at length. Several members have been there for decades, with the lead technician—the person Martin considered his mentor at the shop during his early years— having been there since 1985. 

“Actually, I was born in April 1985, and he started working there in July of 1985,” he notes, laughing.

He describes his first years being a manager as rocky, but he wasn’t alone.

 “At first, you don’t trust yourself and all the decisions you’re making,” he says. “You have some small wins and some victories here and there. You get knocked down and realize there’s more to learn, and you continue to learn.” 

Having good, hard working people around to help him back up, to learn from the defeats, played a huge role in his development. Forming long-term bonds with these folks was central to his collaboration and communication-focused managerial style, and arguably led to his advancement with the state auto body association.

Whereas his father used a much more ‘my way or the highway’ approach to managing, Martin prefers to keep an open line of communication, and encourages his employees to focus on cooperation as well. Just like himself, Martin asks his team to rely on each other and to ask a coworker if they need help. Martin feels that when his team can put their heads together to solve a problem, it’s much more effective than a single, forced approach. 

He prides himself on being able to lead his team in a way that allows for this kind of teamwork. 

“The leadership role is critical,” he says. “I’m the one that’s got to say to my team, ‘let’s figure out the best way to get this done as efficiently as possible’, you know?”

From VP to President (And Back Again)

Martin first got involved with the state auto body association because he felt there was so much need for shops to work together. He felt that the association was one of the best ways to reach that goal. 

“There's so much information out there that shops need to know,” he explains. “It’s not just fixing cars, they need to be engineers, attorneys, there’s so many hats we need to wear.”

Martin describes his quick ascent to the presidential position as being the result of a transitional period—the executive director brought in new board members, he got voted in as the vice president after the first left, and shortly thereafter he moved up to president. 

But that doesn’t detract from his impact—he was still able to bring the community together. Though the board of the association was in a bit of a jumble after all the transitions, Martin was still able to gather local shops. 

“Several others helped us pull the whole thing together, and we now have a very strong board of directors,” Martin explains. 

After roughly four years as president, he stepped down to vice president this past January. A big part of the decision involved managing his time— he wasn’t able to travel as much as the position necessitated, and he wanted to make sure that the association had someone who could be properly involved. 

He still works in much of the same capacity, however, and luckily the board is as effective as ever. Martin is proud of what he’s been able to do for the community and the local shops as a whole. 

“It’s amazing what we can do when we pool our resources together.”

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