(Editor's Note: This story was originally published in December 2014.)
Really, it’s pretty simple, says David James, vice president of marketing for CARSTAR Collision Repair Experts. “People look to do business with people who are good stewards of the community.”
“It’s a big differentiator,” he says. “People see a shop giving back and being involved in the area that it does business, and they immediately gravitate toward that business.”
The average customer is in a crash every seven years; they don’t have a great deal of experience—if any—with the collision repair process. They can, however, know your shop, James says, if you give them reason to.
CARSTAR strongly urges its franchise facilities to serve their respective markets. Some of their shops are involved in food and clothing drives. Some fundraise for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Others donate vehicles to various causes. Whatever their chosen cause is, James says there’s a clear pattern of shops—CARSTAR or not—making true impacts throughout the country.
“Marketing is not the sole reason any shop should do it,” James explains. “You should be doing it for the positive impact your business can make—how it can give back. But, overall, it makes a large difference for a business. And any shop can do this. Every business can find a way to become involved in a way that benefits the community and their shop.”
Three shop owners who have each found unique ways to define the term “community leader” shared their respective stories with FenderBender.
Show and Tell and Give
Church Brothers Collision Repair and its Indianapolis footprint
There are some dramatic advantages to running an 85-year-old family business, Dan Hall says; experience being at the top of that list.
Hall and his family have seen it all in growing Indianapolis-based Church Brothers Collision Repair into a six-location, $25 million a year business, one that’s consistency is only rivaled by its sheer impact on the industry. (Church Brothers was one of the early pioneers in industry expansion in 1997, eventually being part of a 130-shop company before breaking back out on its own five years later).
And for Hall, who became the sole owner back in 1974, the biggest lesson learned has been in marketing—as in, most shops and business do it wrong.
“We came to a realization that our goal with advertising was to get our name out there, have people think of us and remember us, and when they got in an accident, call us,” he says. “Well, there’s an easy way to do that: be out in the community, be involved and make a difference. We wanted people to think of us for the right reasons.”
Every dollar of Church Brothers’ marketing budget is tied to a charitable or community effort. This past summer, they spent more than $10,000 on hosting a custom car show at its downtown Indy location. The event drew 140 cars, and at least twice that many vehicles, Hall said. All money raised—which topped out above $11,000—went directly to the Wounded Warriors.
The company also does annual food drives out of each location. In 2013, Church Brothers donated more than three tons of food to Indiana food shelves.
Then there’s the shops’ work with the Concord Neighborhood Center, which offers various services to those in need on the southside of Indianapolis. Church Brothers collects presents for kids in the center’s programs each Christmas. The company’s donated funds, volunteered hours—Hall’s wife even sewed graduation gowns for one of the program’s kindergarten classes.
“We’re a real family business—my wife works in the business, our two sons, our daughter and son-in-law,” Hall says. “We want to be involved in things that affects the area we live in.”
Through a chance meeting with former University of Butler men’s basketball coach, Brad Stevens, (currently the head coach of the NBA’s Boston Celtics), Hall began a charitable partnership with the local Indy university. They combined for a pet food drive, playing off the school’s popular bulldog mascot, Blue.
Hall sponsors a number of events at the university, and has branched out to work with the Indiana Pacers, as well. All of the joint ventures center on some form of charitable giving—like a promo with the Pacers, where for every 3-point shot the team makes, Church Brothers donates a certain amount of dollars to Concord.
“Those type of partnerships are great, because they help raise more money, and you have a partner that has such great reach in getting the message out,” Hall says. “You’re getting that cause in front of a bigger audience, and more people are seeing us attached to it.”
The company also sponsors a large remote control car (roughly four feet long by two feet wide) that the Indianapolis Police Department uses for demonstrations for kids about speeding, seat belts, texting while driving and other vehicle safety issues. The Church Brothers logo is on the vehicle. It’s been making the rounds to sporting events, fairs and schools for the past five years.
Hall is proud of the contributions his business makes. After 85 years in the Indianapolis area, he feels his family owes so much of its success to the community.
“We just want to try to give back whatever we take out,” he says. “It’s that simple. That’s what this business is about.”
Peace (of Mind) Train
Collision Experts and its mission to build a better community
It was an honest mistake, and Maryann Bowman wasn’t too concerned about it. She’d already written the initial check—the $7,500 her two-shop suburban New York repair business, Collision Experts, was giving to a local school to build a playground.
The school had been forced to relocate after 33 years in its original location. Collision Experts’ check was set to cover the equipment, materials and building costs of the new playground. As a thank-you, the local parks and rec department put the shop’s logo on the train.
But, as the project got underway, those in charge noticed a miscalculation in the amount needed. Her original donation wouldn’t cover it; not even close.
The difference—well, let’s just say it was enough that Bowman could’ve replaced that wooden train with a new Mercedes.
“There was just some confusion on the cost,” she says now, “and they felt really bad and weren’t expecting us to pitch in the rest. But I was just so pumped up about this project that I wrote them another check.”
The logo on the train is a nice bit of advertising. It’s also a sign to those in the community of the shop’s generosity.
It means even more to Bowman, though. It’s a symbol of everything her and her late husband, Rick, have worked the past 29 years for: A business should serve a higher purpose in its community, she says.
“After [the park was finished], my staff was saying how they haven’t seen me this happy in a long time,” she says. “This is what I’m working for.”
And it’s not out of the ordinary for Collision Experts. Every year, the shop donates a chunk of every ticket, from Thanksgiving until New Years, to a specific charity. This year, they’ll give $29 per vehicle to City Mission, a local organization that, among other things, runs a weekend food program for underprivileged kids. She’s committed $12,000, whether the shops reach that mark or not.
Two years ago, Collision Experts picked up the tab on building a nursery room at City Mission, too. The business also gives regular support to a number of other organizations, including a teen mom center.
Bowman and her team enlist the help of other community members in their efforts as well.
“We try to involve our insurance partners,” she says. “They’re so used to the programs we do that they’ll call up in October wanting to know what our holiday fundraiser will be and how they can help.”
Since her husband passed away in 2013, Bowman has had to juggle running the two shops and raising her 8-year-old daughter. (Her four oldest children are out of the house.) Bowman says it’s been difficult to work through the changes in her life.
So, she’s decided to focus on the things that help her through it: the fundraisers, the playground, the train, all of it.
“This is what keeps me going, keeps me sane,” she says. “If I’m going to be working, I want to be working for something good.
“Everyone goes through struggles. I know. Everyone can use some help here or there. What is my business doing here if it’s not to help?”
Tracy’s Collision Center and its kid-focused ‘third location’
When Tracy’s Collision Center opened its third location, Tom Tracy wanted something bright and colorful; hence the purple and yellow everywhere. He also wanted it to be an interactive experience for visitors; that’s where the large touchscreen monitor for painting demonstrations came in.
Then there’s the padded floors; the single, immovable and inoperable “lift”; the foam tires; the color-coded toolboxes (again, bright colors). This roughly 200-square-foot facility was carefully thought out.
That’s what makes it one of the Lincoln Children’s Museum’s most popular exhibits.
“It’s a lot of fun,” says Tom Tracy, the second-generation owner of the Nebraska collision repair company. “We did a commercial when the exhibit opened announcing our third location. We had a bunch of kids in it, and it was a lot of fun. People seemed to really get a kick out of that.”
Tracy’s parents founded Tracy’s Collision in Lincoln in 1969. He’s been involved in the business since the 1980s, and as the company’s grown to two facilities and $8 million a year in gross sales, Tracy’s Collision has become a staple in the Nebraska capital.
But the business’s impact goes far beyond the 5,000 or so vehicles it repairs each year.
The Children’s Museum exhibit is just one example of the company’s work in the community. Tracy and his participate in a car seat recycling program that helps educate parents about “expired” car seats and helps dispose of them.
The shops have also contributed 13 vehicles to the National Auto Body Association’s Recycled Rides initiative over the past seven years. They’ve done a number of food and clothing drives, and donated to various organizations.
The most visible of their initiatives has been its partnership with the Children’s Museum. Tracy and his wife used to take their kids to the museum when they were younger, and even though they are all grown today, Tracy said working with the museum is an important way the shop can help an institution that means a lot in the Lincoln community.
Tracy’s Collision made a $25,000, multi-year investment in order to help build the exhibit. He and his team were involved in the design process, working with the museum and designers to come up with the touch screen paint station and vehicle repair station.
Tracy’s also pitched in with marketing help, creating and paying for the commercial to help promote the new exhibit. And Tracy and his team regularly make appearances at the museum to help with various events; they handed out candy for a Halloween party, for example.
There’s no clear ROI on a project like this, Tracy says. The benefits are invaluable, though: word-of-mouth referrals, reputation building and, more than anything, demonstrating to the area what the business is all about.
“A lot of times, people only hear the small details of what you do as a business—repair cars, paint, etc.,” Tracy says. “That’s not who we are. But no one would know that if you don’t go out to show them.”