From body man to businessman

Jan. 1, 2020
Sidney Body CARSTAR in Sidney, Ohio has long been a mainstay in this historically significant canal and railroad town located along the old “Dixie Highway."
Tom Martin was just a teenager back in 1978 when his work ethic and willingness to wield a paint brush started steering him toward a career in collision repair that has culminated in achieving ownership of his own award-winning shop.

Sidney Body CARSTAR in Sidney, Ohio has long been a mainstay in this historically significant canal and railroad town located along the old “Dixie Highway” in the western portion of the Buckeye State.

“It started in 1942 in the garage of a gentleman named Art Dormire,” says Martin, describing the evolution of an operation initially known as the Sidney Body Shop. “Over the years, through three different owners and four managers, it has grown into the 14,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility that it is now,” he recounts.

“When I was 16 I was hired to paint the outside of the
building, and after it was done they hired me to detail cars and clean up the shop. Roy Stone owned the business when I started, and he has been a great influence to me throughout my life.”

Martin worked his way up, ultimately buying the company in 2001. In 2003 he signed on with CARSTAR. Relocating to a more modern structure nestled in Sidney’s bustling retail and industrial district was accomplished in 2004. “CARSTAR helped me design the building and Ferguson Construction was the contractor that built it.”

Upon settling into a new shop covering 8,800 square feet, Martin recalls that “our old building was 3,000 square feet, and we never dreamed that we would need anything larger.” Having been named as CARSTAR’s Franchisee of the Year in 2009 and Emerging Market Store of the Year in 2010, the thriving business was destined for yet another expansion as a 5,200-square-foot addition – including an Enterprise Rent-A-Car office and a drive-in estimating station – was completed in 2011. Now housing 20 bays with a staff of 15 that repairs an average of 25 vehicles per week, the annual gross is more than $2 million.

Membership in the franchiser’s Financial Focus 20 Group has provided numerous benefits. “To that group and to CARSTAR I owe a lot of credit because they helped me transition from a ‘body man’ to a business owner,” he says. Meeting for two days each quarter, “participating in this group is priceless,” according to Martin. “Along with all of the knowledge I learn there this time away also lets my staff grow and learn that they can manage without my presence. It’s a win-win for all of us.”

As the only I-CAR Gold shop in Shelby County, “our team of collision repair specialists is the best-trained in the industry,” he says, citing the outstanding expertise, professionalism and pleasantness of his co-workers.

“It is always challenging for us to find the right
employee to fit our team in our rural market area,” says Martin. “One of the key things I look for is personality. We can teach skill-set, but we can’t teach personality and teamwork. We consider ourselves a big family; we spend more time with each other than with our own families sometimes, and I believe that’s how we retain our employees. We all treat each other with respect and get along very well.”

Martin’s bother and niece are on the roster, and “we’ve never had any issues. Like any of my other employees, if they or I have a problem we go to each other and talk about it.”

Staffers stay on top of all I-CAR training necessary to maintain the shop’s Gold status. “Our office personnel keep current on customer service philosophies through CARSTAR-U, an online training program. We also have attended Change Management and Production classes. We believe that training is essential in running the quality facility that we have, and you can never learn too much,” he asserts, noting the company’s membership in the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS).

“I would like to think that I’ve made the expectation clear and that I’ve given them (the employees) the tools to provide good customer service,” Martin continues. “They know that it is the key to the future of our business and the future of our DRP (Direct Repair Program) relationships. I am always within earshot of how they are interacting with the customers’ in-person and on the phone. We truly believe in genuine customer service and in doing what is right, and I expect my employees to do the same.”

Maintaining a balance The shop participates in 27 DRPs, which presents its own set of challenges – as in “walking the tightrope with the DRP partners and getting paid for all of the services performed in restoring the vehicle back to pre-accident condition while following OEM and I-CAR standards and still staying within the parameters that the DRPs insist upon,” says Martin.

“Our core value of superior customer service makes it easier to maintain good relationships with the insurers. Then all we have to do is know their guidelines and meet their requirements,” he adds.

“I don’t consider the shop to be a true ‘lean’ shop, but we are implementing procedures heading in that direction,” he explains, “such as complete disassembly and repair-plan-mapping on tow-in vehicles. Our staff is very willing to try anything that will help us be more efficient and make the business better.”

Martin goes to describe how “we disassemble every vehicle when it comes into the shop and write up a repair plan prior to the vehicle being put into production. This takes out the variables in the front and lets production run a lot smoother for our guaranteed on-time deliveries. We have great relationships with our parts vendors: We only work with parts vendors with the same philosophies as ours toward parts, and that is to deliver good, quality parts in a timely manner.”

Waterborne paint is applied. “We use it to be as environmentally friendly as possible and to give my employees the safest product available to use for their health and well-being,” Martin points out.

Brand awareness Some of the challenges being dealt with include a lessening “accident pool” in the community, plus “the customers are more demanding.” The shop strives to “keep up with new technology set in place by the manufacturers” while struggling to find and recruit new staffers amid a reduced amount of younger technicians entering the field.

“Our main step is the old philosophy of ‘a satisfied customer is your best form of advertisement,’ so we try our best to meet and exceed that philosophy. Along with our brand awareness marketing we feel it’s been a good combination to attract new customers.”

The company embraces a broad range of strategies for reaching the public. “We try to utilize grass roots advertising as much as possible, such as advertising on local restaurant menus, restaurant placemats, restaurant napkin holders, grocery carts, sponsoring the local youth athletic teams, contributing to the County Fair, etc.” Spots are also aired on area radio and television stations along with posting billboards.

The company’s website includes employee photographs, “which gives customers something and someone they can relate to.”

Sidney hosts four exits on Interstate 75, which connects with Canada to the north and Florida to the south. A Honda engine plant is Shelby County’s largest employer, and there is a fertile agricultural base in the area with grain, livestock and dairy farms.

“The first and fourth quarters are very busy because of the weather; snow and ice,” says Martin. “In past years the deer hits were a part of our fall business, but with the current deer population it is a part of our business all year.”

He goes on to observe that “one of our core philosophies is giving back to the community,” listing involvement in numerous civic, educational and charitable organizations. The shop presents an annual “Soaps It Up” car wash benefit with all the proceeds going to the Shelby County Relay for Life and the Make a Wish Foundation. The local radio station broadcasts live at the event. “Our community of 22,000 is very tight-knit,” says Martin, “and by serving in these organizations we represent both ourselves and the shop.”

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