2022 FenderBender Award Winner: Mike Schoonover

Sept. 23, 2022
This operator focuses on family ties, quality work and community service.

SHOP STATS: Schoonover Bodyworks and Glass   Location:  Shoreview, MN  Operator/s: Mike and Gayle Schoonover   Staff Size: 18  Shop Size: 14,000 square feet Average Monthly Car Count: 132  Annual Revenue: $3.5 million 

Which history to start with? Schoonover Bodyworks has an impressive one, starting in 1938 when Chuck Schoonover borrowed $50 from a Saint Paul, Minnesota, business owner to help launch the Schoonover Auto Rebuild.

The collision repair shop has been in family hands ever since. Mike Schoonover is the third-generation owner alongside his wife, Gayle. Schoonover’s own history is intertwined with the shop.

“I grew up in the business,” he says. “As a kid, I would ride with dad whenever he would go into the office on the weekends and just kind of hang out.”

After college, Schoonover went to work at the shop. At various times, he was a shop runner, cleaner, parts manager, production manager, sales and front office, and executive at the company. He and Gayle officially took over as owners in 2000.

Thus began an impressive ownership history for Schoonover. Not only has he built the operation into a modern powerhouse, he sought to help guide the future of collision repair at large. His industry ties include serving on the I-CAR Board of Directors, CAPA Technical Committee and Board of Directors, ASA Collision Division, AASP-MN Collision Committee and that Board of Directors.

The most impactful part of the Schoonovers’ history was the 2014 death of their son, Patrick, from a heart condition. In the wake of that deeply painful event, the Schoonover family has helped to raise awareness of heart health and screened thousands of kids through a foundation.

Today, Schoonover Bodyworks remains a successful, local, single-shop operation that’s going through a bit of a growth spurt. Schoonover is actively testing his expertise and leadership along the way.

“Growing this business is challenging,” he says. “We’re having to add more people. Gayle does the books, pays the bills, and she’s also the partner in this business and trying to make your life away from work easy—and still you know you’ve got the challenges ahead of adding more people and stress and workload.”

What shows through all those histories is a dedication to customer service and quality repair. And in the case of Schoonover Bodyworks, that dedication has stood the test of time. That’s the mark of a solid collision repair business, and this year, it’s the setting for the 2022 FenderBender Award winner, Mike Schoonover.

An Evolving Brand

Schoonover Bodyworks maintained its high level of quality after Mike Schoonover took over as owner. But he wasn’t afraid to make some changes. After experimenting with a mobile glass repair and installation setup, Schoonover brought glass in-house. That coincided with another change.

“That kind of turned into, ‘As long as your car is here, we can change your oil or rotate your tires,’” he says.

Schoonover started offering some maintenance services, creating a true one-stop shop that’s not as common for collision repairers. The shop offers air conditioning service, alignments, brake work, oil changes, shock and strut replacement, steering and suspension work, and more. It was a lot to take on for the 14,000-square-foot business in Shoreview, Minnesota. 

Schoonover’s team became really thrifty with space when they started working on ADAS components about five years ago. The shop became an early adopter of in-house ADAS work.

“We started doing that stuff in-house maybe four or five years ago,” Schoonover says. “We do the pre-and post-scans and are able to do most calibrations in-house.”

Space concerns become acute when working with ADAS. Schoonover says that they often plan a shop day around calibration work in order to clear the space required to perform them.

The motivation to bring all these processes into the shop stems from the idea that true quality control is to have those processes happen at your business. Schoonover doesn’t want to stake his business’ reputation on outsourced work or processes. 

“Dad taught me this at a young age: The more you can do under one roof, the better you can be,” he says.

Given the ambitious service menu at Schoonover Bodyworks, it’s no wonder that the shop is due for an expansion.

It wasn’t a straightforward process. For years, Schoonover’s father still owned the building. He says that it wasn’t right to push for an expansion without ownership of the real estate. They ended up turning down business when the backlog grew too large.

“Years ago, we had a need to grow, because our business was flourishing,” he says. “We wanted to add more people, we were running into backlogs.”

In 2020, the Schoonovers finally purchased the building. But then came another decision. They received multiple buyout offers for the longtime family business. The incentives to take the cash and exit can be tempting. But with all the foundation the Schoonovers had made in the business, it wasn’t realistic to walk away.

“I think it would be cool to see what this business can do with the dream that we had of making it bigger and better,” Schoonover says.

He and Gayle remained in place and made plans to create the space for their ambitious one-stop shop outlook. This summer, those plans turned into action, and crews broke ground to add an additional 7,000 square feet or so to the space. The shop continues to evolve in a competitive marketplace.

“I think our customers have appreciated it. We welcome competition,” Schoonover says. “A lot of folks said back in the day that big consolidators are going to drive us out of business, and I don’t think that’s the case at all. Consolidators have pushed us to be better.”

Industry Growth

Schoonover has a long list of industry affiliations, both locally and nationally. Around 2007, he got an opportunity to join the prestigious I-CAR Board of Directors as a representative from the Automotive Service Association.

A Twin Cities colleague asked Schoonover to take on that role. It was Darrell Amberson, president of operations for LaMettry’s Collision. Around 2007, Amberson had established his tenure at ASA leadership, and a board position opened up at I-CAR to represent ASA. 

Schoonover says he was honored to be asked to join, and he took the opportunity. The experience turned out to be worthwhile.

“Being a part of the I-CAR board of directors on behalf of ASA was probably my most favorite, just because there were a lot of people on the board who were way smarter than me,” Schoonover says. “Executives from different companies that serve the collision repair industry. Those people were brilliant.”

Amberson says that Schoonover was perfect for the position.

“Very good operator, very conscientious,” Amberson says of Schoonover. “Very high standards of integrity and intelligence. He loves the business.”

Amberson says that the high standard of professionalism runs in the Schoonover family. Schoonover’s father, Dick, was among a group of Twin Cities collision repair operators who sought to elevate the profile of the industry, battling the perception of the “grease monkey” and promoting one of intelligent business leaders. Dick Schoonover passed away in 2020.

Amberson says that Mike Schoonover carries that torch, acting with professionalism and pride in the work. Part of that characteristic is the inability to let mistakes pass. Amberson tells one story about a shop visit years ago in Michigan. The visit was part of a CAPA committee, and the hosting shop belonged to the CEO at the time.

Part of the visit included a look at test fitting for parts to ensure that they meet strict OEM specifications for thickness, corrosion resistance, and other factors.

“We’re in this room, and pretty soon Mike speaks up and says, ‘Look at this hood over here,’” Amberson says.

The hood wasn’t fitting as it should during this parts fitting presentation. It was a bit of an embarrassment for the host, but it shows Shoonover’s dedication to quality.

Though Amberson and Schoonover operate in the same metro area, it’s the larger goal of elevating an industry that binds them.

“It’s what we should be doing. When it comes to competing with the customer, we’re each going to try and make the sale,” Amberson says. “But at the same time, we should all be working on making the industry better, making it safer, and doing right by the consumer.”

Play For Patrick

Patrick Schoonover scored the first goal in a youth hockey game on Nov. 14, 2014. Schoonover and Gayle were at the game. Moments after the goal, Patrick died on the ice. He had complications related to an undetected heart defect. 

“When they brought him to the hospital, they weren’t able to revive him,” Schoonover says. “He had two issues with his heart, and even if it happened when he was in an emergency room and that happened with his heart, they wouldn’t have been able to bring him back.”

It was a devastating blow to the family, their friends, and the Minnesota youth hockey community. Through the pain and healing processes, a community of professionals started rallying around the case. A family member was seeing a cardiologist, who offered to help educate others on heart health and regular checks. That’s how the Foundation started.

“That was when we met with that cardiologist, and we decided that we didn’t want another family to feel what we were going through,” Schoonover says. “We started a foundation in Patrick's name and started doing heart screenings.”

The Patrick Schoonover Heart Foundation is the result of the work by the Schoonovers, volunteer cardiologists, and a network of supporters. The Foundation sets up heart screening events for kids to identify potential issues—like the one that went undetected in Patrick.

Through spring 2022, the Foundation has held 25 screens for 4,178 kids. More than 500 of those kids were found to have elevated blood pressure or some signs of an abnormality, leading them to pursue other health checks that are potentially life-saving. 

“Those 4,100 kids have been screened. A lot of them have been screened and they know that they’re OK,” Schoonover says. “And there are more kids who now know that they have an issue that needs to be dealt with, either severe or minor. And they’re going to pay attention.”

The foundation encourages those athletic kids to Play for Patrick. That extension of help to others is right in line with Patrick’s character, Schoonver says.

“We like to think that he’s helping and looking out for other kids,” he says. “In real life, he was one that would look out for other kids or other teammates. Just a competitor and great all-around kid. We feel as though he would be happy.”

The Family Business

Schoonover is extremely proud of the family business. He says that their focus is to sharpen their single-shop operation to be the best and most comprehensive offering for the local clientele, who view local ownership as a strong incentive.

“With everything that’s gone on in the past couple years in the world, the appreciation for family-owned businesses has gone up dramatically,” Schoonover says.

While it can be a selling point to have ownership under the same shop roof as the customer, it also means that the engine for growth must come from within. That’s the challenge for detail-oriented, driven operators like the Schoonovers. 

The family business is flourishing, and it’s also extending into other industries. It’s funny how life events ripple over time. Back in 2014, the Schoonovers’ daughter, Anna, played in a high school lacrosse tournament days after Patrick’s death. It was an emotional time, but that tournament helped her to land a spot on a Division I college team.

That college education helped Anna to develop and pursue a passion for cardiac care. Now a working professional, she now works for Medtronic, a large medical device company, helping to improve the cardiac products there.

“Her whole purpose was her brother,” Schoonover says. “And now she’s in cardiac care, and now Medtronic is aware of what we’re doing through Play for Patrick and Anna.”

So what is the family business for the Schoonovers? It might not be limited to one line of work, but when a Schoonover sets their mind on a task, the track record shows that they will do it right.

About the Author

Matt Hudson | Content Director

Matt Hudson is the former group editorial director for Endeavor Business Media, publisher of FenderBender, Ratchet + Wrench, NOLN, Modern Tire Dealer, Professional Tool & Equipment News, Professional Distributor, and the VehicleServicePros website.

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