2023 Best Workplaces: Don's Body Shop

March 1, 2023
It's the little things at Don's Body Shop that have helped build a strong shop culture that keeps employees coming back.

SHOP STATS: Don's Body Shop  Location: Olathe, KS  Owner: Grant and Shannon Sunday  Average Monthly Car Count: 72  Staff Size: 16  Shop Size: 10,000 square feet  Average Repair Order: $3,472  Annual Revenue: $3 million

Don’s Body Shop closes at 5:30 p.m. on Fridays, but you wouldn’t be able to tell if you stepped into the shop.  

At the conclusion of most weeks, you can find a large group of the shop’s 16 employees still there. The wrenches, paint guns and tablets are put away—and the whiskey is out.  

It started with just two employees looking to unwind after a stressful week and has since blossomed into a near company-wide routine.  

“Whiskey Fridays,” they call it. Employees rotate bringing in a bottle and the crew does a tasting after the shop closes. It’s a time to decompress after the week and talk about work, life and everything in between. Normally the group hangs around for about an hour.  

“It’s not a shop that everyone races away from on Friday,” co-owner Grant Sunday said. “And I’m not a whiskey guy, but I’m absolutely part of their team. It’s really enjoyable time.” 

That event captures the essence of what Sunday and his wife and co-owner Shannon have tried to build the shop’s culture to be: A laid-back, family-type environment that prioritizes work when it’s necessary but is intentional about cultivating and fostering relationships among the team. It’s what earned them a place among FenderBender’s 2023 Best Workplaces.  

Updating and Maintaining 

Grant Sunday has worked inside the walls of the 10,000-square-foot facility in Olathe, Kansas, since right around the turn of the century. Sunday spent about 10 years as a technician at the shop before he bought it from the original owner in 2010.  

His goal? Maintain the family-style culture that the original owner put in place, but re-prioritize investing back into the shop and its employees.   

“When I first started, it was old fashioned, good old boy, no formal plans or goals,” said Jay Stone, an estimator, who has worked in the shop for 11 years and joined right as Sunday was taking full control of the shop. “They’ve taken it into a new direction. We have yearly goals that three of us sit down and talk about. The amount of things they’ve put back into the shop, whether it’s tools or certifications, is great.” 

It was something that wasn’t at the top of the previous owners' to-do lists and something Sunday wanted for himself when he was a technician and now wanted to provide for his employees. But it took time.  

The first three years of owning the shop were “extremely difficult,” Sunday said. Much of the existing staff turned over and he was tasked with re-tooling his team without much experience. Sticking to the appeal of a laid-back atmosphere, he was able to build the employee base back up and slowly but surely invest back into the facility. The shop went from doing about $1.5 million in sales in his first year to $3 million by the end of the third year. 

Sunday credits the culture and the shop’s upgraded equipment for helping them get through their latest trials and tribulations. COVID has inflated prices and employee costs and strained parts supplies which has put almost every independent shop in a pinch. On top of that, some of the national MSOs entered the Kansas City market right as the pandemic hit. Gerber, Crash Champions and Caliber are all competitors in the larger metro market.  

That has required the Sundays to be more diligent about what they pay. Grant says they check pay rates for the surrounding shops about every six months to make sure they are still competitive. If they’re falling behind, they bump up the rates. The shop’s ultimate goal is to have the highest-paid employees in the market.  

But what Sunday sees as an advantage for the shop, and something that hasn’t changed, is how the culture can attract.  

“The way we treat people has never changed,” he said. “We’ve always taken good care of employees.” 

Little Things Go a Long Way 

Employees at Don’s Body Shop receive a range of benefits, but it’s taken time for the Sundays to build that arsenal. As the shop went through its growing pains in the initial years under their ownership, they couldn’t offer everything all at once.  

“We really did what was financially within our constraints,” Grant said. “Anytime we could add something we did.” 

“You need to be in tune with your numbers,” said Shannon, who handles most of the back-of-the-house work.  

After working at the shop for three years, an employee will have 100% of his or her health insurance covered. The team gets yearly Christmas bonuses and Grant and Shannon host different events throughout the year for employees. After 10 years, the shop will foot the bill for an all-expenses-paid long weekend to the destination of the employee’s choice.  

But the standard benefits are not what get employees’ attention.  

“People are grateful for the benefits, but it’s the small things,” said Stone, who has taken on a managerial role in the shop. “They’ll cater in shop lunch or breakfast. In the summer we’ll close early and have a lake day. Those go further than the benefits.” 

Stone has worked at the shop for 11 years. He’s one of the longest-tenured employees in the shop, which has an average tenure of about 4.5 years. Those small things are part of the reason he thinks people continue to stay at the shop.  

Most employees don’t think about their health benefits daily, Stone said. It’s not as tangible. The small, reoccurring acts that constantly reinforce Grant and Shannon’s commitment to the employees is what stands out.  

It’s allowing things like music to be played in the back of the shop and the “Whiskey Fridays” that are a constant reminder employees can be themselves at work and can thrive.  

“It’s really laid back, always with some sort of music going,” Stone said. “They’ll be joking and then they’ll put their heads down when they need to.” 

It’s also the reinvestment into the employees. Grant sent the entire team to work with a leadership coach several years back.  

“Some of them loved it, some were uncomfortable with it, but they’ve all done it, and it created a bond,” Grant said.  

From the Ground Up 

Grant’s hiring philosophy differs from most. Unless absolutely necessary, he tries to avoid hiring employees from other shops.  

“I don’t hire people that are already in the industry,” he said. “We have an apprentice program. If we need help, that’s where we start.” 

Grant estimates they take on a new apprentice about once a year. He works with them personally in the shop for the first month, then he assigns them to one of his more experienced techs. And to incentivize the tech to teach them, whatever profit the apprentice produces goes to that technician.  

Trey Wadkins began in that program about nine years ago. He was 22. Now he’s one of the team’s top technicians.  

“It helped me build my confidence and ability,” Wadkins said.  

Some apprentices have turned into technicians, others estimators. It’s a core business tactic for Don’s Body Shop.  

Only under extreme hiring pressures will Grant look for outside help. Grant acknowledges the strategy comes with pros and cons.  

“I think it benefits us and hurts us. It benefits us in our culture and probably the reason we’ve had a lot of long-term techs,” Grant said. “But the reality is we’re not going to be as profitable.” 

It’s a reality he’s happy to live in as he focuses on the long-term growth of the company. It further emphasizes the investment the shop is making in its employees and in turn the investment that many employees have made in staying with the shop.  

Grant also feels it’s part of a larger responsibility to the industry. He is on the advisory committee for the Olathe Advanced Technical Center and the KCKCC-TEC Auto Collision Repair Department. Shannon is a member of the Women’s Industry Network and attends the annual conference to connect with women in the collision repair industry. 

“We’re looking to better the industry,” Grant said. “We try to help the problem, not be a part of it.” 

Sponsored Recommendations

Best Body Shop and the 360-Degree-Concept

Spanesi ‘360-Degree-Concept’ Enables Kansas Body Shop to Complete High-Quality Repairs

How Fender Bender Operator of the Year, Morrow Collision Center, Achieves Their Spot-On Measurements

Learn how Fender Bender Operator of the Year, Morrison Collision Center, equipped their new collision facility with “sleek and modern” equipment and tools from Spanesi Americas...

ADAS Applications: What They Are & What They Do

Learn how ADAS utilizes sensors such as radar, sonar, lidar and cameras to perceive the world around the vehicle, and either provide critical information to the driver or take...

Banking on Bigger Profits with a Heavy-Duty Truck Paint Booth

The addition of a heavy-duty paint booth for oversized trucks & vehicles can open the door to new or expanded service opportunities.