My Biggest Decision

July 28, 2023
Two shop owners look back on their choices to join national networks.

Every business owner starts out with a vision. Where that vision comes from varies. It could be following in the example of a mentor, or it could even be the opposite. Perhaps a cautionary tale from early in an owner’s collision repair career demonstrated the wrong way to run a business. Often, it’s a combination of experiences.  

For Tyler Griffiths, as soon as he began his journey to ownership as a general manager in 2017, he knew what name he wanted hanging on the building. 

“I joined CARSTAR in Yelm [Washington] in 2017, I ran that store until 2021 when I bought my store in April, and my goal was to become a CARSTAR,” says Griffiths, owner of CARSTAR Hub City Collision in Centralia, Washington. “That was my goal when I jumped off from that, I said I'm going to become a CARSTAR. How long is it going to take me? I don't know.” 

Whether it is a goal from the very beginning or a product of changing circumstances, the decision to partner with a national franchise is a big one. These partnerships take many different forms, but essentially offer the same benefits: Greater access to resources and relationships that can potentially take a business to the next level. 

Elsewhere in the state of Washington but on the other end of the spectrum in years in business compared to Griffiths, Kevin House joined up with 1Collision’s network of locations roughly 18 months ago. House opened Center Collision in Tacoma, Washington, in 1995, and had been a part of repair networks before. Like CARSTAR, 1Collision offers the benefits of working under a corporate umbrella while retaining independent ownership. For House, it was an opportunity to enhance a business he’d already built into a success over more than 25 years. 

“I believe everybody needs to have—it's like any football player that really thrives, they have to have a coach,” says House. “So many guys get into this industry and think, ‘OK, I've gotten as far as I can on my own. … I think everybody needs some help and guidance and some different perspectives on things.” 

FenderBender explored the perspectives of these owners and why they made the decision to partner with their respective networks, how it’s been and how they’re looking toward the future. 

CARSTAR Rock Star 

An accumulation of experience was very much a part of the journey to ownership for Griffiths, who grew up building motors with his grandfather before deciding he didn’t want to be a mechanic. He served nearly a decade in the military, doing everything from sweeping for bombs to working as a water treatment specialist, but nothing mechanical. After leaving the service he went back to school for collision repair, gradually working his way into a GM position. It was in that role in a CARSTAR shop he saw the benefits that would one day affect him as an owner. 

“I went to some of the business meetings, and just seeing how much support you have behind you was huge,” recalls Griffiths. “It was like night and day of, why would I even want to be a ma and pa when you have so [many] connections and so much support behind you that they're willing to help you and engage you to be successful.” 

Griffiths found what he thought would be the perfect spot for his new business, a former laundromat in Centralia that he purchased in April of 2021. The building dated back to the 1920s and maintenance had not been kept up to par, Griffiths says. He gutted the building, put up new walls to reorient the space and put a coat of paint on the outside. But when CARSTAR showed up to take a look, Griffiths found he still had a way to go. 

“They're like, ‘Yeah, this ain't going to happen. We're not going to put CARSTAR on the front of this,’” says Griffiths. “And I'm like, well, what is it going to take? What do I have to do to become a CARSTAR? And they're like, ‘Well, you need to do this, this and this.’ OK, I said, give me three months.” 

After the building was squared away, and his financials were examined and fees were sorted, Hub City officially became a CARSTAR shop in November 2021. Griffiths says that while CARSTAR was always his goal, he did his research on all the other large networks to see what they offered and what they required. He favored CARSTAR’s “family-friendly” approach and the support the network offered for his growing business. 

“If you have questions, you can make a phone call,” says Griffiths. 

While making sure he was up to the franchise standard, Griffiths appreciated the tools and resources he had access to as a part of the network. There was also a lot of guidance in the transition process, with a dedicated integration manager. One thing Griffiths would caution new owners about is the transition time, three months is the standard but Griffiths recommends five months. 

“Why is because there's so much information,” says Griffiths. “And so much you have to learn, to understand, to make yourself successful. Why I was able to do it so quick in three months is I came from a CARSTAR. So I knew a lot of the reportings, I knew all the ins and outs of the backside of it. But if you don't know, you're going to be kind of lost after they kind of let you go on your own.” 

Griffiths’ goal is to build a long-lasting shop that his children can inherit one day. That means becoming a pillar of the community, and establishing an identity. While CARSTAR has its brand standards, it was important to Griffiths to be able to communicate his business’ own identity as well. 

“I wanted the 'veteran owned' sign in my CARSTAR sign,” Griffith says. “So we were able to work something out with the colors and I was able to beside my CARSTAR sign put 'veteran' down. As long as you have the communication and keep it open with CARSTAR, there's no ifs, ands or buts about it, they'll help you along.” 

Blueprint to Success 

Working with outside consultants is what helped Kevin House transform his business from zero employees to 13, from $300,000 a year to north of $3 million. A 12-year partnership with DRIVE is what he credits in taking Center Collision to the next level and two locations across Tacoma. But at a certain point, he felt he had learned all he could, and a friend suggested while at the FenderBender Management Conference that House meet 1Collision Director of New Location Development John Hollingsworth. 

The terms sounded good, but House was hesitant to lock into any kind of long-term commitment with something new. Hollingsworth reassured him that after an initial three-month commitment, the partnership would be month to month.  

“I'm a guy that will really advocate your product if I like it,” says House. “But if I don't like it, if it’s not doing me good, I don't want to be paying for something like that.” 

Soon after coming on board, House was impressed with the amount of in-house training available to shops. House had sent employees out to training before, and though he had no regrets, it was at a significant expense. Having a professional trainer come out to the shop meant no employees had to miss time and it was just a better learning environment to stay hands-on in their own shop. 

“Sending somebody out to our shop and spending time in our shop and getting to know our operation—and they weren't necessarily trying to change things, they're just trying to understand it, and made sure that we had good workflow, and that, if we had questions, they would have some options,” says House. 

One particularly helpful area of training for the shop was in blueprinting. What once seemed like a difficult process to implement was made simpler while employees also learned the importance of it. That’s left a lasting impact that the shop has seen pay dividends long after the trainer left. 

“He spent time with each of our employees that were involved in the blueprinting process and just made sure that they understood the importance of it,” House says. “Slow down enough to do a good thorough job, rather than, let's just rush through this so we can get to the repair, because you always end up circling back and like, shoot, should have caught that in the blueprinting process, now we've got to wait two weeks to order this specific part. So that was just a big thing for us.” 

House credits the improvement in their blueprinting as a key factor in the shop expanding to a second building. The reasoning was the new process greatly increased their efficiency and production.  

“With the help of 1Collision we were able to overcome the blueprinting thing and give us a point where we were being more productive and able to have a little bit of a brighter future,” says House. “Like, OK, well, yeah, this being the case, now that we know we can do this and that, we can clearly see that we're going to just keep growing.” 

Both shop owners stressed the importance of having access to information as a key in their decisions to join their respective networks. Whether it was a quick phone call for advice or a having a trainer in the shop to work hand in hand with employees, both Griffiths and House feel that their decision has elevated their business growth. Neither one is looking back. 

“You could do it the hard way or the easy way,” says House. “Why would you choose the hard way?”