Collision Correction: From Side Hustle to Thriving Business 

May 21, 2024
Darryl Liechti’s shop is growing rapidly, thanks to his focus on customer-centric, honest operations.

Darryl Liechti has a problem. 

His shop — Collision Correction in Williamsburg, Virginia — has grown so fast that he will likely need to expand beyond his current 10,000 sq. ft. space in the next 18 to 24 months, only two years after taking the business full-time and establishing himself in his current location. 

It’s certainly a good “problem” to have, concedes Liechti, who spent eight years building Collision Correction as a side job, fixing friends and family member’s cars out of storage units and rented garage space while working full-time for other shops. By 2022, he’d gotten so busy that it was time to make a decision: take Collision Correction to the next level, or scale back and continue with the safe, steady job he had, letting the dream of shop ownership die in the process. 

As you may have guessed, he chose to take the leap into ownership…and he hasn’t looked back since. 

Chasing the Dream 

Liechti is the first to admit that the journey to owner/operator hasn’t been without its difficulties — there’s been plenty of moments of frustration and overwhelm, especially around the leasing and permitting needed to establish the current shop. But, like he always has, Liechti dug in and taught himself what he needed to know to make it happen. 

When you hear his story, it’s obvious that this determination and perseverance runs deep, and it’s a big reason why he’s arrived where he is today. 

After graduating from Universal Technical Institute’s collision repair program in Houston in 2005, Liechti moved back to Williamsburg and dove into work as a body man’s assistant, moving up to standalone tech three years later and team leader shortly after that. He seized every opportunity to learn about the business, even asking a previous manager to let him work in the front office when a workplace injury rendered him unable to work the floor, so he could see that side of operations firsthand. 

By the time Collision Correction was born, Liechti had gained enough experience to know that he wanted to be an owner someday. Seeing struggles with the front offices and customer experiences at other shops really motivated him to want to open his own business, he says.  

“I wanted the ability to control the customer experience from start to finish. You can do excellent work in the back, but if your customer has a poor experience, that reflects on the business as a whole.” 

Customer-Centric Service 

Liechti is incredibly proud of the fact that — first and foremost — Collision Correction is a “customer-centric” repair shop that always operates with honesty and integrity. 

It certainly hasn’t happened by accident, though (no pun intended). Liechti has spent countless hours creating standardized processes that ensure every customer gets the same excellent experience day in and day out. Even before he opened his doors, he’d run scenarios with mock customers to hone the process and determine what could be done better. 

“If you can find a way to mitigate with the customer, if you can be proactive instead of being reactive, they’re going to have an excellent experience, for sure.” 

Communication is key, he says, as is being upfront and honest no matter how difficult the conversation. Empathy goes a long way, too. Liechti and his team never lose sight of the fact that accidents are traumatic events for customers, and they treat them as such. 

He also makes it a priority to educate people about their repair and stay in touch throughout the process, often using automated text updates that both save his staff time and provide the customer with necessary information in a quick, efficient way. 

“I would say a good 90% of our customers, if not more, prefer text messages. It’s a win-win — they don't really want to be burdened with a phone call, so they're able to see at a quick glance what’s happening, and everything is documented. It's an easy reference point.”  

Things like virtual estimates and contact-free service are additional ways he goes above and beyond to meet the needs of his customers. And the team strictly adheres to OEM procedures throughout the repair process, to ensure the car is fixed in a safe manner, he adds. The shop is I-CAR Gold Class-recognized, and all the technicians are individual Platinum-recognized on top of having multiple manufacturer-specific certifications. 

Collision Correction isn’t part of any direct repair programs (DRPs), either, something Liechti says allows him to operate and repair vehicles as he sees fit without any outside interference. 

“The customer is our customer, not the insurance company. We are a DRP-free shop. We do not have any insurance relationships; we’re strictly independent. Because of that, we’re able to provide a level of customer service and quality that, in my opinion, is unmatched in our area.” 

It’s obvious his customers agree. Liechti has “never advertised a day in his life” — his entire business has been built through word-of-mouth referrals, a testament to the strong reputation he’s earned in the community. 

“Honest and highly professional.” 

“Darryl and his team are outstanding.” 

“The absolute best.” 

These are just a few of the ways customers describe the shop in their reviews. 

“We love the customer service and community aspect,” he says. “Williamsburg is a very small, business-oriented town. Every chance that we have to get involved in a local program or give back, we absolutely jump at it.” 

The shop recently partnered with GEICO and Enterprise Rent-A-Car, for example, to complete the repairs on a Transit van that will be used to pick up and deliver bikes to the less fortunate. And Liechti is interested in creating a program soon for local high school drivers to teach them what to do in the event of an accident. 

Not only that, but the team also makes it a priority to invest in other area businesses — every Friday they all leave the shop for an hour and go have lunch at a non-chain establishment, something they’ve done together for years to bolster the local economy. 

“We certainly appreciate our community and the love that they show us. We feel like it's our obligation to give back.” 

More Than a Team, a Family 

Liechti currently has a staff of eight: two collision techs, one painter, one shop helper, one CSR, one estimator/production manager, and himself and his wife, Cecile. 

It’s clear that the camaraderie he shares with his team is a big reason for his success, and it’s something he never takes for granted. 

“I'm very fortunate that all of the guys who work for me, we have been together for the last 15 years. We worked together at a few different shops on team-based systems.” 

When it came time to take Collision Correction full time, Liechti couldn’t imagine doing it with anyone but his friends. 

“I am forever grateful that they trusted the dream enough to come work with me and be the lifeblood of the business,” he says. “I'm very appreciative of the staff we have. We're a family; that's just what it boils down to.” 

Liechti says he knows exactly what he’ll get from each of his teammates day-to-day, and them from him. The mutual trust and respect that exist ease his job as a manager, and knowing the strength of each technician means work flows through the shop seamlessly. 

“Our technicians are true craftsmen who value continued training and new repair technologies. They’re 100% flat rate, so from a business standpoint, I know what work I can give this guy because he’s extremely efficient at it, and I know what this guy's extremely efficient at. They, in turn, make more money on a flat-rate pay scale, and the shop is more productive.” 

And speaking of family, Liechti calls Cecile his “rock” and the key to his success on a personal level. Not only does she handle the accounting and invoicing for the business, she’s also been Liechti’s number-one supporter from day one. 

“Even back in the days when I was renting storage units to repair friends and family’s vehicles, she would bring me dinner or lunch while I was doing that, understanding the sacrifice of missing out on time with her, or date nights, or things that got canceled because of the work. She understood the dream and stood beside me every step of the way to make it happen. I'm very blessed and thankful for my wife.” 

Keeping the Focus on Quality Long Term

As of now, Liechti says he doesn’t have any ambitions to become a multi-shop operator — he wants to keep a tight rein on quality control and remain customer-centric. When he does grow, he wants to “add value to the team, as opposed to just bodies.” 

He’s currently partnering with a local trade school — New Horizons — to provide an internship to one of their students. Liechti has learned a lot from mentors over the years, he says, and he wants to give back in the same way. He also hopes he’s training the next member of his staff in the process. 

“It’s really the best situation for us, because of our tight-knit group and the quality that we all expect out of each other daily. Raising someone up in our system who understands those core values, the honesty and the integrity, is ideal.”  

As for his advice for other shop owners? 

“Stay focused, keep an open mind, research the industry, try to stay on top of industry trends and convey that information and knowledge to customers, and always stay customer-centric.” 


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