Sandra Scarlette, owner of Pat’s Body Shop in Winston-Salem, N.C., got into the collision repair industry at 14—her brother, Pat, convinced her and her sister to learn a trade.
Scarlette, 63, has done that and then some. She worked with her brother until she bought the company from him in 1997. She kept the business in the family and continues to expand, establishing a name for herself in her town and in the industry. Since 2016, her shop has won first place in the repair industry category in the Winston-Salem Journal’s annual Reader’s Choice Awards. Pat’s Body Shop is nominated again for 2020.
Between her two businesses, Pat’s Body Shop and the just-opened Scarlette’s Performance, the volume of cars that come through each has increased greatly over the years. Scarlette’s Performance acts as a sister company to Pat’s Body Shop, swapping work between the two stores. She employs around 30 employees between the two operations, and plans to expand to 40 employees by next year.
Though Scarlette’s Performance opened in March as COVID-19 hit the country, both it and her body shop have weathered the pandemic. She didn’t have to lay off any of her employees, and worked to keep morale up through the slow months.
Aside from being a successful shop owner, Scarlette is also known around town for her custom car collection, which has taken her 10 years to build. Her “She Shed”, a spin on the man cave, houses eight Corvettes, a COPO Camaro, a ‘33 Ford street rod, and more. She works on them herself.
She’s also a bodybuilder, coming out of a 20-year retirement from the sport to compete for the first time last year. She trains four times a week, and plans to compete in nationals next year, working toward competing for her professional card. She compares climbing the ladder of bodybuilding, from amateur to professional, to climbing the ladder in the collision repair industry. FenderBender spoke with Scarlette about her unique path.
What motivates you in your life?
I do dream, I dream big. I just don’t think you should settle for mediocrity or being normal. I have been told I am too goal oriented. I just think you should continue to do, if you can grow you just keep growing. In truth, being a woman in this industry and being in management and ownership has been a challenge. And I like a challenge.
What is being a woman in the industry like?
I think now, especially since I have been doing it as long as I have, people know who I am just see me. But when I was in leadership work, managing leadership, I would have a lot of issues with guys, “You don’t know what you’re doin',” “I need to talk to a man,” “A woman’s got no business writing an estimate.”
What are some of your biggest professional accomplishments?
The towing and the mechanical. Adding full service to the shop, not having to sublet stuff to other people. We do just about everything in-house.
How did you grow Pat’s body shop into a full shop service?
We just started adding things. We added the mechanics, we run two full-time mechanics. Then we added the towing. Then I had to have somebody to work on diesel trucks to do my own repairs on my tow trucks. One thing led to another.
What does your management style look like?
I have a shop manager, a parts manager, and then I have a shop foreman and an interior guy that’s on his own, and then a tow manager.
How do you get everyone to work together and be on the same page?
We have regular managers’ meetings once a week. And then in the morning, everything on the body guys, we go over what we have, a log sheet, in the morning and then right before they leave in the afternoon. To make sure that we have got whatever came in that day, parts ordered for and everything taken care of. We do a lot of meetings.
Has that been something you worked on over the years?
Yes, yes. It used to be so bad. There would be cars sitting here for three or four days because no one knew they were here. When you have this much going on it is so easy to lose them. Years ago we weren’t on a shop management system. We’re on CCC shop manager now. And each car immediately gets an auto mate, each car has an estimator, each car has parts that that person has ordered. There’s all kinds of notes and files. So that helped tremendously.
How do you balance your time between Pat’s Body Shop and Scarlette’s Performance?
I’m at the performance shop on Tuesdays and Fridays, and then if they have something come up that I have to handle, then I go over there. We’re about 15 miles apart from the two businesses.
So you spend most of your time at Pat’s Body Shop?
Yes, this is home, this needs more handling. Over there we have seven employees, and it’s pretty much self-contained. It doesn't need managing like this place over here does. This is what I call my “Adult, Male Daycare Center,” and I pay the people to come here.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have had to overcome throughout your career?
9/11 was a big one, 2008 was terrible, and now this year with COVID. COVID has not impacted us like things in the past have. [It’s been] keeping everybody’s morale up and trying to find work to keep everybody busy so you don’t have to lay off anybody.
What was particularly challenging about 9/11 for you?
Feels like everybody was afraid to do anything. It was almost like you turn a water faucet on and off. It was just so dead. It was dead like that for two months. There just wasn’t anybody doing anything, everybody was scared to do anything. It was kind of like COVID. It put so much fear in people.
With Scarlette’s Performance, what was it like expanding?
Well, it was a bad thing when we started it. We were having our grand opening in March and COVID hit. So for two months we kind of sat over there and looked at each other. But we’ve got it going now and within about four weeks I’ve got seven employees there.
Where do you see your companies going in the future?
I see us expanding the performance shop, probably within the next year. And I see us having a new paint shop next year, I’ve already bought the land. We bought half an acre of land behind our main shop. We should start doing work in it next month, getting it ready to build and have it open. I’ve got two buildings beside us that were going to buy, probably six to seven months from now.
What’s going to go into those two buildings?
The first one will become my Corvette museum. I’ve got a “she shed” that I’ve got some of my stuff in, but it’s small. So, this one building is much larger. I like to collect little things like model cars, all kinds of Corvette stuff, and I just need somewhere to put them on display. So the first building will be that. The second building will become the body shop. Right now, I need to put on four more body men, and I have no space to put them.
What is some advice you could give others for their journey to success?
Don’t ever quit. That goes for your dreams, it goes for bodybuilding, for sports, whatever in life. Just don’t give up and don’t quit. There’s been a lot of times that it’d been real easy for me to have done that.