Like many entrepreneurs, Ken Rogers’s love of painting began in a familiar place: his family’s garage. His father ran a mechanical shop and once that closed, Rogers found himself surrounded by dozens of paint cans and shop supplies at home.
“I’d play chemist, mixing paint and tackling my friends’ bicycles,” he says.
He then decided to take some vocational courses in high school. He was an honor roll student but more interested in getting his hands on raw materials. Things moved pretty fast after that: graduation and a shop job, learning anything and everything (“Sanding; wet sanding; buffing; body work and paint prep”) about collision repair and refinish. A couple scars on the hands to show for it.
Fast forward a few more years: marriage. An appraisal company formed and sold. And then KB Collision, a once-joint venture taken over by Rogers which accounts for the B in the name; that guy left. Rogers—and the name—stayed.
“Over the years, people just decided that was my nickname,” Rogers says, “KB.” They take guesses at the K—kids? Kustom? Katherine with a K, opposed to his wife’s spelling with a C?
“Nope,” Rogers says, laughing away over a decade of ownership and growth, “not even close.”
Great Expectations versus Reality
Today, KB Collision sits at the intersection of custom, collision and quality about 50 miles due west of Chicago.
“We’re not exclusively custom,” Rogers says.
“When we started fifteen years ago, we didn’t advertise and we focused on vintage race cars; Lolas and some old Ferrari and Lotus stuff. As it progressed, the shop morphed into a mix of collision and restoration.”
Rogers notes that his passion lies in custom work, but in the small exo suburb of Sugar Grove (pop: 14,000), Rogers focuses on quality. KB Collision isn’t on any direct repair list and he still doesn’t advertise, but they keep plenty busy.
“But we look at the small community and try to provide a service to people,” he says, “and so far the business plan works.”
Rogers says he’s managed to make some clients angry because some shops simply churn out as much work as possible and promise the world in three days, which is something he simply refuses to do; “I’d rather call people and tell them why their car isn’t done,” he says, “and we don’t get complaints ever about quality or price; if anything, the complaint is ‘the repair took longer than I expected, but I’m pleased with the work.’ ”
So no complaint at all, really.
Like many owners, Rogers is torn between what people imagine his job to be and what it actually is, which is managing expectations. He’s critical of the rise of repair and refinish shows and the average enthusiast whose only experience is DVRing last week’s episode.
“Coast to coast, these shows showcase these beautiful vehicles catching the sunlight post-repair and it all seems to happen overnight,” he says. “To manage that expectation is crucial; we tell people they’re here because they know about the quality, not because we’re the cheapest.”
He also laughs at what makes people call the shop back after a successful repair or restoration—the complimentary 20-minute detailing.
“Not the perfect alignment of newly welded panels; not the 100 percent color match,” he says. “No, they’re thrilled we vacuumed the Cheerios out of the back seat!”
It’s easy to hear him shaking his head as he says this; it’s a shake many owners and painters know all too well.
All in the Family
Today, KB Collision employs three full-time employees as well as Rogers’s 16-year-old son, Kyle, whom he describes as his right-hand man as he learns body work and paint prep. And though he now nabs a paycheck, Kyle has been showing up at the shop since he was a preschooler. Like his father before him, his experience is that of a family-owned shop, from dusk ‘til detailing. His wife, Catherine, handles much of the front office work and initial estimating. It’s a philosophy Rogers works hard to cultivate.
“A person’s car is an extension of themselves,” he says. “If they wreck their car, you’d think they’d lost a family pet and they’re often devastated. We want to be their advocate with their insurance company and stress the relationship with the customer and make sure they’re made whole. It’s very rewarding.”
Looking ahead, Rogers is actively looking for a female painter to join the team.
“I’m tired of the egos of the guys,” he says, “and the women in this industry are fun to work with and bring a whole different dynamic to the shop.”
If you know any, send ‘em to Sugar Grove. There’s a custom ‘70 SS Chevelle waiting to be painted, detailed and delivered. There’s work to be done.
See more of KB Collision on Instagram: @KB_Collision
Also from Painter's Playbook