Building A New Body Shop

The purpose of this article, and the subsequent follow ups I will be writing, is to share with our customers what we hope will be valuable information in not only starting but running a successful collision repair facility.

When someone decides they are going to start a business, it usually comes from the thought that “Hey…not only can I do that…but I can do it better than the other guy….AND I can make some money doing it.” As such, the entrepreneurial spirit in us kicks in. We put together a business plan, we weigh the options of cost/loss versus profit and we decide to roll the dice, as it were, because we know we can build a better mouse trap. It is this spirit that drives us all in business.

In starting a collision repair facility, there are essentially two schools of thought. The first being the “corporate” path where one looks to build large scale, borrowing heavily either from banks or investors to finance the designing, building, staffing and managing of a larger facility. The second, and far more common is the “mom and pop” approach. Now arguments can be made as to which one is better for the ROI of the investment, but I tend to believe that the smaller shop is a better investment, long term for the ownership. I recently spoke with a long-time customer of mine about his thoughts on a start up body shop. He had successfully expanded and maintained a very large facility over the past 20 years. His annual gross numbers are well above 2 million. When I asked him his opinion on a best case scenario for starting a body shop, I was surprised to hear that his views are very much like mine considering he chose the “corporate” method and it has done extremely well for him.

When my friend Robert went to the bank 8 years ago, he was asking to borrow about one million dollars to build his new shop. He was looking at increasing the size of his operation by over four times its current state. Expanding his operation from a 4200 square feet facility to a building well over 22,000 square feet was a mammoth undertaking. He rolled the dice, borrowed heavily and has since made a very good living for himself as well as his employees. Yet when asked if he would recommend doing the “corporate” start up, he said he would not and that the “mom & pop” approach was a much better decision for a new shop owner. As we discussed the issue over a few phone calls, these were some of the key points we agreed upon.

1. You should not start any business without a business plan and you will not borrow money from a bank for a new business without a business plan, period. My advice is to seek professional help on this. Look to the Small Business Administration to help you with establishing your plan. They have a large library of “how do I’s” for the small business starter. They can recommend advisors, give ideas about money management and in some case help you secure some funding sources to help in the startup process. Additionally, with the current economy having banks scared of lending money to anyone regardless of your credit score, borrowing history or cash flow, they can help you solidify your smaller business plan. Also getting a bank to lend you a smaller amount of money maybe a little easier if you have a well thought out and structured business plan as long as they feel comfortable with the amounts and the diligence you have put into the research of the plan. Be sure to include studies of the surrounding marketplace. How many other shops are in an immediate proximity to your proposed location? Is there sufficient egress to the property via main intersections or other businesses in the area that can generate potential “drive by” advertising for you? Do you plan to build or perhaps lease an existing building?

Have you made any contacts with potential clients such as rental companies, delivery companies, cab companies, or perhaps municipalities for bid work? Getting secured, contracted work will add bottom line receivables to your business that banks like to see. Be sure to approach suppliers and work out some soft numbers for discounts on parts and materials so you know your margins based on percentages. As you are looking for a location or perhaps looking to build, remember that you can always expand if the business calls for it. Avoid going into “building” debt and not being able to afford to install the necessary tools you need for opening day. Try not to over extend your business on Day 1 by over borrowing. Establish the track record with the lender by borrowing what you need to get your shop up and running and perhaps a small operating cushion. Sell them on the fact that you will be profitable quickly.

2. You will need to further decide how your business plan will be incorporated into a complete business model for your shop. A common misconception is that “bigger makes more money”. This can be true as we see in the larger consolidators. It means, however, as we are starting up more cost, higher risk and an inability, far too often, to survive. Start with what you know. Perhaps you are a good painter/body man. You have a good body man ready to come on board. Perhaps another fellow is a frame man. All you need is a small space, perhaps three bays, a small Chief rack and a paint booth to make it all happen. It is as simple as that. Start small and grow. Do not over commit unless you have something you can fall back on. In Robert’s case, he was maintaining his original shop while he expanded and built his new shop. As you establish your business, your customer base and your reputation, you will see opportunities to expand as your bottom line grows.

3. Pay “cash” as much as possible until you have established your cash flow patterns. Many shops I have talked to over the years get strangled in a cash flow net. It is easy to do regardless of the industry but in our collision repair industry, it happens more than most due to the nature of the business. Fronting repair costs of parts and labor, awaiting payment for past repairs, fleet accounts that pay on 30 or 60 notes or getting stuck with abandoned vehicles are only few of the problems shops face. These and many more lead to faster cash out and slower cash in. So do what you can to minimize credit exposure. Pay cash for parts when possible. Try not to give away profits by “financing” deductibles whenever you can. As you establish your profit margins, you could consider this as an alternate revenue source but I caution against it in a start up shop.

4. Try not to bog your shop down with “stall sitters” such as severe hits or restoration projects. If you have the physical space to store them or move them easily from the work areas, it isn’t a big deal but remember, we are looking at a small shop scenario. The longer a car sits on the frame rack or in a tear down stall waiting on another car to come out means higher turn time and less flow through your shop. Try to establish a quick fix mentality. “Hang and Paint” repairs, while considerably less dollar amounts, tend to be as high or higher profit percentage than heavy hits. The turn time for fender benders is obviously less and can lead to attracting clients such as rental companies or service companies that need their vehicles on the road. A faster turn time for repairs on a rental car equates to more money for the rental company. This can obviously lead to more work in volume from the rental company to your shop. So consider keeping a streamlined process to handle smaller hits more efficiently to be more profitable. I am not suggesting you turn work away but rather be a little selective on the scheduling if you can.

5. Work to make sure your customers are the top priority in your business. They are the reason you are here. Go the extra mile. Make them realize they came to your business for a reason. A business man I know is fond of saying “the difference in ordinary and extraordinary is the extra.” When you think about it, it is the extra things one does for the customer that offsets them from the competition. Taking care of your customer is the easiest way to secure another customer. Generations of family member continue to take their vehicles the same shop because they have an attachment to the repair facility by some means. If you can establish that type of relationship by taking care of the extras, you can grow your client base laterally without much cost. Remember, every job we do in a body shop is like a rolling billboard for the next potential customer. Friends know that “Joe Consumer” wrecked his car. When they ask, you clearly want “Joe” to tell them that every aspect of the repair process was handled professionally, quickly and without incident. Since on the average, drivers only come to need repairs done once every 7 years. That is a long stretch if you are not ambitiously going after more customers. You do this by taking care of the details, the extras.

While these steps might seem simplistically drawn out, they are the cornerstone to a thriving business. What needs to be understood is that there are a lot of moving parts to getting a shop open. These are more fundamental practices. In my next article, we are going to get more involved with the actual shop set up, discuss DRP relationship and how we go about marketing to the public for our new body shop.

Do You Really Know What Business Marketing Is?

There are countless books and courses on marketing and how to do it properly. You’ve probably read or attended some yourself. But, do you feel like you have a good grasp of marketing?Do you fully understand all the processes involved and how to best apply them to your company? When all the cards are on the table, most small-to-medium businesses don’t. Or at the very least, they understand these concepts.What Is Business Marketing?
Everything a business does, everything you do to sell products and services – is marketing. Every decision you make, if it’s about how to put your products or services in the hands of consumers, is business marketing.The foundations of marketing are relatively easy to explain and understand. But mastering these essential concepts can mean the difference between success and failure.You don’t have to micromanage all marketing that your business does. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to hire a professional. However, that doesn’t replace the need to have a solid knowledge of marketing strategy. Business owners should always have a proactive role in their company’s marketing tactics.Essential Components of a Good Marketing Strategy
Not all marketing concepts will apply to every business. Some will be more relevant than others, but as an entrepreneur you should be familiar with all of them.Inbound Marketing
Think of inbound marketing as your workhorse.It’s a set of marketing tactics designed to maintain a steady influx of customers into your sales process. This isn’t about pushing your brand to generate leads or direct conversion.Inbound marketing uses various channels in creative ways to reach as many people as possible. Tools such as SEO optimization and social media channels are ideal for this type of marketing. The goal is to drive high volumes of quality traffic that can convert through brand engagement in the long run.Direct Marketing
If inbound marketing is your workhorse, think of direct marketing as your racehorse.Direct marketing includes sales tactics designed to produce an instant response. Things like calls to action in online or broadcast media fall into this category.Regardless of what else you do, direct marketing is an important part of any marketing strategy. It allows you to instantly measure success or failure based on response rates.Knowing how people are responding to one offering versus another is crucial.Outbound Marketing
This is where the rubber really meets the road.In outbound marketing, you’re reaching out to prospects and basically saying “buy from me.” This is typically what people think of when they hear the word marketing.Outbound marketing includes sales calls, print ads, broadcast ads, door-to-door sales and much more. Any activity in which you’re reaching out to potential customers with an offering figures into this definition.Though a staple in countless marketing strategies, it’s not very effective. It’s hard to figure out if it’s really working and people are getting savvier and blocking the majority of this type of marketing.Content Marketing
This is the new-old way to market.Most smart businesses realize that people are OK with marketing, as long as they get something in return. For example, if you create great content, consumers will be happy to hear from you.Therefore, every channel you have should start by giving value in return for your customers’ attention.Social Media Marketing
It is inescapable, omnipresent, and pervasive.Marketing is about getting attention. If you can’t get people’s attention, you have no one to market to.The biggest attention vacuums nowadays are social media platforms. It goes without saying that any marketing strategy that doesn’t include social media, is off to a bad start.Start with Solid Foundations
Each of these components has its own place in the puzzle. Some may be more important to your business than others. But only by understanding them all can you find your way out of the marketing madness.Don’t be a passive business owner. Take charge of your marketing strategies and stop wasting resources on marketing that doesn’t deliver.

Promote Your Photography Sites – Part 1

You may have spent a great deal of time and money creating the perfect Website – your photography images may be superb, but if people cannot find your site your images and talent along with your business may become a white elephant.Promoting your Website is not that difficult but will take up some of your precious time. My advice for you is to set out a few hours per week for this.If your Website is new the chances are that Google, Yahoo or any search engine won’t index your site for a few months. And it may even take several months before they place it to appear when someone types in a search phrase that suits your site. So you need to give your photographs and business a reasonable chance of getting paying customers.When a search engine index’s your Website it looks to see how many links point to your site. The more links you can create the better your site will rank, but only if they are the right kind of links. Don’t spend hours and hours online getting thousands of standard ordinary links. Get links that relate to your site. Get links from other photography sites.Photography Directories are a great way of creating free advertisement for your site and also a great way of getting valuable links to your site that search engines will recognise.Before you submit your Website to directories, research the correct keywords that best describe your site. If your photography site is Landscaped based you need to optimise your site correctly for the keywords Landscape photography.Once you are happy with which keywords best describe your site start submitting your site to Photography Directories. Most photography directories require a return link so you should create a links page for this alone.When you are submitting your website you need to use the correct keywords that best describe your site in the link title to your site. The link title will be the title on the submission form. You will also need to create a good definitive description for your site. This should be no more than twenty-five words and should start with the keywords that best describe your site. This is what people will read – this is where you sell your site – a good description will enable potential customers to enter your site.Once you have completed the form click submit and move on to the next directory. There are many good photography directories online – some specialised in certain areas of photography, more cover all areas of photography. Once you fill out the submission form correctly you will start to see the rewards.Some directories will charge you when creating a listing; my advice is to research such websites before you part with your hard earned cash. Stay away from link farms and link companies that offer you thousands of links – these sites don’t rank well with search engines and may harm your site in the long run.While photography directories are just one way of promoting your site; they are the easiest and quickest way to get started. Creating good quality inbound links to your site will help you achieve excellent search engine ranking for your site resulting in more and more traffic entering your photography site.In part 2 of Promoting your photography site, read how to gain exposure from entering photography competitions.