In last month’s edition of Autobody News we produced part one of this two-part series on alternatives to operating a body shop. Here are a few additional ideas on alternative but related options and the conclusion of this series.
Work For an OE: Car makers have a lot of people on the payroll - a lot of people with many talents, levels of education, experience and expertise. OE’s, at the national level, specialize in establishing dealerships, distributing cars, administering sales programs, warranty administration and ensuring a steady flow of spare parts. To do this they spend the majority of their time concentrating on their dealership network. Up until fairly recently, they spent little to no time on the collision side of the business and thus have few people who are well versed in it. A former body shop manager could provide expertise in any number of areas including field work, training, producing training or service materials, or administering body shop certification programs, just to name a few.
Third Party/Consulting: Vehicle Collision Experts LLC, better known as VECO Experts, owned by industry icon and former shop owner, Mark Olson, offers a number of different consulting, training, coaching and auditing services to body shops. He also serves as an expert witness for court cases including collision and vehicle defects. In addition, he manages shop inspections for OE shop certifications programs for Subaru and several other OEs. To do this he employs over 20 associates…many of them former shop owners. Olson says, “I would like to have ten more former shop owners. Someone with 10 to 15 years in the business knows what they are doing… and do a good job at it.”
Independent Consultant: It is not uncommon for a former shop owner to lend their expertise to any number of different related companies who need a consultant on a part time basis, or to conduct a special project. Two that immediately come to mind, and are both former shop owners are Lou DiLisio of Automotive Industry Consulting, Inc. and the ever-popular Mike Anderson of Collision Advice.
Technical Instructor: Doug Irish is the Department Chair for Collision Repair and Refinish Technology for the Fayetteville Technical Community College (FTCC) in Fayetteville, NC. “People become instructors for colleges, tech schools or high schools for a number of different reasons and in a number of different ways” says Irish. “But it’s good to have someone with several years’ experience and someone who knows the industry.” Irish notes that an instructor’s position will not command the paycheck that a shop owner’s will, but in many ways the job is less demanding, but, like any job, not without its challenges.
Magazine Reporter: Since the 1970’s, scores of shop owners have authored magazine articles, some even had their own monthly column. Some did it while they were still running their shop, some after retirement. They wrote about everything from spray painting technique, to how to buy the correct equipment to tips for running an efficient front office… and everything in between. One thing they all had in common as writers – credibility.
Representative for Other Industry Related Products: If you have never attended the ever-growing collision section of the SEMA show, take a few days next fall, book a room in Las Vegas and check it out. Just about every product you have ever used, or wanted to use in your shop is represented there. Find a product that you like, one that you believe in and can be passionate about, and talk to the booth representative. If they are not looking for new people, they probably know someone who is. In either case, it’s a great place to network.
Website Design, Social Media and Promotion: To be “alive” in the business world today requires a well-designed and constantly updated website and appropriate social media presence. Some people are good web designers but know nothing about the collision business or how to relate to people. As a former shop manager, you definitely know the business, and know what to say (and what not to say) to potential customers. If you know how to produce websites and manage social media, or know someone who does and you can manage their efforts, you have a ready-made and very lucrative business.
Engage in Emerging Technologies: Industry veteran and author of the new book, Auto Industry Disruption, Who and What is Being Disrupted and What to Do About It, Frank Terlep notes, “If someone is looking to get out of their body shop and do something else, they first must be engaged with what they are doing now and where the industry is headed in order to be valuable to someone else. The future in this industry is electronics and you must watch the trends.” This includes autonomous cars, artificial intelligence, and alternative motive power and fuels. “AirPro Diagnotics is a good example of this emerging technology” noted Terlep. “They are diagnosing vehicle electronics from a remote location.”
Industry veteran, former chairman for the Collision Industry Conference and former shop owner Mike Quinn now serves as the Senior Vice President for Business Development for AirPro Diagnostics. Quinn said, “We can all see which way this industry is going. The future is in those companies that service a car’s electronics. Right now, this is handled by people who are more versed in the mechanical side of the auto repair business because they have had to deal with it longer. What they may not be as familiar with is the protocols and nuances of the collision repair business. That’s where the collision industry veterans could help.”
To amplify comments from Frank Terlep and Mike Quinn above, Tim Ronak, industry veteran, former shop owner and now a business consultant for AkzoNobel noted, “One of my favorite sayings is ‘Learn or die.’ Everyone’s role in the collision industry is changing and evolving. Whether you are staying in your shop, or going somewhere else, you need to keep up with the industry and the technology.”
Bruce Cooley, now retired, has over 40 years in the collision repair industry having worked for DuPont and Sherwin Williams, and has called on hundreds of body shops. Cooley maintains that, among shop owners there are those that are self-employed, and those that are entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurs tend to concentrate on business concepts and business models. They employ people to do the actual work, as opposed to doing the work themselves and thus are quite adaptable to alternative but related businesses. Cooley says, “It is the entrepreneurs, those who are really engaged in the industry who will have the easier time transitioning to a different but related business. But because of their entrepreneurial spirit, may have a more difficult time simply working for someone else – especially when they have been the sole decision maker for their business for so long.”
Leave your shop – or stay? It’s a harrowing question. With fast-changing technology and an ever-evolving business and socio-economic climate, it’s a challenge either way. Have you “Had it?”