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Monday, 02 November 2020 19:00

Body Crafters: A COVID-19 Experience

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It’s tough enough, even in the best of times, to buy a second shop that needs updating.

But when you buy that shop and a pandemic hits that keeps people at home and off the roads, that’s a real challenge.

 

Jon Wise started his collision repair career right out of high school, at Body Crafters Auto Body in Broadhead, WI.

 

After a few years, Wise decided to strike out on his own and open Midwest Fox Rods, a small shop in Rock City, IL, where he combined his love of building custom cars and trucks with some collision work to help pay the bills.

 

He partnered with a technician who was supposed to specialize in mechanical work. But soon his potential partner bailed, out leaving Wise on his own.

 

Undaunted, Wise carried on and his reputation in both collision work and custom work grew. People were coming to him for miles around for everything from quality collision repair to customizing modern Mustangs to classic Chevelles.

 

Then Wise hit a patch of bad luck, and through a series of bad turns, he found himself homeless. With nothing else to do, and a need to survive, Wise worked in his shop 16 to 18 hours a day and slept on a couch in his office when he got tired.

 

Eventually things turned around, his reputation grew, business improved and he hired two other techs to help him.

 

As both the collision repair and customizing businesses improved, Wise knew he needed a bigger shop. One evening, while having a casual dinner with the people who still owned Body Crafter Auto Body, the first shop where Wise worked, a discussion ensued about how the present owners wanted to retire and get out of the business.


They had been at it for 30 years and wanted to move onto the next chapter of their life, but didn’t want to sell it to just anyone. They knew Wise turned out quality work, and he let them know he needed a way to expand. One thing led to another and on Sept. 1, 2019, Wise purchased Body Crafters Auto Body.

 

“The shop was doing alright when I took it over; it was making money, but I knew we could take an already great shop and make it better,” said Wise. “The shop badly needed some updating, and new and better procedures to put cycle times where they should be.”

 

Wise continued, “We first retrained the young crew, basically restructuring how they worked and what their duties were so there was as little worker overlap as possible. Changing paint lines with better color match technology and clears with less bake time saved us on materials, faster color matches and cut our utility costs in half.

 

"New LED lighting in the shop was also done, not only to brighten the shop up but cut our light bill down. Savings on clear coat alone saved enough money to pay for part of my technicians' medical and dental insurance each month, which they didn’t have before.”

 

Another problem was the equipment.

 

“Some of the equipment was 20 years old,” said Wise. “The paint booth had seen little maintenance. The poor physical condition of the shop slowed everything down. We consolidated equipment and added some new pieces like a couple electric sanding stations to keep a cleaner shop and less reliance on air-powered tools.”

 

But the biggest problem, said Wise, was "the techs were not working together and did not understand their roles.”


It seems the painter was never happy with the finish sanding job the body techs gave him, so the painter would spend even more time sanding the same spot, again, slowing production to a crawl.

 

Eventually, Wise had to consolidate things. He laid off one tech at each shop and combined all his personnel from both shops at the Body Crafter location. The techs from the two shops learned how to work together, cut waste and be more efficient.

 

Things were looking up. Cycle time had been cut in half, waste was minimized and the shop was making more money. And then COVID-19 hit.

 

Just when his new business was starting to gain traction, March 2020 saw a dramatic drop in cars coming through the door. But Wise kept advertising and promoting the shop.

 

“It was scary for a while," said Wise. “But then things picked right up again. We are in a rural area just south of Madison, one of only three shops in this area. We have been able to pull some business from Madison and because we are close to my old shop, my existing customers followed me. It worked out.”

 

When asked if they did anything special to generate business during the height of the pandemic, Wise replied, “We do a lot of radio ads. In one of our ads we offered to write the estimate at the vehicle owner’s home. If they agreed to have us do the work, we would pick up the car, complete the repair and return a repaired and disinfected car to the customer. They would never have to leave their home.

 

"Despite all the talk about staying home and staying safe, no one ever took us up on our offer. Work kept rolling in the door.”

 

Now, a year after taking over Body Crafters, and despite the COVID-19 slowdown, Wise is setting sales and profit records for the shop.

 

“We have only one DRP arrangement, and that’s with State Farm," ” said Wise. "We have a good working relationship with them. We have plenty of collision work, and few insurance company issues.”

 

And as for the custom work, Wise replied, “Custom work is fun and interesting, but sometimes it’s tough getting paid, so I pick and choose what I work on. Right now, I have a two-year backlog on custom work. It’s nice to be in demand!”