How Independent Body Shops Can Thrive in a Consolidating Industry

Michelle Sullivan, who recently became CEO of Certified Collision Group, stopped by The Collision Vision podcast to discuss the future of independent repairers.


On this week’s episode of The Collision Vision podcast, host Cole Strandberg spoke with Michelle Sullivan, who became CEO of Certified Collision Group (CCG) earlier this year.

The conversation touched on high level industry trends, the future of independent collision repairers, and how independent shops can stay competitive in an increasingly consolidated industry.

Sullivan’s career in the collision repair industry began about 30 years ago in Baltimore, MD, when she went to work for Superior Auto Paints. She worked in every department within the company on her way to rising to become president.

After Superior Auto Paints was sold to a national distributor, Sullivan worked for AkzoNobel and FinishMaster. In those positions, she worked as a vendor partner for CCG when it first came to the market 10 years ago.

“Industry dynamics were changing, consolidation was ramping up. And [CCG] came in with the premise of kind of leveling the playing field for the independent repairers,” Sullivan said. “Their premise was the OE certifications and really improving shop performance. How can you not get behind that?

“I was able to see firsthand what some of those affiliates were experiencing. Whether it was shop performance or performance management or the vendor programs, it was impactful,” Sullivan said. “So when the opportunity came up [to join CCG as CEO]…I was thrilled. It's a full circle moment for me because I'm working with a lot of customers, a lot of vendors, and a lot of stakeholders that I've worked with at some point in my career.”

The Future of Independent Collision Repairers

“There's no sign of [consolidation] slowing down in 2024,” Sullivan said. “We're seeing a lot of regional private equity-backed platforms coming into the industry. Yes, the consolidators are growing, no question about that. But so are the regionals and so are single-store operators.”

Sullivan said high-performing shops have multiple OEM certifications and are focused on culture.

“Consolidation will continue, but so will the independents. They'll continue to thrive,” she said. “There’s more pressure on having that exceptional customer service experience. Everyone wants that Amazon-type experience. You know, everything is easy. And our industry is no exception to that. So shops that figure that out, they'll be successful.”

How Elite Organizations Stand Out

“I read this quote a long time ago and it stuck with me: ‘Your customer experience will never be greater than your employee experience.’ That's so powerful,” Sullivan said.

The high performers are focused on their employees, Sullivan said.

“They're creating an ownership mindset, and they've got people on the team that want to contribute,” she said. “They don't have issues with retention, right? They're keeping their teams. Their teams are engaged, and there's something to be said for that with the employees.”

Sullivan said the first time she visited a shop that wasn’t chaotic, it was almost eerie.

“They had figured out how to create processes that minimize that chaos,” she said. “It's not that they weren't busy, and it's not that they didn't have a backlog, they just figured it out.”

What Independent Operators Should Focus On

Sullivan said she is a “huge supporter” of peer groups, like 20 Groups, and networks. CCG has built a network of nearly 800 like-minded operators across 46 U.S. states, and earlier this year announced it is expanding into Canada. Sullivan said there is power in those operators being able to connect, bounce ideas off each other and share best practices.

“We're not fighting each other; we're all rising together,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said CCG looks for shops with industry-leading KPIs and OEM certifications. Then CCG’s performance management groups work with shops to help them further improve their businesses.

“One of the biggest things our affiliates really love about the network is these are high-performing operators that have really built solid reputations in their market,” Sullivan said. “They're very much involved with the community and their name and their legacy is important to them. We have a very non-intrusive model, so you don't have to change your name. You don't have to give up everything that you know you've built.”

Sullivan said CCG’s affiliates appreciate that model.

“There's a lot of interest in the network,” she said. “As consolidation continues, people are looking to level the playing field. The company was built on that foundation. And that still exists today.”

Sullivan said in her 30 years in the industry, she has never taken for granted the dedication and commitment of all stakeholders to performing proper repairs.

“I just want to give a shout-out to all those people out there, because they're really the difference makers,” she said.

Key Takeaways

Sullivan said her first takeaway is to embrace being a lifelong learner.

“There is always something to learn. This industry is changing dramatically,” she said. “Not only make sure that you're up to speed on what the trends are, what the changes are, but that your team is and that your organization is positioned for that. You're not responsible just for yourself, but you're responsible for those that you serve.”

Sullivan’s second takeaway is to invest in the development of others.

“Understand what the individuals on your team want, what their ‘why’ is, understand where they want to go, and be relentless in helping them get there,” she said. “High performers want to contribute. They love feedback and they love transparency. If you have a high performer on your team, make sure that you're having regular career path conversations with them so you don't ever run the risk of losing them.

“But more importantly, they lead the industry,” she added. “So again, that customer experience will never be greater than the employee experience.”
Sullivan’s third takeaway is to build your community and stay connected.

“Industry organizations are a great way to be connected to the overall industry,” she said. “You learn from the organizations and today, more than ever, there is a need for that. And you can find those 20 groups that we talked about and find a way to stay connected.”

Sullivan encouraged listeners to follow CCG on LinkedIn for an exciting announcement set to come out at CCG’s conference April 21. More information on CCG can also be found on its website,

Watch the Episode

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Abby Andrews

Abby Andrews is the editor and regular columnist of Autobody News.

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