Shop Strategies: Alaska Shop Owner Focuses on Company Culture & Customers

The team from Empowering Destinations
Since starting the nonprofit organization Empowering Destinations, Cropper said they have given away nine cars to families in need.

In Anchorage, AK, body shop owner Ryan Cropper often tells customers that Able Body Shop is where strong values merge with quality work. Cropper currently operates two locations in The Last Frontier and said he has built his business on relationships and trust---one customer at a time.

Autobody News spoke to Cropper about how he and his team go the extra mile to provide excellent customer service while dealing with collision repair challenges in Alaska.

Q: How has your background enabled you to run two successful body shops?

A: From an early age, I learned the benefits of hard work and found that true commitment and dedication carry value. I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit. When I was 10 years old, I began mowing lawns in Alaska and started my own summer business called RC Lawns. By the time I was in high school, I had renamed my company Aurora Landscaping and hired many of my classmates as employees.

However, my true passion was auto body work. I worked on my family’s and friends’ vehicles and attended auto repair classes in Oregon to learn more. When I was a tech in college, I found out that Able Body Shop Midtown was for sale in my hometown. It had been established in 1969, and the owner wanted to retire. I felt it was the perfect fit, so I purchased the shop in 2002. I was 22 years old and ready for a new adventure!

I used money from small loans to expand the company and in 2004, I purchased Total Truck Accessory Center. We opened Able Body Shop Downtown two years later. In 2016, we added another building that used to be a body shop, and we are currently working on an additional facility that will open this winter.

Q: What are some of the things that set your body shop apart from others in the industry?

A: We tend to be very different than the average body shop in the United States. The number one difference is the culture of our company and the steps we take to make it a positive one. We have found that having a culture that we are proud of is one of the most important components of having a successful business.

Number two would be the team atmosphere. We are still a flat rate shop, but we truly run in teams. Every team member in our company is paid 100 percent commission except two---our maintenance man and bookkeeper. We also only spend marketing dollars on things that directly benefit our community.

Our management style is democratic and borders close to the guidelines of mentorship. We encourage informal communication of knowledge and experience. We support dialogue that builds positive relationships, and we give our employees a reputation to live up to. I am proud to be able to contribute to the growth and success of my 50 employees’ careers and personal lives.

Q: What are some of the current challenges collision repairers are experiencing in Alaska?

A: Finding great team members in our market is very difficult. We also have a problem with parts availability. Parts can take over a week to arrive in most cases. Another challenge we have operating a collision repair business in Alaska is the drastic difference we can experience in workloads, depending on the season. When the snow is on the ground from October to April, it really changes the game!

Q: Is your shop part of any DRPs?

A: We have most national DRPs as our business partners. Over the years, we have had great success with those partnerships and continue to value what it brings to us. The challenge is they often expect the same results you see in the continental 48 states, which can sometimes be difficult to achieve.

Q: Can you tell us about the shop’s internship program with the King Career Center? 

A: We have been sponsoring a successful internship program with the King Career Center for over 10 years. We hire a couple of the most talented high school students from the local auto body program and have had fantastic results with this over the years. The students start out working for free, just getting school credit. Once they are somewhat up to speed, we put them on payroll and assign them to a team. Many even stay with us for a full auto body career.

Q: As an advocate of education, how do you ensure you are advancing your technicians’ skills and what is the importance of doing so?

A: Alaska requires auto body repair technicians to have a creative mind and patience while honing an attention to detail that ensures a high level of quality on every job. They have years of practical body shop experience and hands-on exposure to high technology equipment. Currently, we are concentrating on I-CAR training for our staff as well as OEM certifications. We spend over $30k a year with I-CAR training. We do whatever it takes to get our staff the training needed, even if it means flying out of state for it. I am also extremely involved in 20 groups with Axalta, which is where I find out what is up-and-coming in the industry.

Q: What initiatives have you taken to support the community in Alaska?

A: We are big on sponsoring local organizations that are making a difference or helping the people of Alaska. That is where we came up with Empowering Destinations. We started the nonprofit with the intention of giving a reliable vehicle to a deserving community member who needs a helping hand. To date, we have given away nine cars to families in need. For the past three years, thanks to the help of other community businesses, we were successful enough to give two vehicles per year.

We are strong advocates of community involvement and I’m an active member of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce. A couple of years ago, we received an award called the “Gold Pan Award” for Distinguished Community Service by a small business, given to us by the Chamber of Commerce. That was a huge deal for us!

Stacey Phillips Ronak

Stacey Phillips Ronak is an award-winning writer for the automotive industry and a regular columnist for Autobody News based in Southern California.

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