The Best Body Shops’ Tips: The Power of Peer Groups and Why to Join One

Jim Keller
Jim Keller, founder and CEO/president of 1Collision Network.

Managing a collision repair facility today requires an owner to wear many different hats and have a great deal of knowledge, according to Jim Keller, CEO/president of 1Collision Network based in Milwaukee, WI.

Those roles might include CEO, COO, CFO, VP of marketing, VP of human resources, estimator, parts manager, repair planner and customer service representative.

“Regardless of the size of the body shop, it’s very difficult for one owner to be an expert in each one of these fields,” said Keller during his recent presentation for Dave Luehr’s Elite Body Shop Academy. “We either have to rely on people to fill those positions or we have to know all of this information ourselves, which I think is a very daunting and difficult task.”

To address this challenge, especially for a growing body shop, Keller recommends that employees get involved in organizations to build relationships and become the best they can be to help steer the business forward.

The industry veteran has held a variety of industry jobs over the past 40 years, including paint technician, dealer manager, entrepreneur, franchisee, consolidator and most recently, founder of 1Collision Network. Established in 2012, 1Collision Network is a network of independent and dealer collision repair businesses that work with insurers and OEs to properly repair collision damaged vehicles.

During Keller’s presentation “The Power of Peer Groups,” he shared personal stories that were “game-changers” for him and helped him operate his business more professionally and come up with strategies to address any challenges that he faced. Keller said it all starts by joining a peer group(s).

Q: What is a peer group and why is it important to join one?

A: Wikipedia defines a peer group as both a social group and a primary group of people who have similar interests (homophily) in age, background or social status. The members of the group are likely to influence the person’s beliefs and behavior. Peer groups also contain hierarchies and distinct patterns of behavior.

According to an article in The New York Times, the average person knows 600 people. If only 50 of those individuals each influence 50 of their friends, that number grows to be 2,500 people with whom you can potentially connect. If 50 of those people influence 50 of their friends, that number increases to 5,000.

With technology, the Internet and social media, we can now connect to people throughout the world without having to go anywhere. The more people you know and positively influence, the more successful you are likely to be.

Q: What is your personal experience with peer groups?

A: The first individual who helped me understand the peer group concept was Bob Goff of Goff’s Collision Repair Centers in Wisconsin. He is a real innovator.

His body shop wasn’t far from mine, and one day he walked into my business and invited me to a body shop association meeting. I didn’t really understand the concept of a body shop association at that time. I thought I was on my own and was going to run my business all by myself and make my own decisions.

I thought it was really strange that this guy came in and approached me, but I went anyway. To me, it was a little intimidating to go into a room full of my competitors without even knowing them. I remember going that Tuesday night and being in a room full of body shop owners from around Wisconsin. They were great guys and were friendly toward me and made me feel at home.

We saw a great presentation by Blackhawk and learned what the future held for the unibody car. It was very much like our industry is today with all of the technology we are facing. It was a revolutionary time in the industry.

From that point on, I didn’t miss a meeting. It was one of the most powerful things that had happened in my professional life. I went from a guy who thought he was going to fix wrecks to a guy who saw there was a much bigger world with a much bigger opportunity than there was within my four walls.

Bob got me out of my shop and into seeing what is happening in the world. Over the years, I’ve been involved in many peer groups such as the Dale Carnegie Leadership Training, ARMS management workshop, the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) Total Loss Committee, Coyote Vision Group and CARA Collision Group, to name a few. The peer groups I joined met regularly, and we learned from one another. We visited one another’s shops and were able to reach the next level by sharing strategic information, data tricks and secrets.

Q: What is the advantage of being part of an association?

A: I can’t imagine any professional in any industry not being a member of a trade association. I think it’s critically important. We don’t always think of an association as a peer group, but it actually is. I think everyone who is in the industry should belong to a national and a local association.

The Alliance of Automotive Service Providers (AASP), The Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) and the Automotive Service Association (ASA) are three of the primary national ones I recommend because they have the most events, education and publications available. Look at all three and determine the best fit with your culture.

If you don’t have a strong local association in your area, then get involved in your state association or form one of your own. In the mid-1980s I formed one in Milwaukee---the Milwaukee Collision Repair Association---because there wasn’t one where I lived. Talking to your peers locally can be really powerful.

Now more than ever, I think associations need our support. With autonomous cars coming out, there are issues we are likely going to deal with, such as the legal challenges that will be the result of car accidents. We need to support those associations and organizations that support us.

I understand that it can be challenging to make time to do that while running your business, but if you take the time to connect with people, you’ll learn from one another. Every time you go to a meeting outside of your shop, you’re probably going to meet more people in the industry, whether it’s two people or 500. It can be extremely eye-opening and informative.

Q: What is a master mind group?

A: I think Napoleon Hill explained it best in his book “Think and Grow Rich.” He said a master mind is when one or two people come together in a spirit of harmony. It is believed that when they come together they will engage a third, greater mind that will allow ideas to come to them.

Today, a master mind translates to a meeting or conference between two people, such as the way boards of directors and senior staff get together to do business. The third mind represents the creative energy between two or more people who get together to improve something.

A master mind could be two people coming together or a group of 20 trying to figure out the next steps for the group. The bigger the group, the more ideas and opinions you’ll have and the more sharing you’ll do. You’ll find things move faster, decisions get made more accurately and effectively and everyone feels involved in the process.

Whether there are two people or 20, if they feel like part of the team, it creates a great synergy for success. The key is understanding that two heads are better than one and can be a really powerful collaboration.

Q: Can you share the human relations principles you learned from attending the Dale Carnegie program you attended?

A: If you are attending a peer group meeting, whether that’s with one person or more, it’s virtually guaranteed that you will learn more from that person or persons, they will like you more and you will probably capitalize on opportunities from that relationship(s) more so than any other way by following these principles.

1) Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.
2) Give honest sincere appreciation.
3) Arouse in the other person an eager want.
4) Become genuinely interested in other people.
5) Smile.
6) Remember that a person’s name is the sweetest sound to them, in any language.
7) Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
8) Talk in terms of the other person’s interest.
9) Make the other person feel important and do it sincerely.
10) The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
11) Show respect for the other person’s opinion. Never say, “You are wrong.”
12) If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
13) Begin in a friendly manner.
14) Get the other person to say, “Yes, yes.”

Q: How can a performance group be beneficial?

A: A good performance group will demonstrate how to achieve a higher level of success than you could most likely do by yourself. These types of groups often provide training and coaching and help develop standard operating procedures (SOPs) for your shop.

Many performance groups will track data on each shop, whether it’s financial, performance or both. Sometimes they even track marketing as well. You can then learn from analyzing the numbers in the group. Data can be really powerful for business growth, especially when you are sharing the information.

Performance groups also offer 20 group-type meetings, purchasing programs and assist with insurance questions, I-CAR training and OEM certifications.

Q: Are there other groups you recommend taking part in?

A: There are also non-industry networking groups/organizations such as your local church, the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, Kiwanis and Business Network International (BNI). Even the school PTA and athletic booster clubs can be good for networking.

Overall, I’ve found that the business community can help grow your business after you get integrated in these types of organizations. They are very valuable resources.

For more information about 1Collision Network, email or visit

For more information about Dave Luehr’s Elite Body Shop Academy, email or visit

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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