I grew up in a family of artists. Not always the kind of people that come to mind when thinking of the dog-eat-dog business world. As a young man my own artistic expression found its way into the automotive repair business, as an automotive painter. I loved painting cars, especially the custom stuff. It wasn’t long before my artistic nature sought the freedom of self-employment; after all, an artist like me does not want the constraints of having to work for someone else! Soon I found my artistic interests beginning to shift like a portrait painter discovering impressionism for the first time. I had discovered entrepreneurship!
I love being an entrepreneur. To me it is one of the most amazing forms of self-expression. Creating a business from a mere idea or thought is a beautiful thing. It is also a huge responsibility, and not one that every artist can or should pursue. Some artists are better off working for someone else, and here is why…
Car painters and body technicians may be artistically great at fixing cars, but not everyone is willing to put in the work to learn the skills that are required to run a collision repair business, especially in today’s world! Most of the collision repair businesses that exist in our country today were started by a technician, and far too many of them have never invested the time it takes to learn the art of building a business and they are struggling because of it. Sadly, many business owners don’t know what they don’t know and therefore live each day in an ignorant fog of despair and chaos.
Those that were lucky enough to survive and grow a collision business, did so through pure determination, and many, many, hours of hard work. A solid business always requires hard work, but the solution to a truly sustainable business is working hard on the right things. We must be willing to work on the business as well as in it. Successful entrepreneurship means focusing your artistic abilities towards creating a better business, not just the product it produces. This is the “trap of the technician” and only a handful of collision repair businesses grow beyond mediocrity because of it.
I know of dozens of instances where collision business owners manage to grow their single location and decide it is time to pursue the American dream even more, so they open up a second or third location before they realize their mistake. The skillset that allowed them to operate one location, is very different than the skillset needed to run an MSO. To be successful at operating multiple locations, or even one really successful location, shop owners can no longer attend to the day to day crises management many have come to accept as their “normal” way of life. Shop owners need to learn the skills of preventing crises before it starts, and a great way to do this is through spending more time working on building a sustainable business model, like a franchise.
I am suggesting that you start to build your business like you were going to build a franchise. You don’t have to actually franchise your business, but think of it as a turn-key business model that can eventually exist without you as the business owner working IN it all the time. What does this sustainable model look like in your mind? Use your artistic mind and create! Does it have consistent and repeatable standard operating procedures? Does everyone know what their job is and how to perform every task? Do your systems consistently create an amazing customer experience, even if you are not there personally every moment? This is your ball of clay my artistic friends, and you can do anything with it that you want if you are willing to work ON your business a little every day.
Fortunately, many of the skills required to be successful in today’s collision repair world are available to all of us. Organizations such as the Automotive Management Institute (AMi) have many resources for shop leadership and their teams to acquire the skills needed to take their businesses to the next level of performance excellence.
Elite Body Shop Solutions, LLC assists shops in creating a sustainable business model through education, coaching, and consulting solutions. Elite uses a 5-Pillar approach to help clients work ON their businesses using a holistic approach designed to create a balanced foundation that will allow a business to grow to any size.
The problem with artists focusing on only one aspect or “pillar” is that the business will become unstable and unsustainable. For example, if you are placing all your focus on making money (Financial Health) and you don’t place enough emphasis on the Cultural Health of your organization, eventually the whole operation will become unstable and you will jeopardize your ability to make money for the long haul. Another example is that if you don’t pay enough attention to environmental or human resource laws (Risk), you can jeopardize everything you have worked for!
Each day smart operators place small amounts of time on each of the 5 Pillars in order to enjoy sustainable growth and prosperity. The trick is to be disciplined enough and to have learned some basic time management skills in order to make better use of your time each day. Many shop owners and leaders tell me they don’t have the time to work on all aspects of their businesses. To this I call BS. These same people say they don’t have time, because they have created a life of jumping from one crises to the next because they DON’T work ON the business. They are sadly caught in a spiral of doom of their own making.
Right now is an excellent time to be in the collision repair business, but only for those with the right mindset and only for those artists that are willing to learn new skills. I am a champion of small business and the hard working people in our industry which makes me hate to say this, but, this time in our industry’s history will be very, very, tough for many business owners that are reluctant to change. The good news is that those of you reading this article all the way to the end have demonstrated that you may have what it takes to plow through the challenges and take full advantage of this time of great opportunity to create the business of your dreams. Go for it!
For assistance creating a sustainable business model, contact Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org