I’ve written 137 articles for the industry’s best trade magazine, BodyShop Business. I know this because I went back and counted.
This is my 42nd year in our industry, and I often feel like Yoda these days. “Tell us, old-timer, what was it like when Noah painted the ark?” While I’m not quite that old, I’ve been present for, and have reported on, many of the important changes in our business: isocyanate catalysts, structural repair benches, gravity feed spray guns, downdraft spraybooths, three-stage pearls, waterborne basecoats, etc.
Pass the Beer
In 1970, after many happy, beer-soaked years in college, I opened a paint, body and equipment (PBE) jobber store in Waterloo, Iowa with my dad. One of the things I had managed to learn in college (besides that you shouldn’t drink pitchers on weeknights just because they’re cheap) was that to be a successful vendor of anything, you need to understand your customer’s business model. I did my best to take part in all the manufacturers’ training I could find, observe and ask questions of my best body shop customers, and watch what the insurance companies were monitoring about collision repair. Armed with this knowledge, I was able to become a partnering vendor with my customers, and together we enjoyed success.
In 1985, the farm crisis hit Iowa with both barrels; our largest local employer, John Deere, laid off 10,000 people in a month. My growing PBE sales took a plunge off a cliff. State Farm paid Mr. Smith $1,500 to fix his car, and his choices were to fix the car or feed his family. That was no choice at all, and midwestern collision repair suffered accordingly.
As an industry in the mid-1980s, we were making the switch from being blacksmiths to being business people. Unicoupe cars required expensive equipment to measure, pull and hold the frameless sheet metal body during repair. Prior to this, the most expensive thing in most body shops was the $10,000 fire-proof box they used to paint cars; now, an investment of $25,000 or more was required to quickly and accurately repair the new-style autos. I was there when the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair (I-CAR) was created to teach technicians how to do it correctly. Wire welders with narrow heat tracks, three-dimensional measuring systems and stricter repair guidelines ruled the day. And BodyShop Business reported it all to the entire industry.
Becoming a Speaker
Armed with my hard-earned understanding of the industry, I boxed up my expertise and began a second career as a PBE speaker in 1986. Unlike most other information sources at the time, I wasn’t trying to sell a particular brand of welder, frame machine or paint line. I just wanted to inform my audiences about industry changes, their underlying causes and some possible solutions.
I found a ready audience and spent many weekends in the meeting rooms of many hotels across the country. In 1988, one of my customers and friends, Fred Kjeld, was writing a regular welding column for an auto body trade magazine. Fred knew that the editor, Tom Measaru, was looking for an author for the Paint Shop column, and so he suggested me. Measaru called, and I wrote the first of my 137 stories. I found that opinion columns are easy. For example, if I told you what I thought you should do to produce clean paint jobs quickly, you could argue that what I said was wrong, but you couldn’t argue that it wasn’t my opinion.
It wasn’t too many months before Measaru wanted a feature story that was outside my expertise. I was provided with a list of advertisers to interview for their input as I wrote the story, and by the time I was finished writing it, I was much smarter. This format became the path to all my future articles for BodyShop Business.
As I celebrate my 24th year in these pages, I want to thank the hundreds of folks who answered my questions, provided input and helped ensure that my stories were accurate and informative. I’ve interviewed the product manufacturers and their marketing people, engineers and chemists, the PBE jobbers, body shop owners and many hands-on technicians. Their willingness to share their knowledge and help me write useful copy is much appreciated.
It’s also time to thank my six (6!) BodyShop Business editors over those 24 years. They have wielded their blue pens artfully, making what I wrote more readable and my meaning clearer. Thank you, Jason, and all of your predecessors! Credit as well goes to the Babcox Media family for their ongoing commitment to specialized trade magazines; without their money and support, you wouldn’t be enjoying this 30th anniversary edition in its new format.
In the beginning, I typed my stories on a (gasp!) typewriter and faxed them in not too far past my deadlines. I was ready to quit the whole thing by 1990 as re-typing entire pages to make one correction was very frustrating, not to mention that someone at Babcox had to re-key the whole story for print. My editor at the time suggested that my frustration would be lessened if I had a laptop computer with WordPerfect. It was the size and weight of a cinderblock, and WordPerfect couldn’t have been less intuitive. The only recollection I have is that the command to print was “Shift-F7.” User friendly it was not!
These days, I write in MS Word on a computer the size and weight of a cheese pizza, and I send my work in (still not too far past deadline) electronically.
Lots of Learning
I’ve learned a ton from my tenure with the magazine. I’ve researched and written stories about every single aspect of our business. From collision customer preferences to spraybooth design to paint chemistry to small business finance to government regulations to shop layout and design, it has been a pleasure getting smarter while trying to write something useful and entertaining.
The magazine has remained at the forefront of each and every change that has come down the pike and affected our business. When a story I was assigned was published, many times it was the first time readers had ever heard of the particular industry issue I wrote about. The mark of a useful trade publication is that it informs the readers about the latest, greatest trends. BodyShop Business personifies that mantra.
I’m grateful for the opportunities (and the income) that my tenure with BodyShop Business has provided. I’m honored to be part of the magazine’s ongoing success. Rest assured that we’ll still be reporting on the latest collision repair issues with input from the smartest people available. And finally to my favorite publisher: Keep up the great work, Scott!