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Accessorize the Positive

When this shop owner realized making money in the repair business wasn’t getting any easier, he made some changes. Little did he know that adding bedliner installation to his shop’s repertoire would open the door to a brand-new business. Could you do the same?

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When Bob Adney started his repair shop 25 years ago, he wasn’t thinking about selling accessories to round out his business. But, as times changed, so did the industry, which left him wondering whether he should make some changes, too.

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Adney felt dealing with insurance companies made his job tougher all the time. And when his shop became a Wreck Check facility, he says it sealed his fate. “About eight years ago, I wrote off about $10,000 to $15,000 worth of bills that insurance companies refused to pay, and I saw the handwriting on the wall,” he says.

So Adney sat down with his sons /co-owners, Jeffrey and Stephen, and made a decision. “[We decided that] if we’re going to exist and be independent, then there’s probably some things we needed to start changing and looking at.”

Starting with truck accessories seemed the smart choice because they’d determined trucks made up 40 percent of their collision repair business. Rural Indiana equals lots of trucks. “I wouldn’t want to be doing this in Chicago,” says Adney, making a good point: Know what sells in your region.

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So Adney and his sons’ first step was to buy a spray-on bedliner dealership. They situated it in the body shop, and it “started nice cash flow.”

It didn’t take long for them to notice that most of the trucks they were lining were less than 30 days old – and the owners were ready and willing to spend money on their new vehicles.

“We just gradually graduated into selling them all the accessories they needed,” he says. “Then it sort of took off from there.”

Adney’s BodyTEK now sells such popular accessories as truck caps, toolboxes, step bars, running boards and hitches. “These are things a body shop would have no trouble installing,” he says. “It’s not a high-tech job to put any of these in.”

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But if a shop does sell something high-tech like alarms and other electronic gizmos, it’s important to have someone who knows what they’re doing. Adney says that mechanically inclined workers can be trained to do these installations.

Though adding accessories has turned out to be a profitable venture for Adney, how do you know it’ll work for you? For starters, you need to investigate – and Adney’s shop is a great place to start.

Winds of Change
As BodyTEK’s accessory business grew, Adney made some changes to the staff – and to the focus of the shop. They went from six bodymen to one, and though they continued to perform repairs, they weren’t actively seeking repair work. After 25 years of business, Adney says that many customers still drop off their cars for repairs, “but as far as us spending any money advertising or romancing insurance companies, we don’t do that anymore.”

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Adney likes the benefits of selling accessories, the best of which – according to him – is dealing directly with customers. “They know what they want and they pay you. They don’t come back to you after you do the job and say, ‘We’re not gonna pay you now,’ or ‘You charged us $100, here’s $40.’ ”

The overall atmosphere change also has been a plus.

“It’s a lot less stress,” Adney says. “I think my sons and I are pretty comfortable in not being all that vested in the collision business anymore. It seemed like an easier way to make a dollar than the body shop.”

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Though BodyTEK started out as a truck accessory business, three years ago, it evolved into more.

In talking with the owner of a company that did restyling for cars, (the same company he later acquired), Adney realized that focusing solely on trucks was allowing the other 50 percent of the market to drive on by.

Says Adney: “That’s when we got into the restyling of cars with the ground effects, wings and moon roofs. And that part of the business just started taking off.”

So much so that manufacturers began coming to Adney, asking him to carry their accessory lines. Needless to say, business just kept growing … and growing.

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Ahead of the Game
Before a business can grow, it has to get up and running. But according to Adney, body shops are already a step ahead of most accessory dealers – even before they make their first sale.

“If you own a body shop, you’re already painting. Most accessory dealers have to farm that out. With your Wal-Marts or Kmarts, you can go there and get something, but it has to be painted to match. Now the customer has to run around to get these things painted. That’s a real big plus that we have. We can sell something, have it painted and have it installed in a day or two.” For stores without painters, it can take as long as two weeks to get it done.

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Adney has kept two painters on staff just to paint the accessories they sell. When a customer wants a fiberglass lid for his truck, for example, someone paints it to match the truck.

Instead of ordering pre-painted lids, BodyTEK stocks unpainted, primed ones. With a painter on site, they don’t have to stock each color. Instead, they paint to order. And because they don’t need to stock as many, they lower inventory costs.

Ready, Set, Start!
How do you get started?

For Adney, it was determining which product would sell best and then starting out simply with that one product. Because he determined trucks were a big part of his local market, he chose bedliners.

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The Specialty Equipment Marketing Association agrees that shop owners should do their homework before jumping into the accessory game. According to Jim Spoonhower, SEMA’s vice president of market research, it appears Adney waded in just right.

Spoonhower recommends that shop owners do an assessment of the types of vehicles they typically repair. Are the majority of vehicles you’re repairing at your shop pickup trucks, SUVs or cars?

Once you’ve determined what kind of vehicles you’d like to target, take a look at those vehicles in your area. “Then investigate the dominant accessories installed on those vehicles,” says Spoonhower.

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Next, establish a relationship with a couple of local warehouse distributors and set up a display of some of the products in your waiting room area.

No one’s guaranteeing the type of success Adney’s had, but with $3.1 billion per year being spent on accessories, there’s likely a little left over for you.

Writer Cheryl McMullen is associate editor of BodyShop Business.

 

 

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