Auto Body Shop Management: Silo or Synergy?
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Auto Body Shop Management: Silo or Synergy?

If you had a boardroom of trusted advisors, who would have a seat at the table?

Rachel started her career as a wrench and since then has had management responsibilities, consulting positions and sales roles in the automotive and collision industry. She is also a former vocational school student and has stayed connected to her roots as an advisory member to many regional high schools and collision associations across the country. She’s also an active volunteer with SkillsUSA. Rachel currently runs a financial planning practice to educate and support the collision industry.

It doesn’t take much observation to realize that the collision industry has changed. If you compared a 1992 Toyota Corolla to a 2022 Corolla, the list of differences could take up this entire publication. In 30 years, the vehicles have become more advanced from structural design to collision avoidance systems. The two vintages differ so greatly that to compare them almost seems foolish.

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Bye Bye Golden Years

In 2022, we’re the same time distance to 1992 as we were then to 1962. In these fast-paced years, so much has changed both within and beyond the industry. With the advances of technology, communication and society, the industry from the golden years is distant memory.

The way we repair vehicles, the tools that we use, the things that need adhesive or the things that can never be aftermarket is enough of a whirlwind that it requires a full-time job to stay on top of the advancements. Ironically, we operate in silos as we always have. Information flows through friendships and education platforms that we send our technicians to one to two times a year. Is that enough?

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What Works Now?

What I’ve noticed growing up in this industry is that most of us came from a vocational school or grew up in a shop and learned how to run a body shop by course of success and failure. This was a strategy that worked in 1992, but does it work now? Few of us have had the opportunity to attend a business school or get formal education on running a business. The industry was simpler both in technology and profitability. Today is different, and it won’t take reading this article to notice it.

If you had a boardroom of trusted advisors, who would have a seat at the table? Many of you might think of your jobber salesman, paint representative, paint and materials rep, and your collision consultant. What about a CPA? Do you have a financial advisor? Do you have your banker’s cell phone? Do you have attorneys for liability, contracts or estate planning? If there are seats open at the table, there is no better time than now to fill them. These professions can help elevate, grow and scale your business.

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The Boardroom

The pandemic and PPP loan availability showed us the importance of knowing your banker personally and having them on speed dial. In the chaos of the pandemic, as word first hit of the PPP loan, collision owners across the country were scrambling to learn what the PPP even was, how to apply and what the implications were of applying. It was a time where those who had already established strong relationships with their banks had the leading edge. As with most things in life, having those relationships in advance of the need is planning for success.

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Having the right “boardroom” for your business allows you to focus on being a business owner rather than an operator or, said differently, the opportunity to work on the business rather than be anchored within it.

For those who might have all the seats filled, when is the last time (or has there ever been a time) that you brought your trusted advisors together in the same room? As with all things in the industry, it’s time to stop working in silos and focus on creating synergy within your business. Your financial advisor is building accounts and implementing plans, and your CPA is allocating those accounts on your balance sheet and profit and loss statement (P&L). What if there are crossed lines of communication? Could that affect your bottom line?

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In a time where communication is everything and speed of communication matters, have you told your CPA of your vision to sell the family business in three years? Have you told your financial planner? If not, why not?

Perhaps you have an offer from private equity and are considering the options? Starting a relationship requires time and engagement, and it would be better to engage all of your trusted advisors well in advance to create synergies in your personal and business plan.

Time Invested

Timing and time invested is what creates impact. Invest in your business and start filling those seats at the table. Pick up the phone or dust off the keyboard and contact your board members for an annual meeting. Chances are they’ll appreciate you for it. They’ll foster other business relationships with professionals and have the opportunity to understand you and your goals better. It’s a win-win for all involved, as long as the request comes at the right time. Talk about your vision and your future, and ask questions about what has changed in the prior year. Engage with your team and start the conversation.

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