When Lee Bates got his license, he realized he had a few bad driving habits that led him to take on repairing his own cars. Knowing that he didn’t want to be stuck behind a desk for the rest of his life, Bates preferred his career to be hands-on and got a job at a local body shop, where he met an inspirational mentor.
“I was assigned to a really good body man,” Lee said. “I was a porter and I would get done with all of my daily tasks as fast as I could and then I would go bug him. After a few months into it, he fired his helper and hired me because I was doing more work than his helper. He was just a good guy. He took me under his wing and taught me a lot about the industry.”
Within six months of getting married to his wife Leila, the newlyweds opened up their own shop. After a year, the couple moved into a new shop, which is their current location in Baytown, Texas.
At a Glance
Location(s): Baytown and Channelview, Texas
Year established: 1990 (Baytown) and 2003 (Channelview)
Square footage: 22,000 (combined)
Owner(s): Lee and Leila Bates
Gross annual sales: $4.8 million
Number of employees: 32
Certifications: I-CAR Gold Class since 1993
“My wife was planning on being an accountant and we figured out pretty quick that she could work at the shop and we could spend more time together and she would make as much or more money than an accountant would,” Lee said. “We had a lot of youthful ambition and we were willing to dig in and work hard, and we still do that. We are still here working full-time, all day, every day, together.”
The Three P’s
The passion of working as a team and encouraging mentorship is a cornerstone for the employees at Bates Collision Center.
“If they’re willing to learn, we have a path for them,” Bates said. “We hire good people who will spend time working with younger employees, and we’ve developed pay plans that help that along. We don’t carry them. They’re expected to carry themselves and put the work in to get the benefits.”
“For us, we focus on three P’s of how we run our business: it’s people, processes and promotion,” Leila explained. “For our ‘people’, we have a different approach to hiring. We don’t always hire from within the industry, we hire the person. We go through more vetting during the hiring process, including personality assessments, multiple interviews and thorough reference checking. One thing we say is, ‘Hire slow, as fast as you can.’ Don’t rush the process. We want to make sure we’re hiring the right people.”
“We’ve been in business for 30 years and we have three employees who have been with us for 20 years and multiple who are close to that, with 18, 17 and 15 years,” Lee said. “The right people stay with us because we treat our people like family, and the wrong people don’t last long because they weed themselves out. We pride ourselves in that fact that our turnover is fairly low.”
“We’re in Houston, Texas. I think it’s the most hot and humid place on Earth, quite frankly, or at least it feels like it to us,” Leila said. “But once or twice a week during the summer, we have a snow cone machine and we fix custom-ordered snow cones and deliver them to each technician. It’s a little silly thing, but it’s a big thing to them and they feel appreciated.”
Other notable ways Bates Collision Center celebrates their employees are Friday lunch cookouts and a Christmas banquet with an award presentation for top-performing employees, to name a few.
A Well-Oiled Machine
Helping their technicians complete a repair and a consistent guideline of standard operating procedures (SOPs) is what makes the processes of Bates Collision Center run like a well-oiled machine. These SOPs are organized into a checklist for all employees to follow as a vehicle moves through the shop.
“As a company, we live and die by our processes and checklists,” Leila said. “We have props and work standard examples hung up in the shop. We have a fender that shows a dent repair and it is literally a fender that is prepped up, showing the different stages of a dent repair, from sanding to repair filler. It lets everybody visually see as a reminder of our quality of work. We can take a technician over to the fender and say, ‘Here is what we talked about, this is what it needs to look like.’”
Behind the Bays
Scheduling system: CCC
Estimating system: CCC
Scan tools: AirPro
Measuring system: Car-O-Liner
Welders: CompuSpot and Lincoln
Paint: AkzoNobel – SIKKENS (waterborne)
When a car is dropped off, the checklist procedure begins. Each checklist is unique to the insurance company. The checklist itself is an abbreviated version of the training manual that is constantly updated to meet new technologies or manufacturer recommendations. A snap shot of the SOP, called a “Process Board” is also hung on the walls in each department to remind employees to stay on task and works as an accountability tool, because each check on the checklist needs to be initialed to confirm the task was completed accurately and according to procedures that have been put into place to ensure quality.
“The way our system works, nobody owns a job. They own their particular part of the car. This builds accountability for our techs,” Lee said.
Sno-Cones for Everyone
In order to spread the word about the quality of work that Bates Collision provides, promotion of their brand is a priority. The most popular means of promotion is through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
On Facebook, the shop runs a Kona Ice Sno-Cone truck contest where the community nominates their favorite school and the winning school gets a visit from the snow cone truck. On the same platform, the shop also runs an annual pumpkin carving contest where pumpkin carving kits are delivered to local insurance agents and they submit their carved pumpkin photo on Facebook to win a catered lunch for their office.
“We use a lot of unique marketing techniques that contribute to our success,” Leila said.
Bates Collision Center is involved in several community engagement programs, including the Bates Responsible Parenting Award and Car Donation program, an annual tradition that presents “new” pre-owned vehicles to deserving families through volunteer staff hours and donations each holiday season. They’ve donated over 40 vehicles since the program began in 1998.
Making a big impact in their community, their Give Back Program allows customers to donate 3% of their repair bill total to a local non-profit organization of their choice in their name.
With COVID-19 consuming 2020, Bates found a way to give back to their community during this tumultuous time, including 10 Days of Thanks, where free details were given to frontline workers for 10 days; disinfecting and sanitizing the Baytown Police Department’s fleet of patrol vehicles; and hosting continuing education classes for insurance agents to learn about refinishing, estimating, body and frame repair.
“This is our hometown where we grew up,” Leila said. “Our customers are our friends, our neighbors, people we go to church with. We stand by our mission statement, which is to treat your family like our family.”