Consolidators scooping up shops left and right. Insurance companies behaving badly. OEMs ratcheting up technological sophistication to the point that vehicles seem unrepairable.
These are some of the reasons that collision repairers might feel an overwhelming urge to get out of the industry as fast as they can. For shop owners who are inclined to head for the hills, Dave Luehr has a message that seems to fly in the face of conventional wisdom: Now is the best time in history to be in the collision repair business – if you have the right mindset.
“History has shown time and time again that the more challenges there are, the more opportunities there are for those who seek the opportunities instead of just focusing on the problems,” Luehr told BodyShop Business.
To illustrate his point, Luehr pointed to the shops featured in his new book, “The Secrets of America’s Greatest Shops.”
“They had the best year ever,” Luehr explained. “They’re crushing it right now, because they don’t look at all of today’s problems as problems; they see them as opportunities.”
For Luehr, CEO of Elite Body Solutions and a 33-year industry veteran, the core mission of his consulting business and his new book is to empower independent collision repairers to regain control of their businesses at a time when “they feel like they’re completely out of control.”
“There are independently owned collision repairers all over this country that are absolutely crushing it right now,” Luehr asserted. “In fact, they’re stronger now since consolidation started, which is almost counterintuitive to what everybody thinks. So what is it that these guys are doing so well, where everybody else is struggling or wanting to sell?”
Luehr, with the help of freelance writer Stacey Phillips, tries to answer that question in “The Secrets of America’s Greatest Body Shops,” through case studies, stories and lessons that culminate in a list of easily digestible takeaways at the end of each chapter.
‘Busting Old Beliefs’
Let’s face it: With the deck seemingly stacked against independent shops, collision repairers often embrace the role of the victim. But in Chapter 1 of the book – “Busting Old Beliefs” – Luehr urges repairers to avoid getting stuck in the “victim zone.”
“Due to all the challenges our industry faces today, I totally understand why minds and actions can so easily drift into the victim zone,” Luehr says in the book. “The trick to getting out of the victim zone is to take full accountability for yourself and your conditions – to quit blaming everyone else for your problems, and begin challenging your current belief system.
“The negativity that is experienced in the victim zone sets up a vicious cycle. When bad things happen, it then confirms and strengthens your faulty beliefs and your need to be right, which leads you to stay in your comfortable victim zone. This causes you to avoid making the necessary changes to improve your situation, and more bad things continue to happen.”
To break the cycle of negativity – or the “doom loop,” as Luehr describes it – you need to associate with positive people. In other words, winners hang out with winners.
“Even with a great mindset, it can be quite challenging to stay positive if you have a lot of negative, small-minded people around you all the time,” Luehr says in the book. “If you are serious about being a winner, you may have to either fire some of your friends, make a conscious decision to hang out with them less, or find new ones.”
Importance of Communication, Modern Leadership
Negotiating with insurers and competing with consolidators aren’t the only challenges that independent body shops face today. In family-run shops – so common in collision repair – generational differences and dysfunctional family dynamics can present major hurdles.
The same “crack-the-whip” leadership style that first-generation shop owners employed to build their businesses can be corrosive to second- and third-generation family members who now work at the shop, Luehr has observed. At the same time, because the older generation places such importance on a strong work ethic, they might view their children as “incapable of running the operation,” Luehr says.
Luehr emphasizes that today’s workforce “is much different than when many businesses were first founded.”
“It requires a pull ‘servant’ style of leadership as opposed to the push ‘boss’ style from the old days,” Luehr adds.
Family-run shops tend to struggle with communication, more so than other shops, Luehr says. That’s why it’s so important for them to create a culture in which everyone feels safe discussing the “elephant in the room,” even when it feels uncomfortable.
“The best leaders consciously engage in conversations with the team and family to bring important conversations out on the table without people fearing repercussions,” Luehr explains in the book.
Luehr expands on the overall subject of leadership in Chapter 6. He asserts that shifting to a “servant” leadership style and cultivating a meaningful work culture are among the antidotes to the technician shortage plaguing the industry.
To attract and retain millennials, in particular, collision repair leaders also need to understand – and communicate – why their business exists in the first place.
“If you want millennials to come to work for you, and better yet, stay for a while, you need to lead with your ‘why,’” Luehr says in the book. “These youngsters are smart enough to want to contribute to something more meaningful than just wrenching on a car in exchange for a buck. Make sure they know WHY wrenching on that car makes a difference in someone’s life, and how their efforts are contributing to the mission of the company.”
Building a Community
In Chapter 6 – “The Power of Peer Groups” – Luehr asserts that single-store operators can gain many of the advantages of MSOs by joining organizations such as the Society of Collision Repair Specialists, the Women’s Industry Network and the Automotive Service Association. Likewise, participating in 20 Group-style meetings of non-competing body shops can be a powerful source of ideas, encouragement and inspiration.
Along the same lines, Luehr hopes to build a peer-to-peer community around “The Secrets of America’s Greatest Body Shops,” and he encourages collision repairers to sign up on the book’s website to do so.
“The book is just the beginning,” Luehr told BodyShop Business. “We want to be able to continue to generate content that’s going to help the independent collision repairer be successful.”