Expanding Your Body Shop: Planning is Key
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Expanding Your Body Shop: Planning is Key

Growth requires a lot of strategic planning, a focus on the details and an understanding of local rules and regulations.

Sheila Samuel-Lefor owns three collision repair locations with her brother Jeff Samuel in Denver — CARSTAR Ideal Northglenn, CARSTAR Ideal Arvada and CARSTAR Ideal Littleton. She is the 2020 recipient of the NABC Changing and Saving Lives Award. Sheila and Jeff also earned the 2019 CARSTAR President’s Award.

Growth is great. It’s so exciting to see all your hard work pay off when your current facility is exceeding capacity or you find an opportunity to serve a new community. But then the hard work comes in. Growth requires a lot of strategic planning, a focus on the details and an understanding of local rules and regulations.

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It’s like having a child. Your first one is an overwhelming experience. Your second one isn’t quite as hard, and the third one is much easier. Everything you learn from each child — or location — makes you smarter the next time.

As the co-owner of three collision repair locations in Denver — CARSTAR Ideal Northglenn, CARSTAR Ideal Arvada and CARSTAR Ideal Littleton — I’ve been through a ground-up build as well as two acquisitions. While the circumstances are different, there are some consistent key learnings to keep in mind.

Are You Ready?

First, how do you know if you’re ready to grow? There are many items that you need to consider when making the decision to grow your current business. Creating a business plan is key. Here is my checklist:

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  • Know your market and the demographics of the area.
  • Consider whether the market has substantial work available and what the technical staffing will look like.
  • Have a strong team in place to support the expansion.
  • Have a financial foundation. Your current business should be operating at a profit for at least a couple of years so that you have the cash flow needed to expand.
  • Have a budget in place in your current operation so that you understand the cash flow you will need to open a new business.

Things I’ve Learned

There are a number of things I’ve learned over the years as we’ve expanded. While you’re focused on the property, you can’t forget how essential the people are to making it a success:

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  • People are everything. Take time to understand who you might be inheriting if you’re buying an existing location. It’s very important to understand the current staffing because not everyone is going to stay if you’re purchasing an existing location. Surround yourself with a strong team that can help with implementation.
  • Every new business has one thing in common — the need for cash flow. You’re not guaranteed one car to your door, but once you turn the key to your building, your operating expenses start immediately. Be ready for the unexpected. I would also advise having a sufficient line of credit in place.
  • Hire employees and train them in your existing location before you take over the new operation.
  • Take your time; do not rush into a purchase. Selecting the right opportunity can save you countless hours and effort in the future.

Your equipment needs are extremely important, either if you’re buying an existing facility or building a new one. If you’re purchasing an existing location, obtain a complete list of assets so that you’ll be able to fill in equipment gaps. If you’re building from the ground up, work with your paint company and your other partners to determine what you’ll need today — and five years from now. This is where our partner, CARSTAR, has been so valuable. It works with repair locations across North America and our vendor partners to forecast what will be needed in the future.

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Oil and Gas

I started out my career as a paralegal in the oil and gas industry. This background was extremely helpful with our first location — which was a new build — with the land acquisition. I was very fortunate that I worked in a legal office with several attorneys who helped me through the process. I would highly suggest having a good legal team and strong accountants in place to support you through the acquisition process.

Market and Demographics

This experience is invaluable when it comes to acquiring a facility. Our first location was built from the ground up, and our second and third locations were existing body shops. It’s extremely important to know your market and demographics when selecting a new location. When we built our first location, it was all about the street address and rooftops surrounding the new build.

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Our new build was before we joined CARSTAR, and we had many bumps in the road as new owners. When we purchased our second location, we had been part of the CARSTAR family for several years. We had tremendous support from CARSTAR as well as existing CARSTAR stores to help us through the purchase. Our third purchase was extremely easy because of the knowledge we had after buying location number two. We work very closely with the CARSTAR development team on an ongoing basis. They have boots on the ground in most markets and bring potential new prospects to us frequently.

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Staffing Up

Once you have your facility, you have to staff up for the expansion. It’s extremely important to identify a manager for your new location first. That person will be essential to the success of your new location, whether you’re building from the ground up or taking over an existing location. During the purchase process, it’s imperative that you understand the current staffing and decide the key roles you may need to fill before you take over an existing location. With the staffing shortage that we’re all experiencing, I would suggest training a few people at your existing store and bringing them to the new facility so you’re a little overstaffed rather than understaffed.

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Summary

Like children, your facilities require love and attention. You plan for them, you find the right people to care for them and your customers, and you nurture them to achieve your goals. There might be a skinned knee or a bump along the way, but with patience and planning, you’ll get there.

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