Gary Collins, Collins Collision Center - BodyShop Business

Gary Collins, Collins Collision Center

  • Location: Philadelphia, Pa.
  • Established: 2000
  • Gross Revenue: $1 million
  • Square Footage: 15,000
  • No. of Employees: 11
  • Services: Full-service collision repair, mechanical repair and towing

What’s it like being married to Joe Frazier’s daughter?

The buildup to meeting him was kind of difficult, but once I met him I realized he was the sweetest guy in the world. Once you’re in his presence, you don’t look at him as the former heavyweight champion of the world; you get more of a family feeling. Who he is, he puts second. What he is, he puts first.

I hear your famous father-in-law is part of your marketing efforts.

Our motto is, “We’ll knock out your dents.” So we have a billboard on a main artery that shows me and him with boxing gloves on.

How much do you spend on marketing?

We spend about $2,000 a month on local newspaper ads, some airtime and the billboard. I think we’re going to change the theme of our message to honesty and trust, which is what people want out of a collision repair facility.

This business has been tougher than you thought, right?

Yes. It’s much harder than I thought, but it’s a good challenge. I thought I could just set up this place and walk away, but no way. You have to be in it to win, or forget it. Realizing that made me really want to get into it the way I am now.

So you never really had any collision repair experience before opening your shop, did you?

Nope. I’ve never fixed a car in my life. But I know how to make a dollar. I’ve seen guys open mechanical shops and body shops who don’t have a clue if they make money on a job. They don’t even go through the file when the job is done. And they call themselves businessmen?

What are your thoughts on DRPs?

I’m not on any DRPs, but I’m not anti-DRP. I like to think I’m working toward them. The thing is I’m so well connected to the community that we get a lot of referral and walk-up work. I grew up two blocks from my shop and people in the neighborhood know us well. People debate about whether they want us to fix their car, then realize they know my family and everything works out. That happens a lot.

I did have American Independent in here for a while, but I ended up kicking them out because they weren’t sending me anything worthwhile. I would get my own customers and have to repair their cars at a discounted rate, so I think American Independent’s game was, let’s put him on our DRP, he’ll keep hoping something’s going to happen, meanwhile we get our cars fixed cheaper. And they were sending me all their junk to appraise, like an ’88 Astro van. One day, I realized I was sitting there writing estimates on ’88 Astro vans for nothing.

So you’re working toward DRPs? It seems like some shops are moving away from them because they’re losing money.

I guess what I mean to say is that I’m working toward more efficient production. I’ve recently purchased a new welder, and soon I’m going to get a demo on a new alignment rack. If that equipment can enhance my production and attract a DRP or a dealership, then I’m not going say no, I don’t want it. I’ll see what happens with it.

What other things have you done to get “lean” and improve your efficiency?

One big thing is I don’t have a manager anymore because I’m the manager now. Since times are a little lean right now, it’s been working out better for me to do things myself and get more hands-on training. The days of coming in and collecting checks are over now. There’s not enough for everybody anymore. When I had a manager, either he got paid and I didn’t, or I did and he didn’t. From my position, it was better that I got paid.

As far as “lean production,” it’s something I’m hoping to look into. As an owner, you can’t afford to not look at other ways of doing business. Being close-minded is one of the biggest mistakes you can make in this business or any other. In the collision repair business, if you’re not moving forward, you’re going backward.

I understand you have income from other sources, right?

Yes, I own some apartments as well as some commercial properties. The nice thing about real estate is that it’s self-sufficient and appreciates, and when that’s the case you can do a lot of other things. Sometimes I feel really broke at this shop, yet I’ve attained all this property, so it can’t be so bad.

Why do think the collision repair industry is so bad off right now?

It’s not any one thing, but I think a big reason is inflation. For example, in regard to my towing business, Philadelphia has had the same regulated tow rates since 1986. When I first got into towing, diesel fuel was 98 cents a gallon. Now it’s $3, and the tow rates are still the same. The same goes for the collision repair business. We’re at $42, $44 or $46 per hour. That’s nothing compared with how our costs have risen. Electric, gas, insurance, building maintenance…all these expenses continue to increase, but the income increases at, what, 10 percent of the rate at which those other expenses increase?

How do you escape from all this?

I spend time with my wife and children. My 13- and 14-year-old daughters keep me busy on weekends with malls and movies. But I need one day a week to do nothing. And Sundays are devoted to football.

Let me guess. The Eagles?

Yes – when they’re winning. It’s painful when they lose, and I don’t have the energy to put in for hope. I watch the game for entertainment. If they lose, it’s not going to be the worst day of my life. I’m not going to spend the rest of my day walking around with my head hanging down. If they win, that’s great, too.

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