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Shop Name: The Body Shop at Sears
Location: Hicksville, Long Island
President: Bill Rich
Established: February 1995
Square Footage: 10,000 square feet
Number of Employees: 15
Average Repair Volume: 80 cars per month
Average Repair Ticket: $4,000
When you think of Sears, what comes to mind? Seeing the innocent child-like glow on your dad’s face whenever he entered the store’s tool section? Shopping for back-to-school clothes with your mom? Taking your car to the Sears body shop?
Taking your car to a body shop at Sears is nowhere in your memory bank. You don’t even think there is a body shop at Sears. And why would there be? Wouldn’t a body shop be a little bit out of their area of expertise?
As Bill Rich – owner of The Body Shop at Sears Roebuck and Co., Long Island, New York – explains, not really. “Their name is Sears Roebuck and Co. The ‘company’ meaning all the other companies they have working for them, [such as] portrait studios, hair salons and optical shops inside some Sears stores. A lot of [Sears] have salons in them; a lot have optical in them. They also have a key-smith in them.”
And one Sears store has a body shop.
A Boatload of Success
Despite owning a body shop with such a well-known name attached to it, Rich is fairly new to the world of collision repair. He started out in commercial printing, where he spent 15 years. But when the Long Island firm where he worked decided to move to New Jersey to merge with another company, Rich had the choice of either moving to the Garden State or commuting from New York every day.
Rich didn’t want to do either, so he quit and started a boat cleaning business in 1989. Knowing how New York winters could be, Rich knew he wouldn’t have a decent amount of business in January, so he decided he needed a career change. At the end of that summer when boat season was coming to a close, he started job hunting. That’s when an ad in “Newsday” caught his attention.
“I saw an ad for ‘a partner, no money down, collision business, willing to train’,” he says. “I always wanted to have something to do with cars. I always had nice cars, and I would’ve loved to have been in the automotive business.”
So Rich called.
Rich and Larry Lawrence, the man who’d put the ad in the paper, hit if off right away.
“I worked for him for three years – and made no money for three years,” says Rich. “But I was learning a whole new business. I didn’t know how to repair cars, but I learned how to [write] estimates, order parts and deal with adjusters. Larry said I took to the business like a duck takes to water.”
Though Rich appreciated the experience, he also would’ve appreciated more money – something Lawrence wasn’t in a position to offer. “His overhead was very high, he couldn’t afford it, blah blah blah, yada yada yada, as Seinfeld would say.”
So Rich looked elsewhere and found a job as a general manager with a body shop called AMAP (if you’re wondering what that stands for, your guess is as good as anybody’s – Rich tends to think it was the initials of the previous owners). “Right off the bat, I was paid quite a bit of money,” he says. “They knew what I was worth.”
Rich spent three years with AMAP, honing his skills and coming to the realization that he wanted his own shop.
A Customer Who Liked Him
“We [repaired] a gentleman’s car who worked for Sears as a regional manager,” says Rich. “He liked the way I did the job and he liked me. I knew who he was, so I asked him, ‘Is there anything we could put together with Sears and myself as far as body work?’ ”
Ask, and you shall receive.
Rich and the manager put together a proposal. Six months later they drew up a contract and a year later – in February 1995 – Rich became the first (and so far, the only) owner of a body shop at Sears. “We’re a [licensed business], not a franchise.” Rich says. “We’re licensed to use the Sears name, but I’m the owner.”
The idea is to offer Sears customers services beyond those the store itself has to offer. So Rich manages the business, Sears provides support and they share the pie.
Does the Sears name benefit Rich so much that he doesn’t mind slicing Sears a piece of his pie? “[It brings in] a significant percentage of the business,” he says. “[So it’s] not a drawback.”
Rich does, however, have to follow a few rules to be part of the Sears family. There’s a book that’s “an inch thick that you have to abide by,” and Rich can’t make decisions regarding advertising or marketing without authorization from Sears.
But sacrificing a little freedom is worth it to Rich because the day-to-day management of his shop is entirely up to him. And relying on the Sears name to bring him business allows him the luxury of not having to rely on direct-repair programs.
“Why should I depend on an insurance company to send me work, give them a kickback and then repair the car the way they want it repaired?” he says. “I’m the owner. I repair it the way I want to repair it.”
Still Going Strong
After six years, The Body Shop at Sears is still going strong. Why? According to Rich, it all has to do with customer loyalty. “My customers come here for one reason: They’re attracted to the Sears name,” he says. “But you’ve got to work to satisfy the customer. Of course, the body work has to come out right, but that’s the easy part. Customers can be unhappy for the stupidest little things.”
But according to Rich, if you’re smart – and focus on customer satisfaction – those complaints will all but disappear
“In the six years I’ve been here, I’ve had only one complaint,” says Rich. “Not too many other body shops can say that.” A
Writer Emily Canning is an intern with BodyShop Business.
Customers aren’t the only ones pleased with Rich’s work. As of press time, we learned that Rich was given the go ahead to open a second location at the Sears in Lake Grove, Long Island.