Life After the Sale of Your Auto Body Shop
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Life After the Sale of Your Auto Body Shop

From relaxing to starting other businesses, these former shop owners are finding that life doesn’t have to end after collision.

Laura Gay’s first automotive job was at a new car dealership, where she grew the collision center from $1.5 to $3.5 million in annual sales. After a stint in insurance, she and her former husband bought a body shop and tripled the annual sales in the first 18 months and grew sales to $5.5 million in less than three years. In 2011, she purchased a second shop and boosted sales from $750,000 to $3 million in the first year. In 2015, Laura sold both her shops to Caliber Collision. In 2017, she created Consolidation Coach, which helps collision center owners obtain the maximum returns for their business. She also started Collision Consulting of Florida, which provides full in-shop evaluations and services across the U.S. for all aspects of the collision business. She currently resides in Naples, Fla., with her dogs and her son. She is an avid golfer, loves anything to do with any type of racing, and is a member of several car clubs and ladies golf leagues. She can be reached at (301) 399-8675 or [email protected]

When most auto body shop owners first stick their toes in the water of thinking of selling their shops, many are stricken with the thought: What will I do with my time if I sell? Many never sell because they do not want to face that fear. Let’s face it: Our shops are our lives, and selling is like selling a piece of our souls.

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But giving up the business you started is not all doom and gloom. The following shop owners overcame their fears and sold their shops and found many different ways to fill the void left in their lives.

Mark Martin — Collision1

Winter sports have been a big part of Mark Martin’s retirement.

Mark Martin is the former owner of Collision1 Ankeny in Ankeny, Iowa, and former co-owner of Collision1 Grimes in Grimes, Iowa.

In early 2021, Martin sold his shops to Caliber Collision. His plan when he decided to sell was to retire and enjoy life, and he has done just that. This wasn’t so difficult, as he has always had a zest for life and was never one of those shop owners who worked 70 hours a week — he was a certified master in work/life balance!

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Since retirement, it has been pretty much non-stop fun for Martin. Summer brought him bicycling, motorcycling, traveling and spending time with his daughters. He has been riding his dirt bike, fat-tire bicycle, mountain bike and training bicycle intensely. In July of 2021, he participated in the RAGBRAI for the 12th consecutive year, a seven-day bicycle ride across Iowa requiring intense training and stamina. He participates in many of these rigorous bike rides all over the country as well and has enough energy left to play indoor hockey (which he loves) two times a week.

Winter has been all about snowboarding for Martin, especially at Copper Mountain and other hotspots around Colorado. While in the Centennial State, he has been spending quality time with family and helping his daughter with some remodeling and updating of her home.

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Retirement has not been all roses and rainbows, however. Martin got a few lemons in the form of COVID, losing his beloved mother to the virus on Dec. 6, 2020 when he was in the midst of selling his shop. To make matters worse, her celebration of life was delayed due to the pandemic. Martin was always a “mama’s boy,” being very close with his mom and working side by side with her at the auto body shop since 1990. Lifetime Channel movies are made about the special bond Martin shared with his mom, whose celebration of life was finally realized on Dec. 12, 2021. COVID, however, did not stop there with Martin’s family. He has been caring for his eight-month-old grandson while his daughter tends to her mother-in-law, who is recovering from COVID.

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Martin plans to continue with his regularly scheduled fun as long as his body will allow him. At 61 years young, he’ll probably be snowboarding for a long time to come.

Christy Jones — Collision1

Christy Jones: “I am free of stress and feel as if a weight has been lifted.”

In 2021, Christy Jones, the former owner of Collision1 R Jones in Des Moines, Iowa, and former co-owner of Collision1 Grimes in Grimes, Iowa, sold her shops to Caliber Collision. Selling her shops wasn’t a decision she took lightly; after all, one of the shops was a family business she grew up in. Changing gears from busy multi-shop owner to retiree was an adjustment, but she quickly figured out that it was the right decision for her.

“I am free of stress and feel as if a weight has been lifted,” says Jones. “There is no more having to make everyone happy, and I am so glad I did it.”

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Jones said she recently went to the grocery store in the early afternoon and found herself smiling and happy looking at the rest of the shoppers who were in their 70s and 80s.

“Being at the grocery store on a Tuesday at 1 p.m. made me realize how blessed I am,” she says.

Being spontaneous is a big part of Jones’ new life. She is loving not having an agenda or any place to be. She loved being a shop owner, but as any shop owner would understand, she’s happy that she isn’t running around wearing her “Make Everyone Happy Hat” anymore.

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One thing Jones does every day is wake up whenever she wakes up. She enjoys sitting by the fire and reading her devotions. She now focuses on slowing down and making time for the simple things in life.

Travel has always been something Jones has enjoyed, but she never had the time, as she had always been tied down to the shops. As soon as she closed on the sale, however, she took a trip with her bestie, Jen, to celebrate. Since then, she has committed herself to at least one trip a month somewhere. Those monthly trips have taken her to many NASCAR races (one of which was Bristol on the dirt); Galveston and Houston, Texas, for relaxation; Marco Island, Florida, for some sun; and Waverly, Iowa to one of the coolest bed and breakfasts in the country.

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Retirement hasn’t been all about her, though. Jones has always been active in her community and the collision repair industry, so when she decided to sell, it was important to her to continue this part of her life. Some of the charitable activities she participates in include: volunteering for a non-profit mobile food pantry one day a week; adopting a family every year at Christmas to whom she donates meals and gifts; and working with SCORE, a national SBA program with an Iowa chapter that helps mentor business owners so they can realize their dreams and potential.

Jones is now following her dream of teaching and coaching, and in early 2022, she accepted a position with Accelerate ActionCoach, a business coaching organization based in Iowa.

Jeff Saldino — Classi Auto Body

Ruby, a corgi pup Jeff Saldino and his wife adopted, has been keeping Saldino company at his hobby shop, Jeff’s Restoration.

You may remember Jeff Saldino of Classi Auto Body in Holly Hill, Florida, from the cover of the June 2021 issue of BodyShop Business. He sold his shop to Classic Collision in August 2021 on Friday the 13th. It was a great day for Saldino and Freddy Krueger!

Saldino has been one busy bee since he sold his shop but says, “I am completely stress-free now.” Everyone knows the housing market has been wild everywhere, and Dayton, Flordia, (where Saldino lives) has been no exception. Capitalizing on this trend, Saldino, a lifetime “project man,” has been buying distressed homes, fixing them up and selling them.

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Saldino has also been busy with Jeff’s Restoration, a shop that specializes in high-end, quality-focused restoration work on older domestic vehicles. That was always his hobby shop, as restoration was always his passion. Saldino spends a good bit of time at the restoration shop, where so many of his family members work that the shop has become a two-for-one: family and hobby time.

One of the family members at the shop is Ruby, a corgi pup Saldino and his wife adopted that has become his companion just about everywhere he goes. She loves to travel and dine out with her new family and has a favorite restaurant where she orders the “puppy burger.” She also loves to go to their second home in New Jersey and takes part in day trips. She especially loved visiting Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, and riding the train up the mountain and back.

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Speaking of family, the Saldino clan is very tight-knit, loving and supportive of one another. Both Saldino’s collision center and restoration shop employed most of his family, so deciding to sell was a very emotional decision. With thoughtfulness, careful planning and love post-sale, his family remains working for the new owners and/or the restoration shop.

Those family bonds were tested while he was in the midst of selling his shop and his wife’s brother was diagnosed with cancer, but his family has rallied around them and, as a result, she has stayed positive and her husband is responding to treatment.

David Husel — New Stage Collision

David Husel and his wife, Carly, are focused on being healthy with exercise, eating right and enjoying life.

David Husel sold his shop, New Stage Collision of Medford, Oregon, to Classic Collision on Dec. 31, 2021 — the last closing of the year for Classic.

At just 41 years old, Husel was the last shop owner you would expect to see sell, but his driving factor was stress and being able to cash in now and realize a new life with his wife, Carly.

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“Timing is everything in life,” David says. “I realized that there was no better time to sell than right now. As an independent shop owner, you have to look yourself in the mirror and be honest. What else can I do in this industry? Am I changing the industry, or is the industry changing me? I felt like I had taken my shop as far as it could go. It was time to pivot and take my cash and do something completely different.”

David has been at his former shop since closing, assisting with the hand-off and wrapping up loose ends. That is, until he and his wife contracted COVID in late January 2022. David and his wife will be super-focused on a healthy lifestyle going forward.

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Carly loves that her husband is no longer so stressed. She says selling the shop has changed their life and marriage on levels she could have never imagined.

“[David] did not realize how much the stress of the shop transferred to his home life until now,” says Carly, who works in the residential mortgage industry — another stressful profession that has been insanely busy for the past few years.

David made a promise to his wife that he would not start any new business in 2022. Carly told him, “2022 is about relaxing and getting healthy for David.” However, David has been investing in real estate for 10 years and will continue to do so going forward.

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David and Carly are focused on being healthy with exercise, eating right and enjoying life. They both love to travel and had a planned celebration trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, that was unfortunately cancelled due to COVID travel restrictions. David is looking forward to a golf trip in March to Palm Springs, California. Next, they’re looking for a second home in Arizona to escape the wet Oregon winters. Once the COVID pandemic is in the rearview mirror and travel restrictions loosen up, they plan to travel abroad extensively as well.

David is not sure what his new career will be or where he will end up; he’s just happy he’s no longer a collision shop owner.

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