Paint the Town Red: Aaron Clark - BodyShop Business

Paint the Town Red: Aaron Clark

As a child, Aaron Clark wanted to paint everything in sight – and he did.
That determination to fulfill his dreams has helped him to overcome
adversity and to achieve his goals.

Aaron Clark began his body shop career in his mother’s and step- father’s shop at the age of 8, literally growing up in the collision industry. After finishing high school and working as a professional painter, Clark decided he wanted to run the business where he had his start.

Unfortunately, his parents didn’t think he was qualified.

Not to be dissuaded, he started his own shop – in competition with theirs. This business was such a success that it eventually grew into four shops.

But Clark wasn’t done yet.

He was troubled that there wasn’t an Indiana collision repair association. Dissatisfied with national associations that included other industries and didn’t directly address what he considered the pertinent issues, Clark set out to create an association for Indiana.

When he was unable to find funding, Clark decided to fund the association out of his own pocket and also somehow managed to find the time to get it off the ground – all while still running his four shops.

It was no doubt a difficult task, but according to Clark, "the toughest things usually turn out to be the most rewarding."

Q: How did you get involved in collision repair?

A: My mother and stepfather started one of our existing stores in 1979 (Glenn Earle’s Collision Center). I was 8 at the time, and my stepfather didn’t hesitate to make me help. … I started out digging fence post holes and picking up trash, then I cleaned paint booths and the shops, then cleaned cars, then prepped cars for paint, then painted cars, then did body and frame work, then managed parts, then managed shops, then owned shops. All in that order.

Q: Was it your first job?

A: The only place I’ve ever worked has been a body shop.

Q: What’s your education/background?

A: I graduated high school in 1989 and went to work full time as a painter.

Q: As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A: I wanted to paint everything that I could see – and I did!

Q: Are you married?

A: I’ve been married since August 2001 to my beautiful wife, Celine. We don’t have any children yet, but we have a very tiny poodle.

Q: What industry organizations are you involved in? Are you also involved in community organizations?

I’m a member of the national I-CAR Gold Class Advisory Committee, the chairman of the Indianapolis I-CAR Committee, I’ve been a member of CIECA, I’m a member of SCRS, ASA, NABC, ACOAT, a CIC gold pin sponsor and president of the IABA (Indiana Autobody Association).

Q: You own four shops now?

A: Yes. They’re all in the greater Indianapolis area. I had two shops in the Indianapolis area (Glenn Earle’s) that were owned and operated by my mother and stepfather. My stepfather was approaching the age where he’d planned on retiring. He and my mother, Donna, had divorced, and my mother bought his interest in the business. She passed away from cancer just a couple of years later.

When my brother and I assumed control of the business, we were interested in growing it. We began discussions with Dick Cobb, who owned two stores in Northern Indianapolis (Excel). After a year and a half, we got the attorneys involved and pounded out a deal to merge the two companies, giving us four stores.

Q: What’s your role at the shops? Are you busy working in the shops or on the business?

A: There are three owners who work in the business on a daily basis, and we also have facility managers who are responsible for each store. It’s more accurate to say that the three of us owners are busy working on the business.

I’m the president and primarily work on sales, marketing and training, along with being the representative or ‘face’ of the business. I also attend all of the industry events.

Dick Cobb is COO and spends a lot of time working with our managers to ensure a consistent product is always being delivered. My brother, Brian Clark, is the CFO and handles the accounting team and is generally responsible for finance and administrative issues.

Q: What’s the toughest thing about being a shop owner? What’s the best thing?

A: The toughest things usually turn out to be the most rewarding. Any challenge, issue or potential problem that we’re forced to deal with, such as employer/employee issues or a customer who’s not satisfied with a repair, can be disappointing or tough, but resolving or correcting the issue is always rewarding.

When a customer is involved in a severe collision and we repair the vehicle to as good or better condition than it was in before and the customer arrives to pick up the vehicle and says he can’t tell that it was ever wrecked, that’s probably the most rewarding.

Q: What motivates you?

A: Making a difference.

Q: Who are your role models?

A: I have several role models, none in particular who need mentioned, but I will say that I admire anyone who tries to always do the right thing.

Q: You said you felt that Indiana needed an autobody association, so you started one. What motivated you to take this on?

A: The local market has been very fragmented for a long time, yet working together is the most important thing we can do. … There are so many issues that our industry is faced with, and we can’t do anything to deal with these issues independent of each other. We must join together [to have] a united front.

The only associations in Indiana were national associations (ASA and AASP), and these organizations work with the mechanical industry as well as the collision repair industry. They were successful in the past, but there wasn’t enough support from the membership.

I thought that we needed an association that’s Indiana specific. We’re affiliated with the SCRS, and we’ll affiliate with the ASA as soon as we have enough members who are also members of ASA.

I think that the industry has changed enough that body shop owners and managers see the need to belong to an association that’s dealing with the issues we’re faced with. More things have changed in the last few years than 10 years before.

Q: With four shops, how did you find the time to get this association going?

A: It’s very tough. I dedicate the time that’s available to each job as necessary, and I try to delegate as much as I can.

Q: I understand that you couldn’t get the funding elsewhere, so you put up your own money.

A: The amount of money that was needed was not a significant amount, and I thought if we don’t do it, who will?

Q: I’m seeing a theme here. There’s no association, so you made one. No funding, so you funded it. Would you say this is how you approach things in all areas of your life?

A: Yes. I’m very spontaneous and not very conservative, which may be a vice as well as a virtue. I wanted to run the shops for my parents after I’d been out of school for a few years and they didn’t think I was ready or qualified, so I left in 1994 and started a shop with a friend of mine. I competed against my parents for several years before returning to work with them. The shop that we started grew to two locations with 25 employees in a short three years, and both shops are still in business today.

Q: What is the most pressing issue facing Indiana shop owners? How will the association tackle that issue?

A: There are several issues. We’d like to amend some current legislation (parts usage), we’d like to see additional legislation, such as a vehicle inspection law, a law preventing insurance ownership in shops and anti-steering legislation. We need additional funding, and we need to procure a government-relations firm to lobby for our industry. The Indiana Insurance Commissioner is an appointed position as opposed to an elected position, so we’ll need a lot of lobbying.

Q: Where is the membership now?

A: Membership is slow. We don’t even have 60 members who’ve paid their dues yet – but several are promising to, which will push us up to around 75.

Q: What are your goals for the association?

A: To increase membership to at least 100 shops in 2005 and to get as much funding as possible to afford to put a bill into the House or Senate – and at least get it heard. We may not be successful, but we must try. Also, we need to work together to promote the image of our industry and to establish consistency within shops.

Q: What’s your greatest victory, defeat?

A: Starting my own shop was my greatest victory because I had so many people who didn’t think we could do it. My greatest defeat was not actually me being defeated, but watching my mother die of cancer at the age of 58. She was a very strong and determined woman, very independent and well-liked by everyone who knew her.

Q: I imagine it’s tough to find it, but when you have spare time, how do you spend it?

A: Golf, golf and more golf!

Q: What’s your motto?

A: If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always be where you always were.

Writer Liz Blickle is an intern for BodyShop Business. She is also the founder of the Save the Intern’s Automobile Association. Inquiries about donations can be made at [email protected].

The BSB Questionnaire

We started the sentence, and Aaron finished it:

The best movie ever made was: The Matrix.

My favorite actor is: Samuel Jackson.

It really makes me mad: when you know that something is bothering someone and you ask what’s wrong and they say "nothing."

If I could meet anyone dead or alive, I’d choose: Enzo Ferrari.

My favorite vacation spots are: London and Paris. They’re the most fascinating places I’ve been.

If I could travel anywhere in the world, I’d go to: Australia or New Zealand.

My first car was: a new, black Beretta that I bought when I was 16 years old. I’ve had seven black cars since.

My favorite sport is: golf. Football is a close second, and I like the Indianapolis Colts.

If I could have a superpower, I’d: see the future.

If I had the choice of being able to teleport or to read people’s minds, I’d choose: teleport. I don’t want to know what other people think.

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