Kevin Marvin, body shop manager at Criswell Collision Center in Annapolis, Md., has seen steady growth since opening his shop in 2008 – sales are up by 10 percent from last year. Opening a shop amid the Great Recession sounds like a nearly impossible feat, yet Marvin has managed to maintain and grow his business through hard work and vigorously pursuing OE certifications and DRP relationships.
“From most perspectives, I think you’ll hear that DRP and insurance relationships are probably still the most important thing, but we try to hedge our bet by getting involved with manufacturer certification,” said Marvin.
In the past six years, Criswell has achieved certifications from Audi, Porsche, Tesla, Acura and Honda, which has resulted in further growth for the business.
“Those clients are very loyal to the brand. We kind of have a captive audience there.”
The shop also recently obtained aluminum certification – something that Marvin says will ultimately benefit his business in the long run.
“It’s going to take years before we start to see a return on investment on the tools and equipment and training for that type of repair,” he said. “But I think there’s an unforeseen benefit that comes from it that isn’t directly related to aluminum repair – getting other manufacturers’ attention by being aluminum certified. And if other people see that, then they’re more likely to come to us.”
Spreading the Word
DeLee Powell of Baker’s Collision Center in Mansfield, Ohio, is also in the process of getting her shop aluminum certified. Located in a small Midwestern town, her store is the only OEM-certified repair facility apart from dealerships, which gives her a significant advantage.
“People have taken the car out of the dealership and brought it to us because they saw [our certification] on our website,” she said. “The consumer is getting smarter by doing their own research.”
But the No. 1 reason behind Baker’s 15-plus percent spike in growth is marketing, says Powell. In addition to boosting its presence on social media, the company partnered with a local radio talk show host earlier this year, which has significantly increased its business.
What BodyShop Business Readers On LinkedIn Said
“Up just a little.” – Kevin Wells, owner, Quality Collision Centers, Inc.
“Up about 18 percent.” – Jim Patrick, collision repair shop manager, Joseph Chevrolet
“We found a radio celebrity who would personally endorse us, and he has a core listening group that’s aligned with our core customer,” said Powell. “We actually pay him a talent fee because he’s saying, ‘Take your car where I would take it.’ He’s constantly talking about us. We were able to find that right niche of getting the message out to our core customer.”
Powell isn’t the only one who’s seeing results with local radio. Todd Litton and his daughter, Mariah, of American Autobody in Billings, Mont., have experienced steady growth since opening shop about 25 years ago, and much of that can be attributed to community outreach.
“A lot of times, people see body shops as this looming, scary business,” said Mariah. “So we offer car care tips on the radio every Friday. We talk about everything from getting your car prepared for winter to fun stuff like what your car color says about your personality. We’ve really tried to reach out and present ourselves as more of a community member.”
Aside from marketing, a recent sharp increase in sales of 20 to 30 percent can be attributed to a vicious hailstorm that hit Montana in May.
“It was pretty phenomenal,” said Todd. “Hail is very, very stressful, because you all of a sudden have 20,000 to 30,000 customers in the neighborhood who need your help after a five-minute storm.”
Aside from bad weather and the inevitable factor of deer, another trend that’s keeping the collision industry alive and well is distracted driving, which has been significantly more widespread since the birth of the smartphone.
“It’s typically a smaller accident, but a lot of them come in,” said Todd.
To ensure their growth isn’t just short term, both Powell and the Littons are putting their focus on adding customer-valued services. Baker’s Collision has added a service department that includes glass repair and bedliners, and American Autobody is continuing to stress community outreach by hosting local car care clinics and presentations in driver’s education classes.
“We want to keep every little sublet thing in house so we can control the cycle time and have customers for life,” said Powell.
“We have to be an advocate for the customer,” said Todd Litton. “We’re really trying to be more approachable and at the forefront in the community.”