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|Shop Name: Quality Collision Repair Inc.
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Location: Rockledge, Fla.
Square Footage: 6,642
Owners: Everette and Sandy Sharpe
No. of Employees: 10
Repair Volume/No. of Cars Per Month: 60 cars per month
Average Repair Cost: $1400
Working on his business – rather than in his business – has allowed this shop owner to grow his shop, yet not become a
slave to it.
by Georgina Carson
Everette Sharpe Sr. – owner of Quality Collision Repair in Rockledge, Fla. – doesn’t fear consolidators, insurer-owned shops or even the “lowest-priced provider” concept made infamous by Wal-Mart.
He feels his shop’s focus on consumer education, customer service and quality speak for themselves.
What he does fear, however, “is the mentality and lack of unity in the collision industry,” says Sharpe. “Far too many shops operate on old values. They believe that you give away or make sometimes questionable deals to get work. Because we don’t share those beliefs, it’s oftentimes difficult to get what we need from insurance companies to do the job to our standard.”
It’s taken Sharpe two decades – and a lot of grief – to come to terms with insurance company involvement in the industry and the individualistic, apathetic attitude exhibited by many repairers.
“Early on in my career, I recog- nized that the collision industry would ‘give’ me nothing,” says Sharpe. “I realized that dedication and hard work would be the only way to step up from the realities of an industry bogged down in its own misery of being steered by a much larger, more powerful, outside industry.
“I wasted the first 10 years of my own business fighting with that outside force and the second 10 years trying to recruit and then organize my fellow collision workers into a unified effort to seek change in the collision industry. I failed miserably in both.”
The first 10 years he speaks of are his anti-DRP years. Sharpe was a “huge opponent” of DRPs through the ’80s and early ’90s.
“I still believe they’re a huge divider of the collision industry. However, they’re here to stay, thanks in part, I believe, to the individualist nature of collision repair people.”
Today, Sharpe participates in three DRPs. “We’re direct repair for [three] major companies who recognize, appreciate and are willing to pay for quality work. We chose to remove ourselves from a [fourth] direct-repair program that did not.”
Just recently, Quality Collision was selected to represent the AAA auto club, making them the only collision repair shop in their county to offer Triple A-approved autobody repairs.
The second 10 years Sharpe referred to are his association days.
“I was a founding member of our local body shop association. At one point, our membership was most of the local shops. It was active through the ’90s but folded due to lack of interest from the very people it was founded to help.
“I can say, without hesitation, those 10 years of working with fellow shop owners, managers, techs and suppliers gained me far greater knowledge than all years previous. Yet I would return home from the monthly meetings so frustrated with the apathy demonstrated by the majority attending.
“It’s no wonder the collision industry has become so dominated by the insurance industry.”
In the Beginning …
Sharpe’s been in the autobody field for more than 40 years, starting out in a new car dealership where his father worked. The body shop needed a helper, so Sharpe began training for that position, eventually going on to become a Master Chrysler Certified Technician.
He moved his family to Florida in 1967 and was hired as a body technician by a Chrysler dealership. He later became the body shop manager and then the director of parts, service and the body shop.
What was left?
“The next step in my personal growth was my own business,” says Sharpe, who left the dealership in 1983 and opened Quality Collision Repair.
“With my dealership experience and my wife’s business degree, QCR grew quickly,” he says. “I was able, through hard work and determination, to hone my skills and business knowledge.”
Sharpe’s first facility was in a rented 1,500-square-foot building. The facility that houses QCR today was built in 1986. The initial building was 2,100 square feet but has grown over the years to its present size of 6,642.
Sharpe’s oldest daughter, Teresa, started working at the shop in 1987, daughter Cassi started in 1990 and son Everette Jr. in 2000.
But it wasn’t easy giving over control to the kids.
“I never had a desire to do anything other than work on cars,” says Sharpe. “So letting go of the actual hands-on work in the shop and devoting my time to the business side required several years of effort. Yet it proved to be the right thing for the business.
“Being able to delegate my duties on the management side also was difficult. But by gaining the ability to step back and look at the business without the everyday stress of running that business allowed me to make better business decisions.”
Quality Collision is located “in a small, bedroom-type community with a population of less than 30,000,” says Sharpe. “However, our reputation draws customers from other communities within a 50-mile radius.”
Sharpe says that there are about 130 shops serving a population of 476,230 in Brevard County and that there are six shops within one mile of his shop.
So how does he differentiate Quality Collision from the other shops in the marketplace?
“We’re more active in the community, and present ourselves in a professional manner,” he says. “In addition to our neat and clean appearance, for which we were awarded the City Beautification Award, we’re also backed by a solid reputation of doing only quality repairs.”
Another way he makes his shop stand out: smart advertising and learning from past mistakes.
“We initially spent a great deal of money on Yellow Pages ads and even more on radio commercials,” says Sharpe. “The results were far from being cost effective.
“Today our advertising money is spent on community events. Table top presentations at our Chamber of Commerce’s monthly meetings, Project Graduation at local high schools, Little League ball, fund drives and other local affairs.
“We also sponsor a traffic island on a very busy street in our city. We pay for the upkeep of the plants and flowers that grow on the traffic island, and in return, we have signs posted on the island promoting our business.
“We’ve found the money spent is far less, and the return is much greater in keeping our name before the community.”
But his best form of advertising simply started out as a good deed.
“By far, the best advertising we could possibly get was from donating the restoration of a small train for our local zoo. It cost us lots of time and hard work, but the rewards were far beyond our expectations.
“Our pictures and shop were plastered all over the community by the zoo for a good period of time. In turn, our business was nominated for the Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year Award. Winning the award brought additional exposure and increased our customer base by leaps and bounds.”
Making Consumers Customers
Once smart advertising piques a consumer’s interest, Quality Collision takes an old-fashioned approach to wooing them. When customers call to ask for directions to the shop, they’re “greeted by a real person instead of a machine,” says Sharpe. “And the person is friendly, polite and capable of answering questions without putting you on hold to find someone who can.”
Upon arriving, a customer sees a professional-looking building on both the outside and inside, and is cordially greeted immediately upon entering.
Quality Collision also takes a proactive approach to educating customers, which helps to prevent the consumer – and shop – from becoming victims of insurance company steering.
“We educate our customer whenever possible on all aspects of the repair and strive to instill in them the need for safe, professional repairs, as well as receiving what they’re entitled to,” says Sharpe. “We do this, yet we avoid any negative words concerning insurance companies or competitors.”
“You can easily lose business due to increased insurance company intervention. By this I mean steering the customer, dictating the repair procedure and demanding aftermarket or LKQ parts. We spend more and more time educating our customers that we can repair their vehicle as well as the insurance DRP.”
Sharpe says his shop’s attention to personal service is one of the things that makes it stand out among the local shops. For example, Quality Collision:
Informs customers of their rights.
Assists them in getting quality repairs at a fair price.
Keeps them informed during the repair.
Assists them with rental cars.
Helps them to get their insurance checks.
A Family Affair
“Being in Florida, we have the luxury of an open-air shop,” says Sharpe. “We have an awning that runs the full length of the shop, which the techs like to work under.
“Smaller jobs are done outside under the awning while heavy hits occupy the inside bays.”
The downside was their limited space. Sharpe says the addition of four new bays has helped to solve that problem.
Quality Collision currently employs two I-CAR-trained, ASE-Certified metal technicians who do the heavy hits and a metal tech in training who does light repairs. The shop also has one I-CAR-trained, ASE-Certified painter, one helper trainee and one full-time detail person.
The work is overseen by shop foreman and son, Everette Jr., who’s also I-CAR trained and ASE Certified. The office consists of daughter and I-CAR trained office manager/estimator, Cassi; daughter and I-CAR-trained, ASE-Certified operations manager/estimator Teresa; and finally, “the boss of all operations,” wife and money person, Sandy.
In addition to being I-CAR Gold Class trained and ASE Certified, the staff also attends regular paint manufacturer and safety classes.
“I’m on a ‘call if needed basis’ with fishing and housework being my main functions,” says Sharpe.
A Day in the Life
Each day begins with a short meeting between the office staff. The work day is planned with emphasis on what’s going out that day.
Cassi greets new customers and gathers their information. The customer is then turned over to Teresa, who prepares an estimate, sells the job and negotiates with the insurance company. Teresa also tracks the jobs and handles the schedule.
A parts order is printed and given to Cassi, who then faxes the order and tracks the parts until delivery.
Two copies of the work order are given to shop foreman Everette Jr., who assigns and goes over the job with the techs. Together they check the parts for the job.
Any parts needing to be cut in are given to the painter. Following disassembly, the shop foreman and tech determine if there are additional needed items and parts.
If a supplement is needed, notes are taken and given to Teresa, who processes the supplement and calls the owner and insurance company to get an authorization. A corrected work order and parts list to Cassi and the shop foreman then follows.
A log sheet is kept to track the number of vehicles in the shop for repair. In addition, each vehicle has its own folder, which remains in a rack in the office. Information concerning that vehicle, parts order and arrival time, phone call records to the owner and insurance company, in-date and scheduled out-date, as well as any other information pertaining to that vehicle, are in the folder.
After metal work is completed and checked by the shop foreman, the vehicle moves to the paint shop. The same process is repeated with the painter and helper.
After painting, buffing, reassembly and cleanup, the car is inspected by the shop foreman for completion of work. He then turns the vehicle over to Cassi, who also doubles as the quality-control inspector. She ensures that all work listed on the work order has been completed and that the vehicle is clean.
The vehicle is then parked out front and the owner is notified.
As efficient as it all sounds in writing, there are glitches in every process, especially when a third party is involved. Sharpe says the common problem areas for his shop are:
Receiving poorly written insurance estimates.
Dealing with supplements.
Spending excessive time educating insurance appraisers on why a procedure is needed.
Waiting to get approvals.
Waiting for parts to arrive.
Dealing with ill-fitting aftermarket and poor-quality used parts.
Presenting the Finished Product
No matter how good your repair, presentation can make or break you.
“Our customers are impressed by our office and the waiting area,” says Sharpe. “We have a very large hand-painted mural depicting Florida wildlife that grabs their eye upon entering. There’s also a child area with small seats, a table and ‘quiet-type’ games and puzzles to keep them occupied.”
How you present the finished vehicle is also critical.
“Our customers rave about how clean their vehicles are when returned, especially the ladies,” says Sharpe. “We’ve found over the years that presenting the newly repaired vehicle to its owner properly is an absolute key to his complete satisfaction.”
Quality Collision follows five simple rules for a proper presentation:
Be sure the vehicle is out front ready to go before the owner arrives.
Be sure all paperwork is ready before the customer arrives.
Have the vehicle clean inside and out, including all windows.
If a molding or piece of trim is missing due to not arriving on time, let the customer know before he arrives.
Do everything in your power to avoid what Sharpe calls “a 5 o’clock surprise.” Have everything in order so the customer won’t have to deal with an unexpected event when he arrives.
For the shop, the goals are:
To keep up with the changes in technology.
To support the community.
To build better relations with insurance companies.
To take care of their No. 1 resource: customers.
For Sharpe and his wife, the goals are:
“Sandy and I decided early on not to become slaves to our business,” says Sharpe. “We take time away to keep our minds clear, and we travel quite often, leaving our children to run the business.
“We’re now in the process of phasing ourselves out of the day-to-day business entirely. Our children, now grown adults, realize what they’ll have in the business we’re leaving to them. And I’m pleased that the business will survive under their care for years to come.”
| Behind the Bays
Spraybooth: Binks Pyramid Downdraft with heat
Lift: Blackhawk Portable lift
Dimensioning System: Shark
Straightening System: Blackhawk
Paint Mixing System: Sikkens computerized mixing system
Estimating System: ADP
Future Equipment Purchases: twin-post lift, drive-on frame machine
Writer Georgina K. Carson is editor
of BodyShop Business. She, too, is looking
forward to retirement. Only 35 years
Got an interesting shop? E-mail Georgina at [email protected] and tell her why – and your shop could be featured in an upcoming Shop Profile.