Many body shop owners all over the country don’t hesitate to play important roles in their respective communities. Some are content to sponsor Little League teams and the local high schools, while others are willing to get even more involved. Steve Copeland, the owner of Copeland Auto Body in Hedrick, IA is one of the latter.
They say that in any volunteer-based organization, 10 percent of the members do 80 percent of the work, whether it’s the Kiwanis or any form of local government. Many years ago, Steve Copeland decided to be that 10 percent. Today, he is Hedrick’s Fire Chief, the President of the District’s school board and also the former President of Hedrick’s flourishing Little League baseball program.
Copeland had absolutely no training or experience when he started on this journey into public service, but he now realizes that it is in his DNA and something he was driven to do. “My wife Holly says I’m a good decision maker and that’s why people pick me to play these roles, Copeland said. “I never started doing this in order to help or promote my business, but in some ways it has helped. By being involved in the community, I am visible and accessible, which I believe the people of Hedrick appreciate.”
1.53 square miles in size, Hedrick has a population of approximately 800, so if you don’t know Steve Copeland, you probably just moved there. Copeland owns and operates two businesses—Copeland Auto Body and Copeland Towing & Recovery in nearby Sigourney, IA that also performs mechanical work, but it all started in a roundabout way.
“I learned how to fix things on my grandfather’s farm,” he said. “We grew corn and soybeans and had some cattle. When it comes to farm equipment, you can’t replace stuff, so you have to fix it. Later, I got into race cars and when I was 15, I restored an old Impala. So, cars were always a big interest of mine, but I never figured that I would own a shop.”
Auto body repair wasn’t initially on Copeland’s radar. “I had a full-time job as a shift manager at at a large Iowa-based grocery store,” he explained. “My need to become an independent business owner finally got the best of me along with my love to fix things. I had been working on peoples’ cars on my days off, along with rebuilding some wrecked vehicles to sell. In 1994, I hired a painter and began my education at the school of Hard Knocks. We have now grown from a two-man body shop to a full service eight employee collision repair shop.”
Being a community leader can be either a plus or a minus when it comes to also being a business owner. “It can be good, but it can also cause conflicts with other people who may not agree with one of my decisions. There are folks in every community where they get into office because they have an agenda or an axe to grind over some issue. I don’t do it for those reasons; I truly want to help the community and make it a better place to live and work.”
By serving his town in several capacities, Copeland has learned some invaluable lessons. “I tell people that we’re not going to agree on everything, because I will never be a yes man. Can’t we agree to disagree and then make decisions that will help us all? If you want to make a difference, you need to jump in and get things done, because otherwise they won’t.”
Copeland’s competition in Hedrick isn’t exactly fierce, to say the least. “We’re the only body shop in town, but we get cars here from as far as 40 miles away, because we’re in a rural part of the state. With 800 people living here, we often see the same vehicles coming through the door twice, even three times.”
Being Hedrick’s fire chief can occasionally impact Copeland’s cycle times, but most of his DRPs and customers don’t seem to mind. “We have 17 people on our 100 percent volunteer fire crew and when our pagers go off, we all need to respond. One of my employees is also a member, so sometimes we will end up being shorthanded at the shop. One day, a fire kept us out of the shop all day long, starting at around 10 am and we were busy at the time. I won’t lie to you—fighting some of these fires can take a toll on your body, but our attitude is whatever it takes, we’ll do it.”
Copeland’s involvement in Hedrick’s school board has paid off in an indirect way, because both of his sons, Chase and Tyler have turned out pretty well, according to their proud father. “They both play football for the Pekin High School Panthers and they run track as well,” Copeland said. “They were part of a 4x2 relay team and they won the state title. They’re good students and they are getting great educations, so that is very satisfying.”
Will Steve’s sons enter the collision repair world when the time comes? “I don’t know, because it’s not an easy business to be in,” he explained. “My father tried to talk me out of getting into this industry, so I don’t want them to feel like they have to do this. One of them is into fixing the cars and the other one is good at the computer-side of things, so I think they will do a great job if they decide to take over.”