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Wednesday, 12 July 2017 21:58

Shop Strategies: Smith Bros. Focus on Customer Service While Dividing Time Among 3 Locations

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At Smith Bros Collision Center and Truck Accessories, brothers Chad and Adam Smith work hard to ensure every repair is a positive experience for their customers.

“We believe our customers come first and great service is something they deserve,” said Chad, co-owner of the Mississippi-based business. “Through continuing education and process improvement, we empower our team with knowledge to serve our customers and exceed their expectations.”


In 2000, the brothers acquired a dealership shop in Brookhaven, MS, that was shutting down. Adam was 21 years old at the time and had a few years of experience in the body shop industry, while Chad was 28 and had a background in finance and accounting.


The Smith brothers rented the building from the owner of the dealership, kept the same team of employees in place and named the shop Smith Bros Collision Center and Truck Accessories. Four years later, they acquired a second location in McComb. A third location was added in September 2015 in Hattiesburg.


Autobody News talked to Chad about the family-run business and how the brothers operate three locations while focusing on excellent customer service and staying active in the industry.


Q: As a family-owned business, how have you and your brother divided responsibilities?


A: When we first started and grew from one to two shops, it made sense that one of us primarily stayed at one of the locations. At the time, we had to manage the individual shops, which prevented us from expanding the business.


When we opened the third location, we realized that we couldn’t be in three places at the same time. We promoted someone from within the organization and hired general managers who could handle day-to-day operations. It also enabled us to focus on growing the business. We are now able to manage operations from any of the three locations. Neither of us just put our feet up and work from home. Adam or I are always at one of the shops, although we’re not necessarily on the same schedule. Sometimes we’re both at the same place, depending on what is going on at a certain time.

Q: Working in a family company can often be challenging. Can you share any advice with those in a similar situation?


A: It has been a good experience for us. Fortunately, we haven’t had any issues working together. I think one of the main things is having a good understanding that family comes first. It’s so important to always put family above anything business-related. Make sure you are on the same page knowing what your end goal is as far as where you want your business to go.


Ask the tough questions. Do you want to have a business that relies on insurance relationships and profitability in order to be sustainable and not necessarily focus on the customer? I’m not saying the two are exclusive to one another. Or do you want to have a business that focuses on customer relations and still be profitable? It’s critical to make sure you both have the same idea about the business model you want to run and what you want to achieve.


Q: How has offering additional services to collision repair benefited Smith Bros?


In addition to collision repair work, we have a full-service car and truck mechanical repair shop. We also provide a great selection of truck accessories at each of our three locations. In our part of the country, trucks are very prevalent. We might have a customer who has purchased a new or used truck and he/she wants to add certain things to it, such as a bed cover or step bar.


By selling truck accessories, we potentially have an up sale. We try to stock items that make someone’s ride “one-of-a-kind.” This includes access to a complete line of coolers and freezers. In addition to making a retail sale, it gives us an opportunity to build long-term relationships with our customers.


Q: What is the importance of having OEM certifications?


A: One of our goals is to be a best-in-class collision repair business. We make every effort to repair our customers’ vehicles in the proper manner according to manufacturers’ specifications. Over the past few years, we put a lot of effort into obtaining our OEM certifications and are currently certified with most of the major players. I believe only one in 10 shops will exceed or meet the standards for these certifications.


We are also working on becoming I-CAR Gold Class and are on track to be Honda ProFirst certified.

On average, accidents occur every 10-12 years, and some reports say 15-17 years. Although it’s not a normal occurrence for most customers to get into an accident, the industry tends to see repeat customers. It’s important to build a relationship with them so they are educated on the repair process and feel comfortable doing business with your shop. Part of this is having OEM certifications to provide another level of comfort to customers.


Being OEM certified gives you another feather in your cap with your customers showing them that you’ve taken the initiative to make sure your employees are trained through the proper channels. It’s also something else you can market and something your competitors might not have.


Q: How has your involvement in an industry association been helpful to your business?


A: We’ve been members of the Mississippi Collision Repair Association (MSCRA) for the past 15 years and I’m the Secretary-Treasurer on the Board of Directors. Many times, fellow shop owners feel that being a member of an association might look unfavorable to their insurance partners, but it’s definitely doesn’t.


The purpose of a trade association is not to bind together for the greater good and be adversarial to your insurance partners and collude, because that’s illegal. The purpose of an association is to educate. It helps shop owners learn about new products coming out as well as new processes and ideas that you can implement to improve your business. That might mean profitability, production or employee retention. I think the biggest thing to gain from being part of an association is giving yourself the opportunity to learn something you can take back and apply to your business. In addition, the networking is tremendous.


For various reasons, many collision repair facilities have looked at the shop across the street, across town or even in the next town as competitors. Although we are competitors, there’s another side of that relationship that we’ve always neglected—networking. An association will allow or should allow you to network with the same people who are fighting the same battles that you are fighting, so you can try and learn from one another.


Q: Can you tell us about the recent consumer guide released by the Mississippi attorney general and how will it be helpful to all parties who were involved?


A: I was one of the members of the Mississippi Auto Repair Task Force that provided feedback for the Consumer Guide to Insurance and Auto Body Repair. I feel that it will help the industry simply because it's a document produced by a third-party outside of our industry—the attorney general’s office—which is focused on consumer awareness and consumer protection.
The attorney general was trying to gather all the information by building this taskforce composed of body shops in the state, as well as insurance representation, OEMs and even aftermarket representation.


It was a good collaboration of all entities involved in the repair process and the end result is a document that I believe is unbiased. The document provides information for consumers so they really understand what questions to ask about their insurance policies, as well as their rights when choosing a repair facility and the differences between parts usage.


If you look at the document, it even says what consumers should do when they pick up their vehicles to hold the repair facility accountable so they are assured of receiving a proper and safe repair.


It was a great effort among all involved and I don’t think it was sided toward any one party. I think it was a well-weighted out document that ultimately did what it was supposed to do, and that is to educate the consumer on their rights.


Q: Smith Bros has received very favorable online reviews from customers. What sets your company apart?


A: I honestly think we have good employees who are good team members who share the same beliefs that we do. We try to always put customers at the forefront in whatever decisions we make and make sure that when the time comes to deliver the vehicle, they are satisfied. It’s important to not be shy of that relationship or standoffish. Instead, build a relationship with your customers that you can be proud of and serve them in a way they want to be served.


Q: With more than 1,200 followers on Facebook, how have you been using social media?


A: We are mainly using it for consumer awareness and education in our business. We let customers know about our retail side and the different accessories we sell as well as our service center.


Facebook is so user friendly---you can post pictures and articles from your phone. Shops can take before-and-after pictures and post them to their page. You just need to ask your customer first to make sure it’s OK that you are using pictures of the vehicle. We also found that if you follow certain industry-related pages, you can share articles on your own business Facebook page.


There are no limitations on social media. There is always more that you can do and we’re not using it as well as I think we should.


We have a relationship with a third-party company that manages our website and sets up our Facebook posts to go out three times a week, 30 days in advance. They probably determine 80 percent of our Facebook posts, but we still retain the right to do individual posts as we see fit.


Originally, I was trying to be so intentional and methodical with Facebook and really think it through. I finally realized that it’s better to just be free form. If there is something that is related to your business and you think it is of value, post it on Facebook! Customers are going to look at it. Even if they don’t click on it, if they are looking through their feed they are going to see your post and your company name and that’s all you really want. You want to give them information that is of value to them and you still want that front-of-mind awareness that they constantly see. Then, in the event they might have an accident, your business name comes to mind.