Cherokee Collision Center in Georgia celebrated the grand opening of its second shop in December. Gene Sweeney founded Cherokee Collision in Marietta in 1993. Gene’s son R.J. will be running the new Canton location. Autobody News asked R.J. about the new shop and growing up in a family business.
Q: What prompted you to open the new collision center and what did it entail to set up?
A: Our decision to have a facility in Canton, GA was actually due to the demand of our customers and its community members who wanted our offerings and services closer to their home.
We started looking for land back in January 2013 and struggled to find a good location for a couple of years. In March of this year we stumbled across an abandoned mechanical shop that was located in the heart of downtown Canton that we felt would be a perfect location.
Our first efforts were directed to cleaning the facility shop and make the necessary reconfigurations and modifications for use as a collision repair facility. With permits and constant changes in requirements it became a significant, daunting and costly undertaking but we believe it will be well worth it in the years ahead. We had begun purchasing the needed equipment for the new location long before we found the location so we were ready when the time came.
Q: What were some of the challenges and what is your advice to others considering opening a new shop?
A: The challenges included finding a location close to a high traffic area to have the exposure to drivers as well as easy to find. Added challenges were dealing with zoning, the fire marshal and permitting to get the old facility compliant with current mandates and restrictions. These caused additional challenges and costs that we hadn’t fully anticipated and/or prepared for which caused considerable delays.
Our advice to anybody opening a new shop would be develop a business plan and make sure you have REALLY thought it through. Today’s ‘collision centers’ aren’t like the ‘body shops’ of the past and the cost to open a new facility (even in a modified existing building) is costly. Be prepared for the unexpected and the costs that may follow. Be sure you have thought it out and are fully prepared for the task at hand and the frustrations that one may be faced with.
Q: What are some of the things you have incorporated into the new shop?
A: Our new location is approximately 8,900 square feet, including office and production space. As in our existing facility in Marietta, we have designed this shop around “lean methodology.” Once the vehicle enters production, it does not leave production until the vehicle is finished. Our goal when designing this facility was to “do more production in the least amount of space” by maximizing efficiency and productivity. We will have a state-of-the-art side loading GFS paint booth, two GFS prep decks, one in-ground Car-o-liner Bench repair rack, one drive on Car-o-liner rack, and one lift. Our employees will consist of one global team that works together to get each vehicle repaired properly and thoroughly. We will be using Summit Management System and utilize their “scoreboard” so that our team of technicians can track the amount of labor hours they generate on a consistent basis. These efforts enable Cherokee Collision Center(s) to meet our mission statement and commitment to our customers. Our mission is to provide the most efficient, high-quality collision repairs while providing exceptional customer service.
Q: Are you part of a DRP program?
A: Our Marietta location currently participates in State Farm’s Select Service program. At Cherokee Collision we focus more on branding and marketing our message to our customer base within our market areas. Unless an insurer is motivated by high-quality repairs, which restores the consumer’s vehicle properly and thoroughly in fit, finish and function and not merely price alone, our business model may not fit their needs. We see the vehicle owner as our customer and while we work “with” all insurance companies, once our customer’s vehicle is placed in our trust, we work for them. This philosophy has served our company well over the years and has provided us the success and profitability to enable and encourage us to consider expanding to new markets.
Q: What have you learned over the years growing up in a family business and how has that shaped your philosophies running the shop?
A: I have been around our family business and the industry my whole life. I started off as a shop porter back when I was in the 9th grade working during the summer and have done everything from washing cars to body work to parts management, to estimating. After graduating with my major in business administration, I decided to join my dad and have been managing the shop since May 2007.
My dad has taught and encouraged me and several years ago he engaged the services of Barrett Smith of Auto Damage Experts (ADE) for coaching/consulting services, which has allowed me, what I believe to be a different perspective than most shop managers/owners. This has enabled me to develop new and more effective ways to manage our customers and assist them. The systems taught by Barrett differ from conventional “body shop” management philosophies and as such have allowed us greater profits and customer satisfaction, retention and their ongoing referrals. We will be using these same philosophies in our new location as well.