A flip of a coin, a Montana High School Association rule and a mentor he met in junior high are a few things Jeramy Myers, owner of Flawless Auto Body, credit for his business success.
Of course, his own work ethic and leadership skills are what led to Myers' ability to buy out his business partner, Owen Robinson, in July.
"It's bittersweet. It's almost like a divorce, I suppose," said Myers the day he and Robinson signed financial papers sealing the deal that means after 16 years, Myers is the sole owner of the collision repair and auto body shop at 1111 38th St. N. in Great Falls, MT.
"Owen has made me the successful person I am today," Myers said. "[He] worked with me and turned me into a successful business owner. He saw something in me that most people overlooked."
Myers, 44, and Robinson met more than 30 years ago when the now retired former owner of Lumber Yard Supply was a basketball coach at North Middle School.
Myers' family had recently moved to Great Falls from the Fort Shaw area, and had missed tryouts.
"It was apparent he was a good player and another A-team coach and I both wanted him on our teams," Robinson explained. "The athletic director flipped a coin."
Myers played for Robinson in both seventh and eighth grades, as well as on a Big Sky State Games team Robinson put together. He mowed lawns for Robinson and bought a car from his former coach.
"Jeramy's parents had divorced and our relationship became a father/son relationship throughout the years," Robinson said. "I was a groomsman in his wedding. He was a great kid, a real leader and team player."
Basketball was Myers' focus in high school. He was named the Most Valuable Player of the C.M. Russell team in 1992 as a junior. However, that focus was yanked away his senior year when the MHSA denied an appeal to a rule that made students older than 18 ineligible to play high school sports.
"Because Jeramy's family had moved, he was behind a year in school," Robinson said. "He just had no idea this was going to happen---none of us did. He called me and we appealed, but the ruling stood."
"It shattered me," Myers said. "I knew I wasn't tall enough to play basketball at a bigger college. I probably could have walked on at a small school. But in high school, basketball was my life, and it was taken away from me."
Shattered, but not broken, Myers picked up the pieces and refocused. He leveraged his budding love of cars into a detailing business, hired a couple of buddies, and entered the world of small business.
"It took my mind off of basketball," he said. "I refocused on my business and started to provide for myself."
During the next several years, Myers worked for an auto body shop and as an insurance adjuster. He leveraged his basketball experience into business practices.
"There is so much that is similar in being good at a team sport and in business," Myers said.
Then, 16 years ago Myers saw a chance to be the coach of his own business "team." The owners of Flawless Auto Body were looking for a buyer, and he was interested.
"Jeramy called me and asked me if I wanted to go out to lunch, and I said, 'Jeramy, are you buying?’" Robinson recalls with a laugh.
Myers ran his business prospect by Robinson, and he did pick up the check. He also asked Robinson to be his partner.
"I told him I learned that you don't get into things you don't know anything about in business, but I helped him with his business plan," Robinson said. "It became apparent that this would be a good investment."
Robinson had Myers, who was about 26 at the time, put together as much money as he could, and the two became business partners. It was a good move, Myers said.
"I thought running a business would be easy. All I had to focus on was doing good, quality work," Myers said. "But there were times I honestly didn't think I was going to be able to make it. Not only did I have to repair cars, take care of customers and insurance companies, [but] I had to deal with income statements, balance sheets, taxes, accounts receivables and managing people. I am sure a few business owners and managers are laughing right now."
Robinson used those overwhelming times as a platform for teachable moments.
"When I asked a question and kept going on and on, he would just sit there and look straight at me and not say a word," Myers said. "When I finally quit rambling he would very politely ask me if I was done. I would then listen to all his wisdom, wondering why I didn't think of that. Owen taught me how to stop talking and start listening."
Myers brought plenty to the partnership, Robinson said.
"He is a natural leader---he gets along with all people," he said. "He [has] hired and mentored great employees. He takes a long view and sets goals. I am extremely proud of this little kid I mentored in basketball."
Flawless Auto Body was established almost 50 years ago. When Myers and Robinson bought the business, they had six employees. Today, Flawless Auto Body has a workforce of 28.
The business services 8--9 vehicles a day, using an impressive organizational procedure that includes just-in-time parts delivery to maximize efficiency.
Every vehicle is pre-washed before work is started, and then delivered meticulously detailed to its owner when repairs are complete.
"We've had a couple of people not recognize their vehicles, and we've even had a couple of people cry," Myers said. "We want to exceed their expectations."
Technicians work in teams instead of individually, a nod to Myers' basketball experience that he says his employees tell him makes their work more satisfying and efficient.
Sales have grown year over year for the past 16 years, Robinson said.
"The business had a great reputation when we bought it, which was an advantage," he said. "Jeramy hired good people and kept the focus on service and quality. And we knew we would have to evolve, or get left behind."
Flawless Auto Body was the first in the Pacific Northwest to install a paint system, which cures in 11 minutes.
"Typically, you have to wait 60 to 90 days to even power-wash your vehicle after it's [been] painted," Robinson said. "That is not the case with this system."
The philosophy guiding the business is talent, training and technologies, Myers said, which has helped both the business and its employees flourish.
"The employee leading our production team started with us in our entry level job, washing vehicles," he said. "That makes me smile every time I think about it."
Myers said he's looking forward to the challenges of running his business on his own.
"But I realize that I will always be able to pick up the phone and know he [Robinson] will be on the other end," he said.
FLAWLESS AUTO BODY CUSTOMER APPRECIATION DAY CAR SHOW
When: Noon to 4 p.m. Aug. 12
Where: Flawless Auto Body, 1111 38th St. N.
Free registration for car show. Food and refreshments will be served. Entertainment by Grant Stebbins & The Insigators. Call 406-727-8611.