Understanding working relationships with DRPs contributes to growth at Hannibal shop
Hannibal, Mo.—For a town of about 18,000 people, neighborhood competition for collision-repair shops in Hannibal is unusually strong. All half a dozen or so shops are concentrated on the south side of town, with five of them within just a mile of each other on Market Street. But over the years, Bowen Auto Body has grown to become one of the bigger players through quality work and embracing DRP agreements, said Les Bowen, who owns the business with his wife, Brenda.
“In the old days, you’d have an appraiser who would come to look at a vehicle, or the customer would go and get three estimates down the road,” Bowen said. “Whoever was cheapest got the job; you had all of this competition right here on your same street.”
Some shop estimators at that time would intentionally omit a part to lower the price of the estimate, Bowen said, and when they won the job, they would call for a supplemental part from the insurance company.
“People were taking their cars to get repaired by the shop that was the cheapest,” he said. “That’s gone away. You don’t see much of that anymore.”
To maintain a healthy relationship in an insurance company’s DRP, Bowen said shop owners and managers must be flexible, although it’s not a case of the insurance company telling a shop owner how to run his business, as some think.
“All insurance companies are willing to pay what they owe; you just have to prove the damage and document it,” Bowen said, noting that he now has eight DRP agreements that he helps manage through CCC One and Audatex estimating programs.
Although it took some time to learn each company’s policies, Bowen said it hasn’t been onerous, even though he and his staff must now take extra steps than he did before, such as tracking customer contacts to log events: when the customer brought in the vehicle, when the repair was started, and the date of delivery promised to the customer.
Bowen writes the estimates and is the final pair of eyes on each vehicle before it’s delivered, he said, while Brenda manages the office with help from two part-time receptionists, Rachelle Hart and Emily Stevenson. Their son, Alan, will graduate in May from Linn State Technical College with a degree in Automotive Collision Technology and will follow in his father’s footsteps, he said. Technicians in the shop include Painter Jamie Hamm, Body Technicians Mark Gibbons and Randy McReynolds, and Cleanup Technician Kyle Haynes.
Bowen said while in high school he knew he wanted to enter a trade, but at the time it would have likely been as an electrician or HVAC technician. Fate had other plans, though.
“I was probably 17 when I helped a buddy paint his own car, and I thought that was the coolest thing,” Bowen said.
After high school, Bowen said, he graduated from Quincy Technical School and worked in a couple of collision-repair shops in Hannibal before striking out on his own in 1991. It was an unsuccessful year, he said, and he put away the tools to work in an auto parts store for a year before getting back into the business with the mindset to “make it work or else.”
“Leaving the parts store, my intentions were to be a paint shop, to paint anything including cabinets, not just as a body shop,” Bowen said. Fortunately, he said, it worked out that he quickly got enough used-car work from local Chrysler dealer Tom Murphy of Murphy Motors to get the business on solid footing and slowly build up a clientele of collision-repair customers.
By the spring of ’98, business was good enough that he moved to his present location, which has expanded several times to include the current 10,000-square-foot building on the western edge of the lot.
The latest 4,000-square-foot expansion in 2011 included replacing the shop’s original semi-downdraft booth with a Global Finishing Solutions downdraft spray booth from Automotive Technology Inc., where Sikkens Autobase Plus paint, supplied by JC Parts City, is sprayed.
Although he has long since hung up his paint gun, Bowen still scrutinizes the color match of each vehicle before it’s delivered. He said he likes the superior color match of the Autobase Plus line, aided in part by the accuracy of its ColorScala Pro color swatches.
Upon seeing the neat shop full of cars, Bowen’s late father once told him, “I don’t know what you’re doing, but keep doing it,” Bowen said with a smile, noting that having a neat and tidy front office and shop floor space are factors that contribute to customer loyalty.
“You have to make people feel comfortable with leaving their $40,000 car here,” he said. “You might have the best reputation in the world, but they’re not going to drop off their car at a hole-in-the-wall garage. To me, looks count.”