Life after the dealership: Falcon takes flight
Falcon, Colo.—Before Tim Linenberger and Keith Merritt became co-owners of Falcon Collision Center in 2007, they worked alongside each other at Daniels Chevrolet in Colorado Springs for 12 years.
When a change in ownership caused the closure of the dealership’s collision shop, Linenberger and Merritt decided to start their own business and invested in a piece of land on a 20-acre lot zoned industrial just outside of town. It would take two years before they could open the doors because the land had no roads leading to it and wasn’t hooked up to municipal utilities. But they eventually got through the red tape and built their 11,200-square-foot, 14-bay facility, which now does in excess of $1 million in business annually, Linenberger said.
“It’s amazing the amount of work it takes just to get the permits to build your own shop,” Linenberger said. “Keith and I took a year off work to get this place built and finally opened the doors in 2009.”
Merritt added that while they brought a loyal following of customers from Daniels Chevrolet with them when they moved, they still went from door to door to get the word out that they were open, and introduced themselves to insurance adjusters to earn more work.
“We opened at the worst possible time. The economy crashed right in the middle of building the shop, but we told ourselves, ‘If we can survive this, we can survive anything,’” Merritt said. “Our first year we did $380,000 in sales and got our first big break in becoming a DRP a major insurance provider.”
The shop now has several DRPs, and is authorized to do GSA work. Business has steadily increased, Merritt said, and the shop now averages 70 cars per month, and employs two full-time estimators, three bodymen, one painter, and a full-time paintless dent removal (PDR) tech.
Even with two other collision repair shops having been built just a stone’s throw away from their shop within the first six months it opened, Falcon Collision continues to increase its gross revenue.
“Once word got out that we were building a shop, a few folks followed us out here. We don’t concern ourselves with what’s going on across the street, though. As long as we have work, we’re happy. Competition is good for business,” Linenberger said.
Pay-as-you-go philosophy and I-CAR certifications
As part of their “pay as you go” business philosophy, Merritt said Falcon Collision has no charge accounts and uses its credit line at the bank “only if things get really tough.”
“We never take any incentives from manufacturers or suppliers,” he said. “Our philosophy is to pay for it outright and take a higher discount on the product. Everything we have in the shop is paid for - we pay for every part on the spot and each piece of equipment.”
Sometimes that can be tough, Linenberger added, especially during hail season.
“When we have 30-plus cars lined up with damaged hoods, roofs and deck lids, we might be out $80,000-$100,000 in parts, but it pays off in the end,” Linenberger said.
The shop’s most recent equipment purchase was an Elektron spot welder from KLC Equipment, which required an investment of $32,000. Linenberger said Kevin Kramer at KLC helped them with the purchase and has been a great business partner to work with overall. “We’ve called Kevin enough times that he knows who we are just by looking at our phone number,” he said.
The shop also sourced its Chief frame machine with a Velocity measuring system through KLC. It uses CCC One and Audatex as its estimating systems.
For paint needs, the shop turns to its local jobber, Autopaint. Two years ago, Merritt said the shop switched to spraying PPG Aquabase waterborne, and Autopaint assisted with the switch. “PPG had the best systems in place at the best price so we decided to go with them when we looked into waterborne,” he said. “Autopaint helped us with the change and supplies us with all of our paint needs.”
The shop sourced its used Garmat downdraft paint booth from another shop, and left space for a second booth to be installed as the business grows.
Falcon Collision is I-CAR Gold Class recognized, and Merritt, Linenberger and their employees regularly attend I-CAR training and have hosted I-CAR training seminars in-house. They also attend training seminars sponsored by 3M and by OEM franchise dealers and jobbers.
Linenberger said that he is already trained in aluminum repair through I-CAR, but the shop has not yet invested in the tools and equipment necessary to become a Ford-recognized shop, mainly because there is no way to judge the volume of 2015 Ford F-150s it will be working on. “We’d like to assess the demand before we invest $70,000 in the necessary equipment,” he said.
Merritt said when they designed the facility, they built a separate mechanical shop next door, which they’ve leased to another business owner to whom they regularly sublet alignments and mechanical work. That has been a key selling point for customers who are estimate-shopping, he said.
“The only thing we have to sublet out is bedliners and reflash codes that we can’t reset in-house,” Merritt said. “Nothing ever really leaves our lot, and our customers appreciate that.”
Linenberger added that making themselves available to customers fits in well with the small-town mentality of Falcon and has helped developed loyalty between the shop and its customers.
“I think one difference we bring is that Keith and I are here, day in and day out. Our customers know we’re here and they can talk directly to us whenever they call. It’s a good thing and a bad thing because it can take up a lot of time, but it really has developed a deep loyalty between us and our customers,” Linenberger said. “We have a good amount of repeat business and I think it’s because very rarely are both of us gone at the same time.”