Collision shop builds reputation for quality in small but growing community
North Plains, Ore.—Kelly Meagher says that fairly consistently having a 90-day backlog of work can be “both a blessing and a frustration” for his collision repair business, All Terrain Auto Body & Paint.
“The customers we have had and the people we have gotten to know in our North Plains community, mostly from referrals, have been a blessing,” Meagher said. “Making them wait longer than I think they should has been a frustration.”
He also acknowledges to having lost some possible jobs because of it.
“For the most part, people are understanding,” he said. “But I also understand other people can’t wait. You do what you can to help who you can, and you can’t do everything for everybody.”
Despite the backlog, Meagher has chosen not to replace a technician who took an early retirement in 2008, saying he hasn’t been anxious to “experiment” with finding someone who is as particular about the work as he is and his former employee was.
“It’s been hard to replace him because he was conscientious and meticulous, which is what I want,” Meagher said. “It’s hard to hand someone a customer’s car and say, ‘Show me what you can do.’ Growing up, my parents told me your reputation is all you’ve got. My customers are counting on me to give them what I gave the person who referred them. ”
So Meagher continues to do both body and paint work, as he has for 35 years, with his wife, Jodi, handling phones, paperwork and bookkeeping in the shop’s office and detailing completed vehicles.
“She’s awesome to have in the office when people come in, because she’s just so personable and can strike up a conversation with anybody,” Meagher said. “People get that warm, homey feeling.”
“In this community, it’s all about watching out for each other,” Jodi Meagher said.
The Meaghers talk a lot about the community, a town with about 2,000 residents just west of Portland, that welcomed them when they moved from a leased space in Beaverton to a 4,000-square-foot shop they built in North Plains about 10 years ago.
“They’ve welcomed us. They support us,” Meagher said. “There are local businesses we sort of call a circle of trust. You can refer someone to one of those businesses.”
“Nearly everyone is community-minded,” Jodi Meagher added. “They want to buy local.”
It’s also a community that is growing, as the Meaghers anticipated when they moved there. The population grew more than 21 percent from 2000 to 2010, and new housing developments continue to spring up.
“You figure every house has two or three cars in the driveway or garage,” Meagher said. “As a businessman, that’s what I was looking at when we built the shop here. We wanted to get in on the ground level. And I feel like things have fallen into place.”
Perhaps nowhere is Meagher’s meticulous nature more evident than in the shop’s paint area. The shop’s “older but reliable” Viking paint booth is immaculate even though he has painted the interior only twice in 10 years. He has sprayed PPG paint products for decades, and when Wesco Autobody Supply representatives visit the shop, they cannot believe how clean the shop’s paint scale is nor how complete Meagher’s documentation is.
“They kind of chuckle because I keep my spray-outs and records of what I had to do to tint every color, how many coats I put on, and stuff like that,” Meagher said. “But we get a lot of repeat customers, so if that car is in again, I can save time if I don’t have to mess with it again.”
That attention to detail helps give the supplier confidence he’s using their products correctly and they can stand behind the shop’s work, Meagher said.
“They treat us real well and help us when we have anything we need help with,” he said.
The company switched this past fall to AudaExplore estimating system, and looking ahead, Meagher said he’s contemplating making a switch to waterborne paint.
“I haven’t yet because we’re still working on a variety of vehicles, new and old,” he said. “So far it hasn’t been an issue. We’ve had a few 2015 vehicles in this past year, and don’t seem to have a problem with color-matching or anything like that. But eventually I’m sure that will be something we’ll end up making a switch to.”
Longer term he also believes the shop will be an attractive business for someone who perhaps moves to the community from outside the area, seeking a better quality of life.
“I hope somebody will want to take over and keep it going, because it’s kind of a little goldmine in this little community,” he said. “Crime is low here. You know people on a first-name basis. And it’s continuing to grow.”
Until then, he’s likely to continue chipping away at the consistent 90-day backlog.
“I get asked why I often have to work weekends,” Meagher said. “I try not to complain and say that, ‘I would rather be working than looking for work.’ I like doing what I do.”