Altoona collision shop maintains independence while enjoying network benefits

Altoona, Iowa—Unlike many in the industry who go into ownership of a collision repair shop, Jim Hansen, co-owner of Altoona Auto Body1, didn’t have years of industry experience under his belt as a technician, estimator, or manager when he decided to buy the business, though he had been a manager for UPS for 28 years, he said.

“I got tired of moving around,” Hansen said, “and they were going to move me again.  Our kids were here and we wanted to stay here, so I left UPS.”

At the time, Hansen said, his daughter, Desirae Sanford, was managing the front office of the shop.  Seeing an opportunity for a career change, they bought the business in 2001, which was started by Jerry Allen in the Des Moines suburb in 1975.

While Hansen and Sanford said they enjoy their independence and identity as a family-owned, five-employee shop, they have also discovered the supportive benefits of belonging to a repair network.

Until the first of the year, Altoona Auto Body1 was one of four Des Moines-area collision repair shops comprising the Body Pros Collision Repair network.  At that time, the network decided to join the 1Collision repair network, which up until that time had shops in Wisconsin and the Chicago metro area.  The four shops — which also include Ace Body & Motor1 and R. Jones Collision1 in Des Moines and Ankeny Auto Body1 — now make up the 1Collision Iowa repair network and have changed their names to reflect the new network affiliation.

Benefits of the larger network include marketing and advertising assistance and an occasional outside salesperson calling on insurance agents.  The goal in belonging to the new group is also to attract additional DRP agreements, Hansen added, while seeking new members throughout the state.

Having support locally and from the national group is important in a challenging business climate, he said. In addition to discounts through purchase agreements negotiated through the network, there are benefits of pooling resources for both staffing and equipment.

“If it’s equipment that’s expensive and it’s something that’s not used a lot, we’ll buy one through 1Collision and we’ll share it as we need it,” Hansen said, noting that specialized frame equipment such as fixtures or clamps are some of the equipment owned by the group.

The group also allows staffing flexibility, Sanford added.

“We’ve used employees from other shops before,” she said.  “If one of ours goes on vacation and we need someone, and a 1Collision Iowa member has three or four body technicians with one extra, they’ll give one up.”

That has been needed only a couple of times, Sanford said, but it’s good to know the shop has a safety net if it’s needed. (The shop that sent the technician gets paid by the receiving shop for the employee’s time and compensation, she explained.)

The Iowa group uses one central website and a 24-hour phone line to schedule repairs, Sanford said, and when one shop is overbooked for incoming repairs, it will often refer work to other member shops.

Sanford, who still manages the front office while her father serves as lead estimator, said the shop has long used Mitchell UltraMate as its estimating system.  But as another example of the group pooling its resources, she said when the shop receives an estimate written by an appraiser on a different estimating system, it can have one of the other shops write an estimate on the same system to ensure a complete estimate has been written.

Altoona Auto Body1’s 7,000-square-foot production area has a body technician, a painter, and an employee who “floats” between duties such as writing estimates on smaller repairs, detailing vehicles, and ordering and receiving parts.

The shop recently upgraded its paint booth to a Kayco semi-downdraft booth with heated air makeup from Autobody Equipment Solutions in Kansas City, Mo., and added an integrated mixing room along with a sprinkler system for both.

In April, it began spraying Sikkens Autowave waterborne paint from The Body Parts Store in Des Moines, Hansen said, which supplies all 1Collision Iowa shops, although members are free to choose suppliers, he said.

Painter Dustin Byers, who’s been with Altoona for three years and had previously sprayed the same product, transitioned easily with refresher training after installation, Hansen said.

 Hansen said he’d been considering making the change for some time for quality reasons, and with the greater airflow afforded by the equipment upgrade, it seemed the logical time to make the move.  No fans or venturi air movers were required for the conversion, he added.

“With Autowave, you’re able to mix only what you need,” Hansen said.  “And the price ‘in the can’ has gone up, but overall, costs have gone down.”

Parts & People

Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.