Family ownership enables collision business to expand into a new market

Portland, Ore.—Dave McCollum and his sons, Dave Jr. and Joey, agree that although they have done a lot of things right as owners and operators of McCollum Auto Body, they also haven’t been afraid of making mistakes.

“We’re all human and mistakes happen,” Joey McCollum said. “When you learn from those mistakes, that’s where growth happens. We’ve done a really good job of learning from mistakes made.”

“One of the things Dad has done well is give people the freedom to make mistakes,” McCollum Jr. said. “As we promote from within, people can be pretty hard on themselves. I say, ‘I want you to make mistakes. That's how you learn.’ And I’m not going to be afraid to make the next move just because I might make a mistake.”

Their father, the two say, has fostered a workplace culture of looking forward rather than dwelling in the past.

“It’s a sense of ‘Here’s where we are. Let’s get to work. Roll our sleeves up and get it done,’” Joey McCollum said. “That’s been positive for us.”

The business has grown significantly since Dave McCollum started the company in Southeast Portland in 1980 in a one-bay shop offering mechanical work and used tires. In 1985, McCollum leased a larger building and added auto body services, at first serving only fleet accounts.

“What really helped us turn the corner was when we got involved doing insurance work, building relationships with the insurance industry,” Dave McCollum said.

Today, the company employs 55 people at three facilities: a 17,000-square-foot body shop in Southeast Portland, a 15,000-square-foot body shop (operating as Northwest Auto Body) in Vancouver, Wash., and McCollum Automotive, a mechanical and detailing shop also in Southeast Portland.

This fall, the company will expand again, with the opening of a body shop in Eugene in a 13,000-square-foot facility that previously housed a muffler shop.

“We had one insurance company in particular reach out to us and let us know there was a need down there,” McCollum Jr. said, of the expansion to Eugene. “Then we dug into it with some other insurance companies and got a lot of positive feedback. Portland is so saturated. And this gives us the chance to look at more opportunities for growth between here and Eugene, like in Salem or Corvallis, or even south from there, such as to Roseburg. It just expands our footprint in a little bit different way than our competitors have gone.”

The McCollums expect the shop to open in September after extensive remodeling and installation of a Garmat paint booth and a Chief EZ Liner S-21 frame rack.

They say the new shop, like their others, will rely on work from several sources, including insurer direct repair programs and dealership relationships. One sales tool the McCollums have used at their other shops for well over a decade is “Detail for Life,” which offers qualifying customers four vehicle details a year. Customers love it, the McCollums say, and it helps keep their shop fresh in those customers’ minds when they need mechanical or body work. It’s a program the elder McCollum first heard about after his paint supplier suggested he take a Masters School of Autobody Management course in California.

“That was an eye-opening experience for me,” he said. “I’d been in the business for so many years and I thought, ‘I have a pretty good handle on this.’ But was I ever wrong. I learned so much.”

Axalta Coating Systems continues to be a great partner, the McCollums said. In early 2014, they joined an Axalta-sponsored “business council,” a 20 Group led by Mike Anderson that allows them to meet quarterly with other shop owners around the country to compare business practices and performance.

“That has been absolutely huge for us,” McCollum Jr. said. “I can’t say enough good stuff about that.”

He said the members of the group are like a brotherhood, always willing to help one another out with whatever business situation they are facing.

The McCollums’ Portland body shop operates on a team system in both the body and paint departments. The paint department, which has both Nova Vera and Custom Aire paint booths, runs on a split shift, so it’s operating from 4 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Although the McCollums point to their business’ many long-term employees, including some who have been with the company for more than two decades, they also say they like to hire young people with little or no experience in the industry for entry-level positions. They then work to promote those employees, giving them opportunities to move up. Offering a career within a growing family-owned business is something they believe sets them apart from some of their competitors who may not have the same long-range plans.

“We’re always looking for opportunities to grow, and if you come to work for us, you’re working for the McCollums for another 30 years because that’s our long-range plan,” McCollum Jr. said. “I think that’s appealing to a lot of people.”

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.