New addition at first location helps two-shop collision repair owner cap decade of growth

Boise, Idaho—Bob Miller said expanding his shop, Treasure Valley Collision Center, onto an adjacent vacant lot has helped his business in two ways. The recently completed addition not only boosted the shop’s production capacity, but also improved its visibility to the estimated 38,000 cars that pass by every day.

“Just adding this new building has increased our drive-by revenue by about 5 percent,” said Miller, whose facility on West State Street in Boise now has a combined 14,000 square feet of space.

After nearly three decades as a collision repair technician in California, Miller moved to Idaho, opening his own shop about 10 years ago. He added a second location, a 7,000-square-foot shop about 10 miles away in Meridian four years ago.

“The guy who ran that shop was a friend of mine, and he was getting ready to retire,” Miller said. “He wanted to turn his shop over to someone who was going to do things the way he did. It was just him and one guy, but we have nine people up there now, and 23 employees between the two locations.”

Miller admits the timing of opening the Meridian shop could have been better.

“We got it at a time when things were good. But the year after that, the economy went bad,” Miller said. “It’s fine now, but that was a tough time.” He sees having two shops as “definitely an advantage. It helps you provide good customer service. If we get really busy here, I can upload work to those guys up there.”

Miller said his business is fully equipped to do its own mechanical and alignment work in-house, subletting only glass work. He recently added a second Global Finishing Solutions booth at the Boise location, a cross-draft booth used primarily for jamming parts. The shop has used waterborne paint for about eight years, and currently sprays Axalta Coating’s Cromax Pro paint line, he said.

“Axalta has gone way above and beyond,” Miller said. “We switched over to Axalta a little over a year ago, and their new product is pretty amazing.”

Service along with quality is also the basis for Miller’s choice of parts vendors.

“We buy a lot of parts out of state because our parts vendor selection is all about cycle time,” he said. “We have vendors who deliver parts here every morning at 6, so we’re not waiting until the afternoon. We have a very low return ratio on our parts. We’re pretty accurate. We tear down everything we write.”

That disassembly process, coupled with the ability to diagnose alignment or mechanical issues in-house prior to estimates, helps ensure that the shop isn’t “fixing totals,” with supplements that balloon repair costs past the value of the car, he said.

“We always want to get the job, but we don’t want to be fixing totals,” Miller said. “It’s not fair to the customer. It’s not fair to the insurance company.”

Miller serves on the board of the Idaho Autobody Craftsman Association.

“We’re dealing with a lot of issues, trying to make things better for all shops,” Miller said. “As far as I know, I’m the only owner on the board who was actually a technician first, who actually worked on vehicles. So I bring a different perspective. I understand we have to have relationships with the insurance companies. I’m not going to fight them every day. You just have to find a formula that works for your shop, and that’s what you stick with.”

He said the association is working to help shops better understand estimating guides and systems.

“We’re just trying to get paid for what it says in the estimating system,” he said. “That’s our biggest challenge. If we do something, I think we should be paid for it.”

The shortage of new talent entering the industry is another key issue, Miller said. He has used a good benefits package to help retain many of the employees who started with him 10 years ago. But he sees the average age of technicians creeping up, and so he created an apprenticeship program at both of his shops for students from the College of Western Idaho, where Miller also volunteers.

“I really think that we as body shop owners need to work with the instruction that’s going on at colleges,” he said. “We’re working hard so that students can understand more of what happens in a body shop. We’re trying to help the schools prepare them for when they come in here.”

Miller said although his business has grown substantially during over the past decade, he’s not looking for that to necessarily continue.

“We’ve been fortunate. If we can just maintain what we’re doing, I’d be pretty happy with that,” he said. “I’m not one of those guys who every year expects to do $100,000 more a month. You start doing that and quality and customer service go down. I enjoy what I’m doing. I enjoy working with customers. We want to be successful, that’s the main goal, but not at all costs. I don’t want this to be a place where people live. They have families. I’m a family guy. That’s important.”

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.