Shop owner credits 20-group with re-energizing his business enthusiasm
Eugene, Ore.—During more than a dozen years as a collision repair shop owner, Dustin Caldwell sometimes found his enthusiasm for the business waning.
“At times, I just allowed the insurance industry to kind of bully me and ruin my day,” said Caldwell, the second-generation owner of Old Dominion Collision Repair Center.
That’s changed in the last three years, he said, thanks to his involvement in a Coyote Vision Group, a 20-group that enables Caldwell to regularly interact and compare business performance numbers with successful shop owners around the country.
“Every day I’m grateful for it,” he said. “I’m meeting with store owners who are really enjoying what they are doing, and who are profitable. I wasn’t even sure you could be profitable in this industry. But seeing it was possible, and based on the conversations we have at those meetings, I decided I just needed to be smarter and not let it get to me. It’s made it fun. It’s like a game of chess, figuring out how to strategically end up on the winning side of the equation.”
The Coyote Vision Group also helped cement his interest in the business’ financial numbers.
“I’d been more of a production floor guy, getting things done,” he said. “I’ve always known the numbers were important. But mom had done that while I did the other stuff.”
“Mom” is Patricia McConnell, who bought the business in the late 1980s as part of her divorce from Caldwell’s father, who founded the company in 1973. Caldwell worked summers in the business as a teen, but said he didn’t have much interest in the business until he was in college. At that time, he chose to come to work full time in the shop, first as a detailer, then in parts and eventually as an estimator.
He and his mother began to discuss the future of the business about 15 years ago, and that’s when he chose to take on eventual ownership of the company. McConnell retired at the end of 2014.
Caldwell now oversees a staff of 16, operating in a 13,500-square-foot facility. Over the past decade, the company has honed a “lean” production system, including a disassembly team of three who conduct a complete disassembly of the vehicle for a comprehensive repair order, with the vehicle then moving through metal, fill, refinish and reassembly stages.
The system uses a variety of visual and sound cues that signal, for example, when a vehicle is moving forward and thus another vehicle is needed in a given department within the shop.
Caldwell said the transition to the system in place today has not always been smooth. It actually was a visit to B Street Collision in Nebraska — a member of his Coyote Vision Group running a lean production system — that helped him get all the pieces into place. He even sent some members of his production team to tour that shop as well.
“They came back and knew we were close but needed a few solid tweaks,” Caldwell said. “We switched from a hourly pays system to a commission-based system as a team, for example. Within a month, our production went up by 30 percent. Now we’ve really hit our stride. December, for example, was a record-shattering month for us for overall production. We really have a team now, a bunch of guys who care about each other and are making things happen.”
Getting to that point has resulted in some employee turn-over, he said, some by selection and some changes not of his choosing. But he said the company now uses “Culture Index,” a type of personality test, as part of its recruiting process to identify potential employees that have the traits needed to succeed in a team environment.
“You end up with happier people because they are doing a job that definitely fits them, versus forcing them to do a job that they really don’t like to do,” Caldwell said.
Old Dominion sprays PPG’s waterborne line, purchased through Industrial Finishes, in a paint shop that includes a Garmat spraybooth and a SpectraTherm 8000s infrared curing system. Caldwell installed a new Car-o-Liner system, including Car-o-Tronic Vision measuring, about two years ago.
“It’s really been a game-changer for us, from a production standpoint,” Caldwell said. “A very valuable tool.”
Two other pieces of equipment Caldwell gives rave reviews to are a Polyvance Nitro-Fuzer plastic welding system, and a GYS dent-pulling work station that can be used for both aluminum and steel.
“The guys absolutely love it,” he said of the GYS system.
Caldwell said his mother believed in the value of advertising, and the company still uses radio and bus ads to keep its name out there. He also belongs to a business leads and referral group. But after more than 40 years in business, about two-thirds of the shop’s sales are either repeat customers or those referred by past customers. Another third comes through insurer direct repair programs.
“I tell my people that we earn our reputation every day, all day long, with every conversation with a customer, vendor or insurer,” Caldwell said.
Having previously had a second shop (opened just prior to Sept. 11, 2001,) for a number of years, Caldwell currently has no interest in again operating multiple locations. Instead, he’s focused on a goal of adding a second production team and doubling sales at his existing shop (with a possible small expansion).
“I think we could max out this location out with $5 million in annual sales by the end of 2020,” he said.