Dealership relationships and ‘specialist’ reputation drive Rowland Collision

Banking on factory certifications and dealer-level quality work pays dividends

St. Louis—Where there’s passion, there’s often success.

Behind the unassuming exterior of Rowland Collision Repair Center is a facility furnished with the latest industry equipment and staff of highly trained technicians, who tackle some of the most demanding repairs today’s vehicles present. To hear owner Rob Rowland and Director of Preparations Ryan Crowder discuss their work and mission, one would think they were in an art studio rather than a repair business. Maybe they are.

There are many body shops within the shop’s vicinity, but Rowland said they offer something that nobody else can.

“The fact that we are as busy as we are, says something about people wanting to come here for quality.”

Crowder added, “We repair cars to pre-accident condition, as close to perfect as possible, trying to match factory or exceed — and people know that. Starting with West County BMW and Bimmers R Us, we’ve developed a reputation as BMW specialists and Europeans in general.”

Crowder began his collision career in 1992 performing combination work until the industry began trending toward more production, assembly-line disciplines, when he began focusing on body work, while Rowland, who would later become a PPG representative for five years, concentrated on paint. They came together to open Rowland Collision in 2006, with just the two of them, and have since expanded and added three body techs, a painter, porter, and office manager. They have also acquired factory certifications.

“We’re not set up for economy services,” Crowder said. “It wouldn’t be financially viable, because we’re built to provide dealer-quality work.”

 

Assured Performance Certified

Rowland Collision became Assured Performance Certified last year, which was initially sparked by the pending arrival of the aluminum Ford F-150 and the shop’s relationship with nearby McMahon Ford. “Not only do we receive the bulk of our work from them through sales and service, but also referrals, and combined with business from West County BMW and Bimmers R Us, they represent a third of our total,” Crowder said.

McMahon Ford sponsored Rowland Collision to be a Ford Certified shop in the Ford National Body Shop Network. In addition to I-CAR training (it has since become an I-CAR Gold Class shop), considerable investments were made in equipment, which will take some time to realize the ROI, Crowder said, but more and more work is coming through the door.

“Word of mouth has been fantastic,” Rowland said.

Once the initial setup was complete, Assured Performance Network conducted a shop visit to verify requirements, such as the proper equipment and measuring the area dedicated to aluminum repair.

Much of the required training for Ford was aluminum-specific, “but we were already familiar with the technology for riveting and bonding so that, while not identical to BMW, we took to it better as a result,” Crowder said. He added that aside from aluminum equipment, resistance welding was a “fantastic investment across the board” for any make or model.

West County BMW works with Rowland Collision as though it was an internal body shop, and Crowder spends two days a week in the dealership’s service department writing estimates, while claims are taken care of in the shop. “It’s their own entity at the dealership, it’s just not on their site,” he said.

Rowland Collision’s certifications for Ford, Mopar and GM go hand-in-hand, but BMW is different in that it doesn’t certify independent shops, Crowder said. “However, because we were doing so much BMW repair, West County BMW sponsored us and sent me for training and listed me as an employee of the dealership, but to be a true certified-collision repair center, BMW requires 51 percent ownership in a shop, which we could never entertain.”

The shop doesn’t participate in DRPs, by choice, and doesn’t intend to in the near future, Crowder said, having had past experience in facilities that did. “DRPs want economy, they want it fast and cheap, and they want it perfect — which are three very odd things to say in the same sentence.

“We’re more concerned with quality over quantity and, while it was tough in the beginning and we considered DRPs, it’s been a good decision for us. I don’t think it would help us now, as we’re close to maximum output with our square footage.”

The shop has up to 12,000 square feet of workable space, and can comfortably work on 16 to 18 cars at a time. During Parts & People’s visit, it had 30 cars in progress.

“I made the mistake of pushing sales too much the past few years,” Crowder said, “but this year we’re focusing more on the work we do — becoming leaner and yielding more profit on what comes in the door. It’s not about increasing volume.”

PPG training has played an important role in becoming leaner and improving shop efficiencies, including tracking profitability of paint materials using its mixing system software. “We keep an eye on our inventory (Envirobase) every month, and our vendor, Mid-Nite Auto Supply, helps us with that,” he said.

 

Aluminum ‘is a different animal’

Repairing aluminum, even outer sheet metal, presents new challenges and requires different approaches than working with steel, Crowder said. “Steel has ‘memory’ and is easy to work with, while aluminum isn’t forgiving — it smears, as opposed to taking dents, and it cracks, rather than bends.”

Structurally, there’s a lot of adhesive, riveting and mechanical fastening as opposed to welding new panels and bolting new structure, he said, adding that it requires a designated shop area and separate tools — approximately $55,000 worth — to avoid cross-contamination. “It’s a different animal.”

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.