Longtime St. Louis fixture to mark 70 years in business in 2016
St. Louis—How does a family-owned and operated collision repair shop keep the doors open for 70 years? Co-owner Craig Collier says the key is customer relationships.
“The customer is always first and what the customer says goes. No shortcuts. What you get charged for is what you get done,” said Collier. He and his cousin, Co-owner Wayne Jackson, have kept this St. Louis mainstay up and running after inheriting the shop from Craig’s father Elie “Bud” Collier and Uncle Raymond Collier. In March, the shop will be celebrating 70 years in business.
Raymond and Elie opened the original location in downtown St. Louis shortly after being discharged from the military. Craig Collier said the story goes that between the two of them, they had $300 a piece along with a few investors to help them get things started. Both men were mechanically inclined but had to learn most of what they would come to know about body work on the fly.
Currently, the building they are in is its sixth location, where they have been for more than 60 years. “We thank God that they trusted us to take over. Our family put their whole life into this business,” said Collier. “We are trying to come up with an anniversary celebration for the public, maybe a car show.”
Daily operations and office work are run by Jackson. Collier is joined in the shop by Technician Khris Canada. Collier and Canada are combination repair specialists and painters.
“New staff is difficult to find,” Collier said. “We have reached out to Ranken Technical College for new technicians and that’s where we found Brian Macon, who attended North County Tech and is now in his first year at Ranken in Collision Repair. The problem is that you need technicians that you can turn loose and don’t have to watch all the time and that is hard to find nowadays,” said Collier, adding that its building is more than 10,000 square feet with 12 working stations and one paint booth. It also owns two adjacent lots for parking and storage.”
Currently Collier Brothers is servicing six vehicles a week on average.
“We mostly have a customer pay for parts and material upfront and then square away on the labor when the job is finished, he said. “Doing it this way makes it so it won’t come back and haunt us later on.”
In his spare time, Collier customizes vehicles and participates in a variety of car shows. When asked if he does any hot rod restoration work, Collier said, “We stick with mostly collision work. I do maybe one or two restoration jobs a year, which are very time consuming and it just makes more sense to do more collision jobs. It keeps business moving.”
Collier Brothers also provides collision repair services to Hertz Rental Car, for which they’ve had a relationship for many years. When asked about how the relationship with Hertz started Collier said “Hertz sought us out. We gave them a tour of the facilities and they were impressed with our quality and our honesty.”
Regarding paint, Collier says he sticks with what he has used for years. “I spray mostly PPG and Axalta. I use Shop-Line, which is PPG’s economy line and Nason, the economy option from Axalta.”
Jared Silva at NCS is one of his paint suppliers and for PPG, Collier said he relies on Viking. For crash parts, the shop uses LKQ and local dealerships.
For estimating software, Collier and Jackson are currently using CCC, which has opened up a direct repair type relationship with various insurance companies. “It’s pretty good,” said Collier. “We also use Audatex.”
With 70 years passing by since Collier Brothers opened the doors, a lot has changed in the collision industry. When asked about what he has seen change in his time at the shop, Collier said, “The biggest change is the body material, what they are made of. Now we have aluminum bodies. Back in the day, steel was normal and you could work with it. Now everything is specialized.”
Mechanical changes have also become apparent in recent years, requiring work to be sourced out to local repair shops or the brand-specific dealers, he said. When asked about some of the shop’s challenges in recent years, Collier said, “Some challenges in general are that the material costs have changed significantly. Insurance companies are somewhat keeping up with rising costs of material, but it is definitely challenging putting together estimates more now than before.”
Collier Brothers has been a staple in the St. Louis community for many years and they said business is still going strong after all those years.
“Most of our business is word of mouth. We have tried a few things, and some work while others don’t. We like to let our work do the advertising. Give the customer what they want and do it right the first time.”
The plan for the future is simple to Collier and Jackson. “We are just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing from the beginning. It seems like it has worked so far,” Collier said.