A New Beginning

June 8, 2007 by
Filed under: Collision Repair Industry 

I have retired from the collision repair business. On Tuesday, June 5th, I quit my job as a body shop manager and walked away from the repair end of our industry. If things work out like I hope they do, I will never have to argue with another insurance appraiser. I will never have to answer another stupid question like, “Why do I have to pay my deductible?” I will never have another boss (aside from my wife, of course). I will never have that same 40 minute drive each way to my job, day in and day out. Pushed to my breaking point, I have taken what some consider an insane leap.

Tuesday morning my assistant called in sick, so I had to take the prior days time cards and paperwork upstairs to the accounting office. On my way there I ran into the owner of the dealership. I said good morning and received a half ass hello in return. He then asked me if I had a minute. This usually means he has a problem he wants to discuss with me. He handed me a folded up bunch of papers and told me that he laid off Dena, my assistant, and that I would have to give her the news and the unemployment papers he had just jammed in my hand.

I was left speechless. First, he never discussed this decision with me. Yes, he owns the company, but I am Dena’s supervisor. Second, the dealership is laden with dead weight–employees who do little for the business. We are selling half the cars we sold two years ago, yet we have the same sales staff. With half the car sales we have half the paperwork, yet still the same office staff. The body shop has been fairly busy, and with me having to write supplements on nearly every repair so we can get the most money out of every job, I need help in the office.

I asked the owner how I was supposed to do all this work. He told me he was going to have one of the Saab service advisers come to the body shop four hours per day to help me. Yeah, right. Like this guy would be any help. He’s never worked in a body shop. It’s a huge difference from a service writer. And besides, the guy the owner chose to help me isn’t very good as a service writer. My techs would destroy this guy, if I didn’t first.

The owner then told me he was moving my detail guy to the new building down the street where the dealership’s reconditioning department was going to be located. I would have to drive cars back and forth to get cleaned up and I would have no control over the quality. I asked what I would do with the empty bay. The owner told me he wanted me to hire a couple more technicians. He wanted to buy damaged used cars and wanted me to fix them inexpensively. I should hire some cheap help. Yeah, no problem. I couldn’t find a decent tech in my area if I had to. There were plenty of hackers available, but we are a quality shop. I wasn’t about to change that and tarnish my reputation.

Car sales had dropped in half. The body shop and service department were going to have to make more money to cover the sales departments huge losses. So let’s get rid of my assistant, hire some butchers to knock out some fast, cheap work, let’s put my detailer half a mile away so I can spend time driving back and forth, and everything will be just fine.

I went back to my office and stewed. I thought about losing a good employee and having to deal with a bad employee four hours a day. I thought about the compromises to the quality of repairs, and the quality of my management due to the lack of help I would have. Customers would suffer. My techs would suffer. My mental well being would suffer.

I spent the morning busy doing what I do and thinking hard about what it would be like to continue working there. By early afternoon I had made my decision. I was done. At 2 PM I called all my techs into my office and explained that the owner had fired Dena and I was quitting. They were devastated, and for good reason. I felt terrible. There was a possibility that the owner would shut down the body shop. That was the worst case scenario. The best case scenario was that the owner would hire one of the five or six guys in the area that constantly move from dealership to dealership because they get keep getting fired, or quit when they hear another dealer is hiring. It was a crappy thing to do to them but I also had to think about myself and my family.

My techs were pissed that the owner had fired Dena. They liked and respected her. There has been a lot of moronic decisions being made around the dealership in the past couple of years. Privileges were being revoked. Raises refused. They had put up with it but this could be the catalyst that causes my entire crew to quit. In fact they are hoping I take another management job nearby so I can hire Dena and all my techs to work at the new place. Unfortunately, I don’t think that will happen.

By 4 PM I had my desk cleaned out and had said goodbye to my techs. I said not a word to anyone else. The owner was not getting any notice. He hadn’t given Dena any notice. He hadn’t given me any notice. And more importantly, a service manager at our Subaru store gave a two weeks notice because he was taking another management position at another dealership for more money. The owner treated him so badly that this manager had to leave after a day and a half. I was not going to suffer the same fate. I jumped in my truck and was gone forever.

A couple miles up the road I pulled into a parking lot and called Dena to give her the bad news. Needless to say, she was devastated. She should do fine though. Local industry people are trying to find her another job.

My wife didn’t take it too well. I have no job. I’ve never been unemployed. And because I quit, I can’t collect unemployment. I probably wouldn’t if I could.

The next morning I logged onto the dealership’s interoffice email from home. No one but my technicians even knew I had quit so I still had access. I sent the entire dealership an email saying goodbye. I was in a good and sassy mood, so if you read my columns regularly you can probably imagine the entertainment factor. Needless to say, come 8 AM all hell broke loose. Customers dropping off and picking up and there is no one in the body shop office. The owner was at a used car auction and had to be called back. All the other managers were away in Colorado or some place at some Volvo or Saab training. Yes, according to my spies it was chaos. Part of me is glad that the place is out of control, but then I think about my techs and I can’t help but feel….I don’t know, sad? Guilty? Ashamed? Leaving like I did was not professional, I know. If a ship is sinking, and it is not your ship, would you go down with it? I will not try to justify my actions. I will let them be judged by others and live with the verdict and the consequences. I did it. It’s done. And as my favorite State Farm representative always says, “It is what it is.”

So now what? I can’t say that I haven’t thought about quitting before and moving on. In fact I have given it countless hours of thought in the past. I think that’s why the decision hit me so fast and didn’t leave me the least bit scared. I’m not disappearing from the collision repair industry. I will be hitting the road and selling my software. Until now I have made no effort aside from my website to sell my software. 99% of the shops in this country have never heard of it. I think once I show someone how good it works they will be sold. I’m also going to be doing a lot more carving. I carve reproduction patriotic eagle plaques, stern boards, signs and figures. Again, I’ve never made any attempt beyond a website to sell them. I also buy and collect antiques. I’ll start selling them as well at shows and on ebay.

I’ve got other offers and opportunities to consider. I will consider just about anything. I’m at your service should you need it. Maybe I’ll start doing some writing for other magazines.

I’m a hustler. I’ll survive. If anyone has any offers or suggestions feel free to contact me.

Don’t go away though. I’m sure my traveling to all these body shops trying to sell my software will give me plenty to write about. You can also contact me with interesting stories. Better yet, you can purchase some software or order one of my beautiful carved eagles so my wife doesn’t make me get a job.

Wish me luck!

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14 Comments on A New Beginning

  1. Wade Ebert on Fri, 8th Jun 2007 8:34 am
  2. I appreciate your frustration. Many days I wish I could quit or get fired. Certainly there are parts of the industry from which I can retire. Too often I feel the shop owns me rather than the other way around – and that’s no good. I take on too much but I also don’t hand my employees big bags of doo-doo either. Consequently there is not much left for me or of me at the end of the day. Sure my customers love that I step into the gap on their behalf but… such altruism comes at a price, one I can no longer bear. Is it still altruism if I demand payment for it? Well, No actually. What it is – is business. It is time we are paid for our rather unique expertise. Today I will conference call with some insurer who wants me to explain how the Automotive Collision Repair Act, the Public Insurance Adjusters and Registered Firms Act and the prohibition against the Unauthorized Practice of Law all work in my state. I’ll tell her what I tell now almost anyone who asks for such things: “I bill out at $125. an hour with a one hour minimum. If you give me your credit card number, I’ll key that in for you now – as soon as I verify that the card is good, I’ll start billing you.”

  3. Roy Smalley on Fri, 8th Jun 2007 9:42 am
  4. Well, good for you. You may feel guilty for a while and in 10 years look back and say “well, wodashoulda”, but bottom line this was not an impetuious get back….your rationale took a long time to get you there and you had just had enough. Been there twice. Sorta for the same reasons. If I had been able to swaller a bunch of, you know, I probably could have really retired at 50. But 30 years after the fact, I don’t have a damned thing to regret. I am still here, not deat from constipation or a heart attack; not rich but still have the same wife I have had since the Pope was an infant.

    So it will work out. Stick to your principles; you will always feel better when all is said and done.

  5. Jim Bills on Fri, 8th Jun 2007 10:13 am
  6. God Speed John, keep your chin up, I’m sure things will work out for the best. No sense in dealing with an owner (with the values you described), any longer than necessary.

    You did the right thing

  7. Bryan White on Fri, 8th Jun 2007 1:22 pm
  8. Good for you! John I went through the same thing at a dealership a few years back and know exactly how you feel. The only difference was I stayed long enough for all of my good crew to find homes and then I made a move. I have to say, to this day the bodyshops sales have never been the same at that dealership. I also brought on board the good DRP’s to the shop that I moved to and doubled our sales in a short time. Once again congradulations for standing up for yourself. P.S. As they say it’s just business!

  9. Nate Tarr on Fri, 8th Jun 2007 6:05 pm
  10. Wow, great story. That took some serious nuts. I’ll bet that place was a madhouse.

  11. Barrett on Fri, 8th Jun 2007 6:33 pm
  12. Congratulations John, you are part of the solution! A man can stand for something or fall for anything.

    I too worked at a couple dealerships and while I am sure some are fine and care for their staff, most are run by egomaniacs who care nothing for their employees.

    You won’t be sorry and your techs will do well with or without you if they are as good as you say.

    I believe someone was smart, they’d snap you and your staff up. Hopefully you can get your own thing going whether in your software or in another area of the industry, who knows, if your really unfortunate, you may get your own place!

    I’d invest in someone of your character and integrity, in fact, if you want to move to Central Florida let me know. I ‘ve been seriously considering doing something different myself in the near future. Let’s talk.


  13. Lee on Sat, 9th Jun 2007 9:22 am
  14. Get on with your bad self! You at least got some satisfaction and showed (hopefully) management how not to treat people. You’re too valuable to the industry to not stick around. You’re quite an inspiration to many. Good luck and may you be blessed with much success in whatever you end up doing.

  15. Teresa Deem on Sun, 10th Jun 2007 7:31 pm
  16. John,

    I wish you my best. You have done the right thing. Even the rats know to get off a sinking ship. This industry is a dead end, use your intellect in another industry and you will go far. Good luck.


  17. TONY BUTLER on Mon, 11th Jun 2007 8:29 am

  19. TONY BUTLER on Mon, 11th Jun 2007 8:29 am

  21. Dena Whatley on Mon, 11th Jun 2007 10:00 am
  22. I am the ex-assistant for John after working with John for many many years it was a wonderful experience I learned so much from him that is something no one can take from me. He is truely a wonderful person I never imagined he would walk out of there like that I have more respect for him now than I ever did before! I miss all the the techs we were a disfunicational family so to say. I feel bad for what they are going though I too don’t think I will be back in a body shop I can’t imagine myself working for any other manager he in my eyes is the best!!!! He taught me everything I know about a bodyshop I never had any experience in a bodyshop just office experience. So John if you need an assistant t make you phone calls and travel arrangements give me a call. Keep in touch!!! Mellissa don’t worry as John says he is a hustler you will be fine your in good hands(not with Allstate) ha ha..

  23. Scott Anyan on Fri, 15th Jun 2007 6:26 am
  24. Right On John, Good luck and don’t forget about the rest of us poor saps who could still benefit from your insight and software.

    I have no doubt you will be fine, and your techs will bounce back or find other employment [we all know how hard it is to find good techs] .

    I look foward to reading about your new adventures

  25. Michael Santarsiero on Tue, 19th Jun 2007 9:06 am
  26. Nobody likes a quitter, especially me. I have toughed out some pretty rough situations out of sheer pride and principal, even when it cost me and my family money that I could have made more easily in another line of work. But you did not quit. You were not the captain and it was not your place to go down with the ship, especially when you gave the captain the sound advice he needed to keep the ship afloat. I call it a tactical retreat. This industry could use a guy like you, maybe not for your politics and opinions, but for your continuing battle with the insurance industry. Keeping them out of our pockets is where the real battle lies, and I’m glad you will live to fight another day. As history has shown us, sometimes the opportunity for greatness is thrust upon us. One only need to realize when that moment has come and have the stomach to sieze the opportunity. You can help lead this industry. Sure you have to feed your family, but don’t spend too much time carving those eagles. I won’t remember you for that. I will, however, remember a guy who freed himself up enough to take up a more agressive fight against the foe. I am like you. I’m a survivor. I’m good with my head and my hands. My family will never go without. I can do anything, but I find my sense of purpose renewed every day that I outlast the insurance companies’ latest attempt to enslave or eradicate me. I live to be that one thorn in their side that they can’t bribe, buy off or scare off with their DRPs. I sleep well at night. So will you. Keep fighting. Keep in touch.

  27. Barrett/Fl on Fri, 22nd Jun 2007 12:54 pm
  28. John,

    Call me when you can please.



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