Alaska collision center heats up Anchorage market with teamwork-based production strategy

June 3, 2019
Anchored in Anchorage, dealing with Alaska’s rugged climate conditions is a constant operational challenge at the three Midtown, Downtown and Southside Able Body Shop locations in the state’s largest city.

Anchored in Anchorage, dealing with Alaska’s rugged climate conditions is a constant operational challenge at the three Midtown, Downtown and Southside Able Body Shop locations in the state’s largest city.

“It impacts every aspect of the business – you name it,” according to owner Ryan Cropper. “We have snow from October to April,” with temperatures averaging in the teens to low 20s.

At a Glance:
Able Body Shop
Anchorage, Alaska (in Midtown)
Main location
Ryan Cropper
No. of shops
Years in business
No. of employees
No. of DRPs
Midtown, 13,000; Downtown, 8,000; Southside, 20,000
Square footage of shops
Average repair order
10 days
Average cycle time
Average weekly volume
Vehicles per week, combined
$13 million
Annual gross revenue
Paint supplier
Frame machines used
Estimating system used

The cold and snow routinely results in non-starting vehicles with dead batteries, melting snow that drips onto the technicians and down their wet and chilly backs as cars sit atop the racks, plus the deeply snow-covered parking lots make pushing a major drag.

Huge mounds of snow can accumulate despite frequent plowing. “At times we have to rent equipment to pile it up even higher so we don’t take up too many parking spaces,” says Cropper.

“But the darkness affects us just as much as anything,” he adds. Lack of sun prevails throughout much of the year. Dec. 21, for example, brings just 4 hours of daylight; June 21, in contrast, stays sunny for 24 hours.

“As a kid we lived in staid Utah, and my father was looking for an adventure. He wanted to go hunting and fishing.” And so north to Alaska they did go.

“I can’t say I adopted right away, but I can’t imagine living anywhere else – in the winter, maybe – but no, I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” says Cropper.

Among the shops in the area, though, “nobody has enough employees,” making recruiting a constant endeavor.

“We focus on the culture of the shop and creating a team atmosphere. Our goal is to recruit entry level individuals who want to be a part of something bigger. We look for up and coming people in the industry with positive attitudes who are looking for longevity in the collision industry,” he explains.

“Team members thrive at Able because they are empowered to make their own decisions. Working on a team gives them the freedom to make their own choices while being held accountable by their teammates. We also like to reward them with fun, team building activities such as company cook-offs, barbecues and parties.”

Cropper notes that “balancing high-performance with quality of life” is a key goal. “We complete a high volume of work while still maintaining a healthy work environment. We have found that the shop thrives when employees are happy and feel important.”

He continues by pointing out how “we are committed to safe and proper repairs while not caving to the pressures of the industry. We care about our community; we value giving back and encourage our employees to give back as well.”

Along with serving on the Board of Directors for the Dimond West Little League, Cropper is a member of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce and the Rhino Lining Dealer Advisory Committee, plus he is a longtime director at the King Career Center, where for more than a decade the shop has been sponsoring a successful internship program. He has won numerous honors for his civic involvement.

“Our philosophy has become that we only spend marketing money when it directly impacts our community,” he elaborates. “We have found great success in showing Anchorage residents that we care about our city. We support a lot of local youth organizations and non-profits in order to get our name out in the community.”

Deploying a management style that Cropper describes as “democratic,” he emphasizes that “we encourage informal communication of knowledge and experience. We support dialog that builds positive relationships and we give our employees a reputation to live up to. We value our customers and go the extra mile to provide excellent customer service.”

Cropper reports that “we really work with our vendors to assist in high level training for our staff. 3M is a great example of that. We really like training with 3M because it is hands-on with a focus on fixing vehicles correctly.”

This close and productive relationship assures that every employee has a thorough education in the finer points of auto repair. “It supports my priorities -- we’ve sent several to 3M headquarters for advanced training in adhesives and welding,” he says.

“They’ve done several classes up here onsite on how to use their products the correct way. They’re one of the only vendors that give us that level of training. It’s tough to get that type of training from vendors.”

In dealing with suppliers, “We have clear expectations and we manage our relationships by commitments. As long as we have open communication and hold each other accountable for the commitments we make, vendor relationships are easy,” Cropper observes.

Relationships with insurance carriers, which Cropper terms as excellent, also revolve around mutual recognition. “We realize we are all there to serve a purpose and to do our job. We treat them with respect We know that they have rules to follow, and as long as the end result is a safe and proper repair, we can work with anyone. Our state-of-the-art estimating technology initiates seamless transactions,” he asserts. “Our estimating process is efficient, timely and hassle-free.”

Finding a career path

Although owning a trio of body shops requires plenty of management expertise in putting out fires, initially Cropper really did aspire to a career of extinguishing conflagrations.

“Growing up I always wanted to be a firefighter, however, I also had a love for vehicles and engine repair,” he recalls. “When I was a senior in high school I went to King Career Center and took a class called Body and Fender where I learned collision repair. My teacher, Chris Yelverton, was a big part of my success.”

Following graduation Cropper moved to Salem, Ore. for college, where he still pursued becoming a firefighter. In the meantime, though, he landed a job at Capital Collision and worked there while putting himself through college.

“When I returned to Anchorage in the summer of 2001 I saw there was a body shop for sale. After some soul-searching and realizing firefighting wasn't the career path I was happy with, I decided to purchase Able Body Shop.”

The operation had started in the late 1960s in a Quonset hut on the current property. By the late ‘70s it had expanded to a couple of structures under the direction of the previous owner.

“I purchased the original Able Body Shop, now called Able Midtown, in 2002 when the original owner was ready to retire. In 2006 I purchased another shop that, at the time, was the oldest operating body shop in Anchorage,” Cropper recounts.

“We changed the name to Able Downtown and made it our second location. At that point we re-branded as a multi-shop business and focused on growing and thriving in Anchorage. In 2018, after realizing we had maxed out both locations, we added our third and largest Able location -- called Able Southside.”

Two other enterprises are also a part of Cropper’s business interests. “Total Truck is an accessory store I purchased in 2004. We were using them a ton to purchase parts for vehicles that were in accidents and the aftermarket parts got damaged,” he says.

“The owners came to me and asked me to buy it from them. With the amount of business we did with them it made sense,” According to Cropper. “Northern Waste is a company I started about two years ago. I became frustrated with our trash company and realized I can do it better. After getting past the regulator commission, Northern Waste was started.  In under two years the company is already doing $3 million a year -- and growing -- in trash hauling.”

Voice Your Opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Vehicle Service Pros, create an account today!