If consumers can be selective about where to have a vehicle repaired, Alicia Ellen, one of the owners of Driven Collision Centers in Puyallup, Washington, wants to ensure her shop continues to land on top of their list.
In a small but vibrant community served by approximately eight collision repair providers, that means Ellen has her work cut out for her.
Within eight months of opening the doors of her 25,000 sq. ft. I-CAR Gold Class facility, Ellen has shattered every possible business forecast, attributing her shop’s success to a relentless commitment to extraordinary customer service and a full-on engagement with her team.
“It’s the people who matter to me; they choose to work here,” she said. “You can have all the business you want and the nicest building in town, but without our employees, we have nothing. We are eternally grateful for them.”
A different career trajectory
While vehicle repair has always been a part of Ellen’s DNA, with her grandfather and father both excelling in some form or fashion in related industries (her grandfather owned a local welding and automotive shop, which would later serve as home to her dad’s vintage race car restoration and storage company), becoming a collision repair business owner was not part of her career vision.
Instead, Ellen earned an MBA and opened a small marketing firm while raising her now 10-year-old daughter, Penny Lou. One of her projects involved doing marketing for the owner of a Tennessee collision repair facility, Price’s Collision. Over time, the two became friends, with Ellen’s natural curiosity sparking numerous conversations about repair shop ownership.
Meanwhile, during the 15 years Ellen owned her marketing business, she often drove by the vacant building of her grandfather’s dad’s business.
One day during that familiar drive with her longtime friend/ambassador of her marketing business, a lightbulb went off for them: “It occurred to us that we should buy the land and open a collision repair shop,” she recalled.
Drinking from a firehose
Ellen jumped in 1,000 percent, with the first order of business involving a complete teardown of the original shops. She began thinking back to all the mentoring she had received from her Tennessee collision repair owner and friend, Bobby Price.
“I learned so much from him; he was huge into consumer choice and was dedicated to safe and proper repairs. It was like drinking from a firehose, absorbing everything I could learn anytime I was with him.”
Sadly, the unthinkable had happened a year prior when her mentor suddenly died.
To compound matters, the extremely skilled and knowledgeable person Ellen and her team had earmarked to serve as Driven’s general manager didn’t work out, four months before the shop’s planned opening.
“I thought, `what am I going to do?’ My knowledge was not very strong outside of marketing.”
She and her business partner, Matt Rody, went to meet with “the dads” – her father, Louie Shefchik and business partner Ken Rody (Matt’s father) who Ellen affectionately refers to as her “second Dad.”
“They all told me I could do it,” she said. “They believed in me.”
Ellen said the setbacks only reinforced her desire to move forward.
“We started this business to help people,” she said. “We’ve [our families] had a deeper love for our community.”
Fixing broken things, people, hearts, and a lot of cars
That viewpoint fueled the inspiration for the shop’s tagline – the “driving force” of its mission: “We fix broken things, people, hearts and a lot of cars."
I didn’t know the rubble my life would soon become. And I definitely didn’t know the foundation it would help me build,” she said. “Driven isn’t just a collision center. It’s a beautiful place with so much heart…it’s a place that aims to breathe life and love into everyone we come in contact with.”
Meeting customers on their 'worst day'
“When people come in, they’ve had a bad day,” she explained. “We try to lead with empathy, understanding we serve people with real lives and real struggles,” she said. “They’re dealing with a lot of heavy things, and we try to keep that in mind. So, too, are my employees; they’re supporting a lot of stuff outside of work.”
“Have we gotten it right every day? No way, but I’m always trying to learn and do better.”
That means humbling herself to learn from “others who are smarter than me,” she said, crediting her team of nearly 30 technicians, estimators, painters, detailers, operations/parts management and customer service staff to make their shop continually better.
“I may not know how to fix a quarter panel or understand everything most people who run a collision center do, but I can promise you I’ve got heart. I am surrounded by the best of the best. I want them to teach me; explain things to me. That matters greatly. And I can see our vision clearly.”
I-CAR Gold Class status
Attaining and sustaining Gold Class status is a natural extension of Driven's extraordinary customer experience.
“It was a no-brainer for us [to become Gold Class],” Ellen said. “It completely aligned with our vision; we believe in safe and complete repairs and want to be the best in town.”
To reinforce the importance of the shop’s repair work, Ellen thinks of her daughter. “With every car we fix, I ask, `Would I put her in that vehicle?’ Gold Class allows us to have that confidence.”
The investment in training also attracts top talent, Ellen said. “We’re a big, beautiful shop and very high tech. We talk about the value of training in our job interviews and how we invest in them. We pay for their training immediately [upon hiring].”
“Is every day perfect? Nope. But we continue to grow. Bottom line, it’s about leading with heart.”
Article originally published here: https://info.i-car.com/onlinemagazine/CollisionReporter_The-Collaboration-Issue/CollisionReporter_The-Collaboration-Issue.html#page=1