Working at a Minnesota car dealer's body shop during high school first put Darrell Amberson in the driver's seat on his way to a fulfilling and distinguished career.
If you follow the funny-car circuit, you may recall seeing Amberson peeling out from the starting line behind the wheel of his nitro-burning Ambition during his stint as a professional drag racer. He earned a No. 3 ranking in points by the International Hot Rod Association in the 1989 season.
"I'd put on a good show and do a nice burnout," he says, noting he ran in other classes as well.
But the allure of the quarter-mile soon became a collection of trophies and pleasant memories as married life led him to decide it was time to return to the collision repair business.
|At A Glance|
The concept of ambition wasn't completely left behind, however, because Amberson signed on with Lehman's Garage in Minneapolis. As president of the full-service auto repair shop that has grown to include six locations, he embarked on a path of leadership within the body shop industry. Amberson, who's set to become chairman of the Automotive Service Association (ASA) in May, has excelled at pursuing excellence and encouraging others to do the same.
"As a leader, you want your people to be as competent as they can be," he says, citing the importance of ongoing education and training.
Lehman's employees consistently are presented with initiatives to better the business and themselves through an array of classes and consultations conducted by industry experts. Frequent sessions improve each aspect of the company, from sales to estimating to production to accounts receivable.
"A personal buy-in from all employees causes them to reach their goals," Amberson says.
Lehman's improvement initiatives include coaching, critiques and a longtime practice of engaging secret shoppers to evaluate the repair experience from the customer's view. Membership in a Dupont 20 Group also has helped.
"Our shop managers are talented and far more capable than they've been in the past," Amberson says.
Word-of-mouth referral is the primary method for recruiting new employees. Lehman's also places advertisements on industry websites and Craig's List when necessary. And because Amberson serves on the advisory committee of a local technical college, there's a lot of interaction with instructors who serve as reliable resources for selecting the best students for the shop's internship program.
Once hired, employees tend to stick around because of decent pay and benefits, steady oversight from management, and opportunities for advancement and personal growth.
What it offers
Operationally, Lehman's automotive services include:
- collision and mechanical repairs for vehicle owners and fleets;
- paintless dent removal;
- glass replacement;
- car rentals;
- lease-return cleanups; and
- a one-day, bumper-repair option for minor dings and scrapes.
Mechanical repairs are an important element to the business.
"They allow us to have more control of our work because we almost eliminate subletting," Amberson says. "It's a different type of business in which workloads fluctuate at a different rate than collision. Our service departments are an integral part of the collision repair process as a separate income source for retail work."
And yet mechanical service is a different marketing proposition.
"Marketing collision repair is like marketing a funeral home: No one is interested until they have a need," Amberson says. "Most customers have a need for mechanical repair at least two to four times a year."