Lampasas, Texas-based Paceline Collision Centers will open its ninth location in Lubbock this year, and the company is actively planning to add more locations in the future. Over the past 20 years, Paceline has grown from a side business housed in a rented bay to a multi-million-dollar operation.
|At a Glance: Paceline Collision Centers|
No. of locations
No. of employees
In some ways, the company almost happened by accident. When owner and CEO Shannon Martin started Paceline Collision back in 1995, he actually had no intention of launching a multi-shop autobody repair company. In fact, it wasn’t until he already had three locations and more than a dozen employees that running Paceline officially became his full-time job.
In the 1990s, Martin was in college working on a business degree, and buying and selling old cars to earn money. He rented a stall at a transmission shop and hired an out-of-work technician he knew to paint the cars he was selling.
Before long he was pulling in paint work from local car dealerships as well. The business soon outgrew the stall, so he rented a larger building and started taking insurance work. “By that point I had three employees, I was 22 years old, and I realized I was in over my head,” Martin says. “I read through Proverbs, prayed for wisdom, and listened to a lot of audio books on leadership from guys like John Maxwell and Andy Stanley.”
According to Martin, he found a mentor in John Deal, a guest speaker he met at church, to help him craft a more positive direction for his life, and taught himself the body shop business by reading industry magazines (including ABRN). “[John] taught me the value of character over wealth, and we would absolutely not be where we are today without him,” Martin says.
“That’s really when the foundation was laid for who we are as a company,” Martin says. “An insurance agent in another town was sending us work, and the only shop they had there was a few months backlogged. He convinced me to open a second location in 2000. We just took over an empty building.”
In the meantime, Martin also continued working at a number of different jobs. He was a partner in a car dealership with his father. He built houses. He still bought and sold cars on the side. “I was really focused on a lot of different things,” Martin says. “I read a book called Good to Great by Jim Collins on a recommendation from my uncle Todd, and Collins talks in that book about becoming great at one thing. So in 2007 I put everything down except the body shop business and we opened our third location.”
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Troubled acquisition refocuses company
Up to that point, Martin had grown through converting brownfield locations. The company made its first acquisition in 2010, but Martin says the experience was not a happy one. “That went wrong,” Martin says. “The shop had 90 percent of its work coming from one DRP, and they decided not to stay.”
The faltering acquisition put Paceline in survival mode, and Martin says the company was struggling. They reached out to consulting firm Symphony Advisors to help create a plan for the long-term future of the company and to carve out a place as a top shop in the small and mid-size markets they served in Texas.
“That process really restored our confidence,” Martin says. “In 2012 we opened our fifth store in Abilene, and we really gained momentum again.” Over the next five years, the company grew through acquisition and went from 50 employees to 150.
The executive team and Symphony put their heads together to outline the company’s strengths and weaknesses, and to formulate a vision for Paceline and a set of guiding principles. Among those core values are candor, accountability and continuous improvement.
“We strive to have honest, proactive communication with the customer, the insurance partners, and our team members,” Martin says. “We’re always fully transparent. We’re looking for ways to change outcomes, and looking for better ways to do the right thing.”
With that plan in place, Paceline grew from three stores in 2011 to six by 2014, and expanded into markets that met its needs and fit with the company’s core values and vision. The company also doubled its car count over that period.
A lean approach
All of Paceline’s recent expansion has been accomplished through acquisition. “When we’re looking at a shop, we are really considering our insurance partner needs, and whether we even need to be in a particular market,” Martin says. “We are also looking for good people, so there has to be a fit there.”