“Our goal as a company is to grow our knowledge to a point where the customer’s car never has to leave our facility,” he notes. “We now have a full-service mechanical, diagnostic, body, paint and detail department. Combined with having a satellite Enterprise location onsite, we are able to offer both the insurance companies and customers a full-service experience. We have been able to split the shop into being able to handle quick 24-hour repairs while still maintaining departments that can facilitate long major collision repairs.”
As is common throughout the industry, recruiting competent staff members is an ongoing challenge that is continually addressed. “The job market for collision repair employees is tough, so we have had to have multiple strategies to be able to keep a full staff.
“First,” O’Neill explains, “we have budgeted to offer a complete benefit package that includes 401k, health, disability and life insurance. Second, we have the ability for employees to take classes in our interactive conference room or testing area inside the shop. Third, we have been able to prolong the lifespan of a technician by buying equipment that makes it easier on the body for them – such as training them to do more highly skilled labor: This allows them to get paid a higher rate with not having to produce as many hours as when they were younger.”
A life-changing experience
O’Neill’s late father, Joseph O’Neill Sr., purchased the long-established business from the Benner family in the early 1980s after owning a pair of smaller shops for nearly 20 years. While attending a NACE conference Joe Sr. connected with a Texas shop owner who had a 40,000-plus square-foot facility. Upon visiting this operation, “He knew that he wanted to turn Benner’s into a large production shop,” O’Neill Jr. recalls.
He started working with his father in his early 20s and formally assumed ownership in 2010 when O’Neill Sr. was diagnosed with cancer, succumbing to the disease a few years later. O’Neill Jr. has had his own struggle with cancer, an especially grim period that also brought an inspiring, life-changing “Make a Wish” phone call, gifts and an onstage “Dream On” shout-out from Steven Tyler of Aerosmith!
Prior to this encounter, “I never had any intentions of taking over the business and in-fact never worked at the shop,” says O’Neill. “It was after surviving cancer that I went to work for my father to be closer with him. In the beginning it was only about spending time with my father and not about the business. I soon began to realize that there was a huge opportunity for me to help grow the business.”
He started attending Sherwin Williams training classes, and later moved up into more-advanced courses when O’Neill Sr. received his ultimately fatal cancer diagnosis.
“This time I had a different focus because I knew I would have to soon run the show by myself,” according to O’Neill. “They (Sherwin Williams) were gracious enough to send me to classes, seminars and 20 Group meetings around the country. I was able to meet some of the founding owners of both Caliber and CARSTAR,” he recounts with great gratitude.
“However, the person that really stood out, and I owe a lot to, was Steven Feltovich (of SJF Business Consulting). Steven turned out to be a godsend because he was able to show me exactly what I needed to focus on: He didn’t bother me with hypotheticals because he knew the timeframe I had to get up to speed.”