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Montana-based MSO Big Sky Collision invests in staff to foster growth

Tuesday, July 3, 2018 - 07:00
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At the Bozeman store, McDonnell was able to help the number-two at the shop move into management of the Livingston location. “We also took a painter that wanted to be an estimator and got him where he wanted to be,” McDonnell says. “I just told him he had to teach someone how to paint before he made that transition, and I think he’s a store operator in the making.”

“We had an office manager that moved into an estimator position, and then an assistant manager,” McDonnell adds. “Now she operates the highest sales store we have. A few years ago, she was mainly answering phones. She had the skill set and respect of the team, and she wanted it.”

McDonnell also regularly stops production for training and to get the team’s input on operations. “You don’t do things to people, you do things with them,” McDonnell says. “If they can formulate their own input and make it their own, they will run a lot farther with it. They love it. They can put the tools down for a bit, and we learn stuff as managers about the people we’re working with.”

Leadership is divided between sales/marketing, operations, and accounting/HR. “You focus on what you are good at,” McDonnell says. “I’m a sales and marketing guy, and I have someone who manages production, and we hired a CPA to handle accounting and HR. The three of us meet daily.”

The company is also working on building its own technician development program to address a common issue – the shortage of trained technicians. “We’re not looking to take techs from another body shop, we want to build these guys,” McDonnell says. “We are building a program now that we believe can fast track them from zero to an A tech in two years.”

After Big Sky builds a pool of technicians it can draw from, McDonnell wants to keep the program expanding so that there’s a flood of skilled techs across the region. “Our idea is that if we don’t have anywhere to put them, we can send them off to the next best shop,” McDonnell says.

He notes that shops in Montana have a strong commitment to each other. There aren’t any consolidators there yet, and most of Big Sky’s competitors are small MSOs or independent shops. “We have a strong association here, and I’m talking to other shops all the time,” McDonnell says. “We’re all friends, and we do things outside of work. We have stuck together, and the best thing we have going here is that we are connected and have regular conversations with the insurance commissioner’s office, and hold our insurance partners accountable.”

Big Sky is working with OEMs on brand-specific certifications, which McDonnell sees a big growth opportunity. “In the future, the vehicles are going to tell owners where to take them for a repair,” McDonnell says. “The car will pull up a list of certified shops on the screen in a market, and that is where they’ll go, because that’s who they will trust their car with.”

He also says that a continued focus on quality will give more leverage to the collision industry moving forward. “The pendulum is swinging, and carriers are seeing that as severity goes up, they need to partner with good shops,” McDonnell says. “They will want to know up front who the good guys are and the smarter carriers are forming those partnerships.”

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