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Young Businessman Bangs Out Problems in Body Shop

Young Businessman Bangs Out Problems in Body Shop Most Improved Performance by a Small Business – McAlister’s Body Shops By JEFF WEISS Contributing Reporter The cars weren’t the only wrecks at McAlister’s Body Shop when McAlister’s Chief Financial Officer Stephen Siegel purchased the business in 2000. The shop was run down, the equipment was ancient and dilapidated, the place lacked professionalism, and the finances were in disarray. Enter Andy Rapport. With Siegel running a property management company, he lacked the time to manage McAlister’s. So within a year after buying the shop, he brought in his acquaintance Andy Rapport, who was fresh out of USC’s Entrepreneurial School at the time. Rapport lacked extensive knowledge of the body shop industry, yet arrived equipped with enough business acumen to help transform the business. Only three years later, at the tender age of 25, President Rapport’s skills have allowed the company to grow from doing $100,000 a month in 2000, to this year’s sales projections of nearly $10 million. Additionally, the number of McAlister’s locations has increased to three stores, with ground having recently been broken for a fourth. The exteriors and interiors of the typically grungy body shop have been replaced by granite table tops, employees in shirts and ties, fresh coats of paint, and brand new equipment. “The main thing we tried to do is find a niche. We’ve concentrated on being the best in the dealer body shop business. We now specialize in doing dealer work. We go out and provide a financial and service product, which is tough to match for other people. We have set up partnerships with dealerships for them to send us business,” Rapport said. “We provide a good financial and customer service package. We carry extra personnel. We pick up the cars from people’s houses. We have on-site Enterprise Rent-A-Car stores. We try to emulate the service side of a dealership. If you go into a business, you see shirts and ties. That’s what you see here.” Decline in reputation As profits dwindled at a pre-Siegel/Rapport McAlister’s, its reputation suffered along with them. Few dealerships wanted to work with a company in decline. “It’s a completely different business compared to how it used to be. We had quit using the prior McAlister’s,” Garry Webb, general manager of Miller Nissan, said. “It was because of Andy’s job that we decided to resume doing business with them after a 5-year hiatus. Their work is top quality and the customer service is outstanding.” It has become increasingly difficult to turn a profit in the body shop industry, which makes Rapport’s achievement more notable. Many body shop owners lament the rise of insurance companies that attempt to goad them into doing increasingly swift work for a lower profit margin. “It’s hard to make money because the insurance companies control the business. They steer their clients to wherever they can get the best deal and some shops are willing to provide them with quick service at practically no cost,” Charlie Cehrelli, owner of Canoga Park’s Car Craft Auto Body Shop said. “It’s hard to be honest in this industry. The companies always try to give you less money than you need to make a profit. Consequently, there are two or three big companies that make a living and hundreds of small auto body shops struggle. We are cut out of it.” Yet McAlister’s now sterling reputation, bolstered by the immaculate condition of their stores and the clean-cut appearances of employees, has allowed them to attract business from these insurance companies. “This industry doesn’t have a great reputation, dealership involvement and insurance company involvement helps to add credibility,” Rapport said. “We now have insurance company relations with 21st Century, Hartford, and Western General. We’re really trying to focus on that over then next few years and trying to establish more direct repair partnerships.”

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