By Barett Poley
Richmond, Ontario -- November 29, 2016 -- Car-O-Practor is celebrating a milestone. The facility, located at 5949 Ottawa St. in Richmond, Ontario, celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.
For Brian Ayotte and Dan Prezeau of Car-O-Practor, communication is the key. You don’t get to a 30th anniversary without a good concept, a good business model and a good partnership. Ayotte and Prezeau had known each other before going into business together. Prezeau had done some autobody work on a Nissan 200SX owned by Ayotte.
When a garage that Ayotte and Prezeau used to work at went up for sale, it looked like the perfect place to set up their new business.
“We were driving by and I said, ‘You know, this place is all set up, maybe we should think about renting it!’” said Ayotte in an interview with Collision Repair magazine. Ayotte and Prezeau, brought in another partner, Andy Trottier, and jumped on the opportunity. Within a year, however, Ayotte and Prezeau purchased Trottier's share of the business, leaving them the sole proprietors.
Ayotte says keeping up with the times was integral to their success. Professional repairers know just how much the business has changed in the last 30 years. The rate of change seems to be continuing to accelerate, with the emerging need for pre- and post-repair scans and the proliferation of sensors throughout the vehicles.
According to Ayotte, the best way to tackle these problems is to treat not as problems, but opportunities o help the development of your business.
“The volume we process now? We could do that without technology,” says Ayotte. “The only hard part is finding people with the right training for it!”
This is an issue that many repairers face, as there is never a surplus of trained collision technicians. In terms of keeping up with technology, Car-O-Practor is a trailblazer. Ayotte notes that they were one of the first independent shops to document every step of the repair process with photography.
“We employed the same sort of accountability with our collision repairs as the insurance companies did," says Ayotte. "Of course everything back then was on a Polaroid. The drug store just loved us, because you can imagine the money we were spending on film! But it really helped us to grow the business. People appreciated the accountability. When digital came along it was just great!”
There can be heavy investments to keeping up with new technologies, but it tends to pay off as technology becomes cheaper and the business improves.
As far as advice for the young entrepreneur hoping to see a 30th anniversary goes, Ayotte says there are few things as important as community-mindedness.
“We’re actually in our community,” he says. “As a result of our involvement we’re the oldest singly owned business in our area. Everyone else has come and gone, we’re the only two that have been here for 30 years with no change of ownership. The industry has been good to us.”
In addition, he says ownership of your building can make weathering the storm a little bit easier. “Everyone can have a hard time. Thank goodness we own our building. The right thing to do is to buy, not rent, if you can afford to.”
Ayotte also says that you shouldn’t be afraid to branch out. “We started offering mechanical repair services in 1995, and set up a partnership with Autopro,” says Ayotte. This is something a number of body shops have started offering in recent years, but Car-O-Practor has been a "one-stop-shop" for over 20 years.
Picking your partner and making the commitment are two of the most important things for a young entrepreneur, according to Ayotte.
“If I’ve got one piece of advice it would be ‘make sure you love it, because it’s a commitment.' It’s a lifelong commitment. Dan and I are both hard workers and we gel well together. The most important thing is we never got into any power struggles with one another.”
For more information on Car-O-Practor, please visit caropractor.mechanicnet.com.