The limits are endless with great people by your side
BY TOM BISSONNETTE
“I saw enough of the shops over in Europe to make the decision to come back and totally transform Parr into a world class collision repair facility.”
As many of you know, I am not an auto body technician—I was a mechanic in my previous career. This has been, in some ways, a disadvantage—but in other ways it gives me an edge. I’ve never had preconceived notions on how things ought to be done, so you will seldom hear me say: “We’ve always done it that way!”
Once I had established the formula to create a profitable bodyshop, I needed to develop a competent, world-class business to back it up. It was clear to me that the quality of Parr’s bodywork and paint was substandard. Back in 1986, we were still using lacquer primer and acrylic enamel paint. Our top bodyman was finishing his work in 80 grit sandpaper. There was no quality control check—except when the customer came to pick up their vehicle and pointed out the shortcomings of the job! Enter the good people at Reineking paint.
I have to give Koos Reineking a lot of credit for helping to change not only our shop culture but more importantly to change my character. Koos was very non-judgmental and patient with me in my early days. For example, I was invited to go to Holland on a Body Shop Study Tour by the Reineking organization in the spring of 1987, alongside more than 20 other shops.
I was paired with Mark Poncelet from Mark’s Auto Body on this trip, and those of you who know Mark know he’s an interesting character that loves to have a good time. Our host, Fernand van Poetran, was likely disappointed with our behaviour day after day, but I wouldn’t change a thing! Even though it seemed we were goofing off I experienced firsthand how European body technicians took pride in their trade, the quality of work they performed and the cleanliness of their shop. I saw enough of the shops over in Europe to make the decision to come back and totally transform Parr into a world class collision repair facility.
I made the decision to install the SIKKENS paint system into our shop—which involved a total re-think on how bodywork and paint prep was done. Fernand, much to his surprise, was invited to come to Parr and help train our production employees on the new way.
Our employees were incredulous! When told to finish in at least 120 grit—preferably 150 to 180 grit—bodymen suggested in jest, “why don’t we just paint the vehicle for the painter?” Our painters, when told to use a two-stage primer that had a pot life of two hours or less and a dry time of four hours or more without heat, rolled their eyes and said, “that would never work in Canada!”
Our top bodyman, the 80-grit guy, promptly gave his resignation. Our head painter, a gruff German fellow pretty much dismissed the two-stage primer and went about his business. As a young manager I wondered if I bit off more than I could chew but I saw with my own eyes how the European shops were performing high-quality world-class work, so I hung in there.
A few key people helped me through this stage of my career. Don Swick, now a PPG Manager of National accounts, was the assistant manager of the shop. He has always had my back. Not only that but Don has magical abilities—at least I think he does—in that everything he touches turns to gold!
As long as I’ve known Don it seems that whatever he puts his hand to is a success. He has a winner’s mindset and an inner confidence that he can accomplish whatever he puts his mind to, plus he is just simply a fun guy to be around. Those of you that know him understand what I’m saying.
Art Sekuluk, who now farms out near Kenaston, was a local painter that was among the first in the province to use SIKKENS paints at a local boutique body shop called Automobile Technique. Art was very adept at using the two stage products and was a great coach for the other painters. His easygoing manner and competent paint skills were almost instantly transferred to the entire paint staff.
Dennis Klemecki, now the bodyshop parts guy at Dodge City and one of the finest bodymen I have ever worked with. He was ahead of his time when it came to the new way of doing bodywork and he was a great source of technical advice for me. He encouraged me to press on many times when I felt like quitting and he has always had my back. Working with these men made me realize that you do not have success by yourself, you need other people who are strong where you are not. I was fortunate to have them in my life.
Parr went from being an average shop to becoming one of the highest quality shops in the city. The Honda dealership located next door to us started referring their collision customers to Parr within a year. The Dodge dealer across the street also started sending their collision work to us even though they had their own body shop—we even repaired the dealer principal’s personal vehicles! Business was booming. We had a mechanical area with three mechanics, a dedicated frame guy, three paint booths and four painters, six or more body men, a parts person, two auto detailers, a shop custodian, a couple of receptionists along with Don and I.
We had a great team, and we were invincible! It was at this time that I approached the owners of the business about my being involved in the ownership of the business. That option was offered to me when I first came to Parr, but the business was doing so poorly that I suggested that we wait to see if I could turn the business around before I jumped on board. Now that things were rolling along nicely, they were hesitant to extend that offer to me.
I noticed that Dodge City was building a new bodyshop across the street from Parr, so the next time I saw the dealer principal I asked him if they were looking for a shop manager. He was thrilled that I was interested and offered me a job right away. I went back to the owners of Parr and told them that unless I could be part of the ownership of Parr that I had an opportunity to go work for the Dodge dealership—knowing full well they would never let me go.
I was wrong. They wished me good luck, showed me the door and immediately hired one of the top managers at SGI to run their business for them. There I was, in the dead of winter, at Dodge City’s old bodyshop on the edge of working with eight pessimistic employees and the owner’s son. I recall telling my wife to make sure her job was secure because I wasn’t sure that I could put up with the purgatory that I had been put into.
I had poured my heart and soul into Parr and now I was relegated to a dealership body shop that basically required me to start all over again. I remember meeting with Koos and his brother Ton Reineking at a local hotel to explain my current situation and ask for help in finding me another job anywhere else in the collision industry. Essentially, they told me to suck it up.
If I didn’t like the situation, I was in then I should take control and make the business the way I thought it should be. They didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear, they told me what I needed to hear. I went back to work the next day determined to get the body shop business at Dodge City on track.