Everything you Wanted to Know About Buying a Body Shop

Willard Michlin asked:

So you think you want to buy a body shop? A body shop can be a great investment if you have the skills necessary to make it work, and are willing to do the business actions necessary to bring in the business and keep the business profitable. I would like to help you work out if you really want to buy a body shop and, if you do, what kind of shop would be best for you.

Do you have the skills to buy a body Shop?

Most successful body shop owners come from inside the industry. They are occasionally body and/or paint men who worked in the production area as a teenager or as a young adult. This education is extremely valuable and, if you are buying a shop doing less than $1,000,000 in sales per year, is an absolute necessity.

Some owners learned the business as an estimator, working for a body shop or as an insurance adjuster out in the field for an insurance company. Another group of buyers have had no body shop experience but they grew up around cars and love them. This buyer should only buy a shop where he has a family member with experience, in the business that will be working with him or where the seller agrees to stay for 1 year and teach the buyer every part of the business.

Towing company owners sometimes want to expand into a body shop. This type of buyer has a lot of understanding about the business but needs a shop where experienced staff is staying with the company. The last group is composed of business people who figure they can run any kind of business. This type of buyer can make if he has at least one family member with experience and the buyer is a very good sales person.

Are you willing to do the business actions necessary to do the business?

In this section I would like to discuss which actions are absolutely necessary to be successful in running a body shop and if not done will guarantee failure.

The single most important action that must be taken by any new body shop owner is to bring in new business. This is twofold. 1. Everyone wants more volume and you bought the shop based on your belief you can do more volume than the last owner. 2. You must replace the volume that will be lost by the transfer to you the new owner.

You get this new volume from several sources:


2. Rental car companies. This business is relatively easy to get but you do not want to rely on this business over the long term. It is not profitable enough to cover all your fixed costs, even though it will contribute to covering the rent.

3. New Car Dealerships. This is full retail price business but the dealership will expect you to buy their business by giving them a few thousands of dollars a month or some other compensation. Remember if you can steal the business from someone else, then someone else can steal the business from you.

4. Used car dealers and auction cars. This is a good source of business with most of the money being made on buying and selling cars. This tends to be stable business if you like this kind of work.

5. Referral business. These are national body shop groups that make national deals and for 10-15% of the income will send you car work. This is a very expensive way to get business and in the end is not profitable.

6. Corporation Accounts/Fleet Accounts. This is one of the two best ways to get business. Some companies do self-insurance. Others have insurance. Regardless, a salesman can get them to send you all their business by offering good service or other remuneration (Compensation.) Corporation accounts are quite often at full price or some reasonable discount. Some people offer to drop the deductible or give some other kind of a discount.

7. Off the street. This is the best business is the whole world if you can get them in the door and keep them in the door. This is where location plays an important part in getting the business. Visiting all the businesses in the neighborhood and offering discounts to their employees or other employee benefit for coming to you can get this business. This type of business is what a good salesperson dreams of. Most established businesses tell me they did this originally but stopped going out and selling when they got busy. Funny isn’t it? The action that made you busy cannot be done any more because you are too busy. This is how you build a shop’s volume without DRP contracts. This is a profitable business for the man who doesn’t mind selling and making friends with people.

Do I really want to buy a body shop?

If you are an adjustor and feel that your employer insurance company will give you a DRP contract in a specific area, you might have a high motivation to buy a shop in that area, even if its current volume is low. If you are expecting the existing clients to stay with you, after the sale, you have to do some research on this. If the clients are from corporate accounts, car rental companies, or just off the street, you are probably correct. If the clients come from personal relationships of the seller then forget it. People of like nationality have a greater chance of turning over personal relationships.

If you are buying a shop with DRP contracts currently, do not assume that you can keep them. In fact, you must assume you will loose them the day escrow closes. Do not buy a shop that has DRP contracts unless you already have a relationship with those same insurance companies at another shop you currently own. If you are reading my article, I can safely assume you are not a multiple shop owner currently. There are a few ways to buy a DRP shop and not loose the contracts but I cannot publish this information, in as much as the insurance companies will prevent my approach from working in the future.

If you do not want to do the marketing, then do not buy a body shop. PERIOD!

What kind of shop would works best for you?

Of course you want to decide based on the estimated volume that you expect to do, what size shop you need. If you expect the volume to remain the same then you figure the rent and profit based on that number. If you know you can bring in corporate accounts, dealerships and other business then you can use a bigger shop. If you expect to only have new business that you yourself bring in then a smaller shop may work perfectly.

If you get too big a shop the rent will kill you. If you get too small you will limit your possible volume unless you put in a second shift and keep an eye on that 2nd shift. There are larger capacity shops doing small volume that can be bought very cheap or reasonably.

There are smaller, very inexpensive shops available to use as a first time shop. Then after you learn the business and prove you can bring in volume, you can buy a bigger shop and sell off the smaller one. The best guarantee of success is to start small and grow bigger.

What you do not want is to buy a large shop that you cannot fill, thereby working for the landlord.


Keeping all of the above in mind and to not take on more than you can chew. Buy a shop that fits your personality and ability and then move up to the bigger shop when you have proven to yourself that you have done it and can do it again. If I can be of any assistance, I am here to help.

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