In San Diego, 1998, there was virtually no one providing paint touch-up service to the retail market. Triston Miller saw the timing was right, and launched Creative Touch-Up, offering mobile paint repair.
A love of cars and a knack for learning quickly allowed him to immerse himself in the fledgling industry.
“I learned paint touch-up and put my name in the phone book, with the hope to someday open a location to serve retail customers,” says Miller.
Over the next year, Miller learned how to do interior, windshield and bumper repair, and added those to his service offerings. Miller taught himself the skills he needed though training videos, asking for help from industry peers and enduring a lot of trial and error, or what he calls experimentation.
“I learned from training videos and by asking a lot of questions from other reconditioning experts,” he says. “I also spent a lot of time experimenting with better methods.”
To reflect the widened range of services, he changed the business name to Spectrum Auto Enhancements. Later, in 2001, the name changed again, this time to one that would stick: BumperDoc.
Miller chose the name based on a steady increase in customers interested in bumper repair. He registered BumperDoc as a trademark in 2002, added a second van in 2003 and trained Ryan Logan, a friend from elementary school, who is now the shop’s general manager.
Miller’s cousin, Mike Allen, moved to San Diego in the fall of 2003 to help prepare for the opening of the first BumperDoc Auto Reconditioning Center in 2004. Allen is currently working as a customer service representative and preparing to support franchisees in the field.
To keep motivation high, Miller gave equity in the company to Logan and Allen, along with other team members including Jeff Tarlton, chief communications officer [another childhood friend] and Kha Ly, webmaster and director of marketing.
“We are a dedicated team of friends who work well together,” says Miller.
Shane Sparks, a longtime friend of Miller’s, signed on with the company a year ago to assist with BumperDoc’s expansion and help plan for future franchises. Sparks says he’s another automotive enthusiast.
“I enjoy working with my hands, and working with automobiles,” he says. “I like the satisfaction of seeing customers when they come in and their car looks brand new often they don’t believe we can fix it. On an almost daily basis they explain how happy they are that their car looks brand new. Our team is also motivated by the environmental aspects of our innovative services. We’ve saved thousands of bumpers and metal panels from being thrown in landfills, which saves natural resources and the energy involved in mining, manufacturing and shipping replacement parts.”
Building a Name
BumperDoc moved into a 5,000-square-foot facility in January 2006 that houses four garage bays and a paint booth. Ten employees keep vehicles flowing through the shop, at a rate Miller estimates to be between 50 and 75 vehicles per week mainly for bumper repair, as the name suggests, but with increasing requests for other services as well.
“Well, as our name reflects, we get a lot of bumpers in,” says Sparks. “Also, with our marketing targeting PDR and auto body repair, those have been increasing. The majority of cars come in with damaged plastic bumpers, mostly from minor collisions, backing into poles or parking lot fender benders.”
BumperDoc serves mainly retail customers, though it has some paintless dent repair service agreements with car dealerships. Sparks describes their customer base as average car owners.
“We specialize in high-quality repairs, and we see a wide variety of makes and models,” he says. “Our great reputation brings in many luxury cars such as Porsches, Ferraris, and Bentleys.”
Despite BumperDoc’s speedy growth, there were speed bumps in the road.
“The biggest hurdles were obtaining funding to open each location, and putting in the time necessary to build a customer base,” says Miller. “It was very difficult to get the funding to make the financial leap of opening a retail location especially with a model that didn’t exist in the market already.”
Miller also faced a challenge in creating a system that produced rapid, high-quality services for his clients.
“We specialize in plastic bumper repair, paintless dent repair and express auto body repairs, all backed with a lifetime warranty,” says Miller. “We pride ourselves in offering the highest quality repairs quickly.”
Treating Techs Right
One component of getting those repairs done, and at the quality level the company requires, is BumperDoc’s skilled and dedicated staff.
“It can be difficult to keep up with our workload, and we have had to hire more technicians periodically,” Miller says. “We feel that paying more and treating our technicians with respect helps our production and morale stay at a high level.”
To keep that morale high, Miller and Sparks strive to make BumperDoc an inviting place to work. Sparks says the hardest part of the business is keeping good employees on staff, so he offers perks.
“Several of our employees, including our shop manager and general manager, have some equity in the company, so they’re really motivated by development plans,” says Sparks. “When it comes to our commission employees, we pride ourselves on having a positive work culture with benefits like an employee-of-the-month program and other incentives. We recognize hard work, pay fairly and offer benefits so they are happy where they are and continue to learn.”
Of course, getting customers in the door is the key to keeping the staff busy and the business growing, and BumperDoc has found which methods work best.
As with every aspect of the automotive industry and especially the reconditioning side of things, word of mouth has proven the most effective.
“We’ve really grown from referrals we try to track where they come from, and the majority of our business is from friend and family referrals,” says Sparks. “We try to treat everybody with a smile and a genuine greeting, and we live our motto: Fast. Friendly. Honest. We approach any problems or questions with a focus on treating the customer right. If we have any problems we do all we can to please the customer.”
Additionally, increasing the company’s visibility by attending events, as well as more traditional forms of paid advertising and BumperDoc’s Web site,www.BumperDoc.com, created a powerful advertising formula.
“Word of mouth is our best advertisement,” says Miller. “We advertise in the Yellow Pages and we pay for Internet advertising. Car shows are also helpful in establishing connections to customers in the community. We have had success with open houses for interested groups, such as the local Porsche club, and you can never beat banging the concrete the good old-fashioned way.”
Rather than resting on his laurels, Miller plans to forge ahead with plans for BumperDoc. He hopes to build additional locations for the business, while keeping BumperDoc’s growth controlled and profitable.
“We plan to open more company-owned centers in the region until we are registered to sell franchises,” he says. “Keep a clear head and grow only as much as you can handle don’t let the business get ahead of you.”
Miller is fairly certain that BumperDoc’s success will support such plans. He attributes its growth to lessons he’s learned, chiefly that customer service will yield the best results.
“Our goal is to save customers time and money while improving the appearance and value of their vehicle,” he says. “We believe in treating every customer like family and doing the right thing. We strive to pursue the best methods to serve our customers.”
Miller’s customer service policy ties in with his beliefs about reputation.
“It takes 20 years to build a positive reputation, and 20 seconds to tear it down,” he says.
BumperDoc does what it can to prevent the latter from happening. Miller says that the shop stands out due to its service and appearance.
“We go the extra mile to serve customers by providing clean, attractive facilities and outstanding customer service,” he says.
“We make sure the customer has a positive experience we have a clean facility, clean lobby, complimentary coffee and sodas, and other simple things like mobile services and rental cars,” adds Sparks. “Most people in our industry are mainly providing service to dealerships so one thing we build on is our customer service philosophy. When dealing with a retail customer, it’s an entirely different experience and that’s why our company has grown.”
That’s important for a business, when customers need their vehicle reconditioned quickly and inexpensively.
“Most of our customers are looking for the best way to save time and money with our bumper repair, paintless dent repair or auto body repair services. They have a vehicle that has suffered superficial damage and they want it to look like new again.”
That’s what BumperDoc specializes in, and Miller is proud of what he has built.
“The biggest milestone for me was opening day at the first shop,” he says. “It was the realization of a dream I had followed for six years. Receiving our trademark and opening the second shop also stand out as highlights.”