Mike Brooks, owner of Color Pro Designs Inc., an automotive reconditioning shop nestled in Lone Grove, Okla.,-population 6,000-has one word to describe his twelve-year-old shop’s success: professionalism.
Brooks is a firm believer in not only providing customers with quality products and services consistently, but in doing so with the appearance and presentation of a company that is top-shelf in terms of pride and professional demeanor.
“From the appearance of our vehicles and trailers to our uniforms, we portray a professional image,” says Brooks. “That’s been the key to our success. We look professional, from our trucks to the way we conduct our activities. I’m real big on that.
“To me, that’s always been a staple of business,” Brooks adds. “You can’t expect people to think they’ll get a quality job if you don’t look professional. It puts people’s minds at ease when you give an estimate. It keeps you a cut above the rest. This profession is competitive. Looking and behaving like a professional helps keep you number one.”
Nine out of 10 jobs Color Pro Design performs are for car dealerships, the core of its business model.
“The majority of our work-90 percent-is wholesale work with dealerships,” Brooks says. “We have a schedule-dealerships expect us on certain days, year-round. We service over 20 dealerships within a 125-mile radius.”
Those services include a variety of offerings for both inside and outside of vehicles.
“We do a lot of dealer packages [that include] interior and exterior repairs for one price,” he notes. “We offer interior repair, and exterior touch-up. We offer blending panels, bumper repair, tears, rips, and paintless dent repair, and we also do pinstriping and graphics. Our interior repair consists of leather repair, and our specialty is in vinyl repair.”
Also in the last few years, Color Pro has added hail damage repair to its menu of services.
“I have four guys that I contract out to,” Brooks explains. “When hail damage hits, we set up shop in the Color Pro name and broker to them. I can still run dealership work, along with hail damage repair, and one doesn’t interfere with the other. It’s expanded our profit margin.”
Brooks came to auto reconditioning and repair work via the family route, when his father discovered the business after retirement. Originally from Florida, Brooks and his wife relocated to Oklahoma after Brooks became convinced of the viability of auto reconditioning as a thriving and potentially profitable business venture.
“I’m originally from Jacksonville, Fla.,” says Brooks. “My dad was a rancher in Oklahoma and he talked me into going to the University of Oklahoma.
“After college, I moved back to Jacksonville in 1992 and met my wife-to-be,” he continues. “We decided when we got married in ’94 that we wanted to start a business. My dad talked me into getting trained in doing touch-ups. I moved out to Oklahoma to work with him. He was doing it as a retirement business. I’ve got an art background so painting made sense. My dad retired in 2000 and left the business to me.”
After stepping in, Brooks decided it was time to step up the company’s offerings.
“I expanded from local touch-ups to really working a lot of wholesale,” he says. “But at the same time, our retail business has grown. We’re now specializing in fiberglass and gel-coat repairs on Jet Skis and motor homes.”
The retail watercraft and motor home operation, however, works differently than the rest of the Color Pro Design business in that Brooks requires an advance appointment.
“Our shop work is by appointment only,” he says. “We do this retail work and we advertise it in the Yellow Pages. From that advertising, we get the boat and Jet Ski and motor home work, which we then book by appointment. The way it works is that I meet a potential customer at the shop, prepare an estimate and book the job. If we get a slow day at a dealership, then we always have work in the shop to do.”
Offering a wide range of products and services, spread out across more than 100 miles of Oklahoma and Texas, allows Brooks and his crew to stay abreast of the latest trends in auto reconditioning.
“In the old days, you could show up with a paintbrush and airbrush,” says Brooks. “But the trend now is to make paint and body shop repairs in the field. That is a big trend in this business and a big challenge, but being able to do that separates you from the pack. More and more paint touch-up companies are going that way of mobility, of doing the jobs out in the field, on-site.”
Apart from simply repairing vehicles, Color Pro also offers products to make them look even better.
“Striping graphic packages continue to be a staple,” he adds. “But the interior/exterior packages all in one-that’s a growing trend. For a set price, you can get interior work done-cigarette burn repairs and the like-and exterior work. On the other hand, gold plating used to be hot. Now it’s not, mainly because it’s not fashionable on automobiles [in our area]. Plus, parts departments have figured out that they can buy gold-plated emblems and install them and keep the money internally.”
Color Pro’s reputation for staying abreast of the latest reconditioning trends hasn’t been lost on industry peers.
People from across the country who have come across the company’s website have called seeking information on all aspects of mobile service, prompting Brooks to implement his own training program.
“We offer training to anyone interested in getting into this business,” he says. “A lot of interest has come from the paint and body supply shops, for instance.”
The program includes a mix of classroom and fieldwork, exposing new technicians to the real world of auto reconditioning. Brooks says that within two weeks, trainees have a base of knowledge that allows them to successfully enter the industry in whatever capacity they choose.
“It’s not a franchise situation,” he explains. “We set them up with our business model, and then they can modify it as needed to fit their specific needs.”
Following industry trends also helps keep Color Pro profitable, Brooks explains.
“The important thing to understand about evolving products and services is that we continue to expand each year on both fronts,” says Brooks. “We’re not necessarily growing in the number of dealerships we service, but rather in the amount of services we offer, like the hail damage repair. I see that particular product and service line expanding a lot over the next several years.”
Brooks keeps coming back to professionalism and quality as the core ingredients to Color Pro’s success, even as he grows the product line. But it’s something he can’t do alone.
“Good employees are the key,” he says. “I’m big on training my own guys. My guys have been with me for five years. I know they are honest, they have a good, professional appearance and are articulate. Those are intangibles you have to have.”
Brooks, in addition to hiring and maintaining an excellent staff, has a few other cost-cutting implementations up his Color Pro sleeve-”like a self-labeled product line.
“Three years ago, I approached the manufacturer of the compounds and waxes we use,” he says, “They are a mom-and-pop company and we asked them to sell us the products in bulk quantity. Then we bottled it in the company name, put our logo on it, and put it on our website [www.colorprodesigns.com]
“It’s not high-volume in sales, but we do make a little money, plus we don’t have to pay for our product,” he adds. “And it gets our name out there and looks professional.”
Back again to that word: professional. It pretty much defines the winning Color Pro Design equation. Simply put, it works.
“There are several elements for what makes a profitable business in this industry,” says Brooks. “But the two main things are looking and acting professionally, and making sure that you’re diversified. You’ve got to give your customers a reason to not go to someone else, and you’ve got to be a one-stop shop.”
Then customers will know that you mean business.