Is 2018 a good year to launch your own auto body repair shop?

Much of the recently reported job growth is coming from unexpected areas – rather than traditional manufacturing and retail, an increasing number of individuals are looking to the gig economy and entrepreneurship to create their own jobs. By some accounts, these nontraditional jobs are accounting for nearly almost all reported job growth. And while recent reports highlight an increase in jobs, wages remain flat – creating an even greater incentive for individuals to bypass the traditional job market entirely and strike out on their own.

For those backyard mechanics, do-it-yourselfers and auto restoral hobbyists, the time to strike is at hand, and 2018 will be an optimal year to move from being just the neighborhood guy who fixes things, to running a professional shop.

“There will always be a lot of items on your start-up checklist, but the most important factor in taking that leap is information,” said David Gauze, Advertising Manager at AutoBodyToolMart. “You may be able to wing it when you’re fixing your friend’s car in your backyard, but the duct-tape-and-coat-hanger approach just won’t cut it when you have a sign out front. First and foremost, when launching a new auto body repair shop you’ll need to have a set of standard practices for each type of repair.”

Gauze notes that even the most seasoned auto repair person doesn’t know everything, and having a good set of training videos and manuals on hand should be the first purchase when launching a body shop.

Training isn’t a one-and-done deal, either – and the auto industry’s constant change means constant learning for repair people. For example, when Ford released its aluminum F-150, auto body repair shops had some concern, had to learn new techniques, and often had to purchase new aluminum welders and aluminum dent pullers.

Another factor often overlooked by new shop owners is the fact that horrible weather often means opportunity, and it’s essential to have a nimble marketing campaign ready to capitalize on weather emergencies like hail storms, which can cause significant damage.

Auto body repair is on longer an instinctual process, and technological developments have made the training and education process even more important to those opening up a shop. Replacing a windshield on an older vehicle for example, is a straightforward process. But this too, requires specialized training and equipment in many of today’s cars which have advanced driver-assist systems, with cameras which are either mounted to the windshield, or which use the windshield as a lens, thus requiring careful recalibration as part of the windshield replacement process.

The sophistication of automobiles will only increase, again leading to an increased an ongoing need for education and training. Cars already are dominated by automation and computers, and in the near future, automobiles are likely to be treated like smartphones – a standard device, the differentiation of which is defined by a variety of apps and an operating system.

Although opening a body shop requires less capital than many other businesses, funds will nonetheless be required, and the good news for 2018 is that business loan approval rates hit a post-recession high in December 2017, indicating a good year for small businesses of all types in 2018. Also noteworthy is the fact that in 2017, the Small Business Administration processed more loans to small companies than ever before.

In addition to the need for education and training, one of the biggest mistakes made by new small businesses in the auto repair industry is the lack of good marketing. Once you hang up the sign, you may get your family and friends as customers, but that is not a sustainable customer base. “Build it and they will come” never works, and you’ll have to devote some time, energy, and money to getting the word out.

Best practices in marketing for a new body shop will have to include social media, especially if your target clientele is local. A good website is also essential, but keep in mind that a large percentage of people surf the web via smartphone, so your website will have to accommodate both desktop and smartphone browsers.

The Great Recession, followed by a sluggish post-recession economy, has prevented many from taking the bold step towards entrepreneurship. But in 2018, a convergence of factors will make this a banner year for those ready to take the plunge.