With constant bottlenecks in the repair process eating away at his profits and one of his two painters quitting to start his own business in 2017, LaVon “Spanky” Felton was left wondering about the future of the automotive body shop that he had built from the ground up.
Installation of new equipment from Global Finishing Solutions (GFS) had just finished at Sleepy Hollow Auto Group in Viroqua, Wisconsin. While Felton’s remaining painter learned how to use the equipment, Felton made plans to hire a painter to replace the one he lost. That job still has not been filled, as the GFS equipment was so efficient, it alleviated the shop’s bottlenecks and propelled Sleepy Hollow on the fast track to prosperity.
“The equipment was so much better; it was working with just one painter. And once we got a new prepper trained a few months later, it was really working,” Felton said. “All of a sudden, we were pushing 50 percent more work through our body shop, and I was paying one less painter.”
From Milking Cows to Farming Out a Collision Repair Business
Cars have been Felton’s lifeblood for more than 30 years. In 1987, Felton started selling used cars as a side gig at his family’s farm in Richland County, where he used to milk cows. By 1989, he took over a corner gas station in Viroqua, with about 20 cars and two service bays. Then in 1995, after marrying his wife and eventual business partner, Michelle, he built a new building to hold six bays, increasing his inventory to about 50 cars.
It was often tough sledding for the Feltons as an independent dealer. So, when the opportunity arose for Sleepy Hollow to become a franchised dealer, they didn’t think twice. In 2007, they acquired a Chevy/Buick/GMC dealership that included a body shop, and they later added a Ford dealership and a Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep/Ram dealership, both in Viroqua, as well as a Chevy dealership in Caledonia, Minnesota. Sleepy Hollow now has 135 employees across all its locations.
“We are big on taking care of our people, and we have a lot of employees who have been with us for a long time,” said Felton, whose 19-year-old son, Sawyer, is working on the lube rack as a summer job. “They have a lot of experience, and we have retained that talent by keeping our equipment up to date and making sure they have the best tools they can have to perform at their best.”
GFS Equipment Was the Catalyst in Rapid Growth
Learning the value of having the right finishing equipment was a painful lesson for Sleepy Hollow. No matter what they tried, they always seemed to have bottlenecks on the paint side of their cycles.
“For quite a few years, we were trying to put Band-Aids on stuff, or we were trying to make this work or that work,” Felton said. “We knew we needed another paint booth, so we bought another booth, but we had trouble with it because it wasn’t sized properly, and we didn’t have the engineering done right. That was an expensive mistake.”
After visiting GFS’ Center for Excellence training facility in Osseo, Wisconsin, Felton discovered the proper equipment — and the ideal layout — needed to take his shop to the next level. With an Ultra XD Mix Room sandwiched between an Ultra XL Paint Booth and a dual-bay Ultra XP1 Paint Booth, technicians are much more efficient, and vehicles flow through the repair process a lot smoother. That has greatly improved Sleepy Hollow’s cycle times, the measuring stick for its 12 Direct Repair Programs (DRPs) with insurance companies.
“If we made $10,000 a month on the bottom line, that used to be a pretty good month,” Felton said. “Now, if we don’t make $25,000 or $30,000 a month, we are looking to find out what’s wrong. We wouldn’t have gotten it done without that equipment from GFS. The equipment has really helped us push out more work and be more profitable.”
Felton has no plans of slowing down. In fact, he is considering a renovation of his Caledonia location in the coming years, with a similar setup to his Viroqua body shop. With the right equipment from GFS, the correct layout and a refined repair process, there is no ceiling in sight for Sleepy Hollow.