The average person has a car wreck every seven years, a statistic that has helped Auto Craft Collision Repair grow to five locations in its 34 years, with its newest office added earlier this year.
But the company's good luck isn't solely due to customers' bad luck, say director of sales Jaden Randle and operations manager J.R. Sartain.
It's more the result of Auto Craft's employees, they say, and work that results in customer retention.
Tim Pett, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at Wichita State University, said, "This type of business is very customer-oriented."
A successful auto repair company, he said, has to have more than the ability to make repairs. It also will make sure that its vision is shared with employees and that it listens to its employees. Good communication "really is the key," Pett said.
A successful company also must have enough employees and the right employees to add locations. "Sometimes it seems overly easy," he said, "but when you go from one store to five stores, you have to have the talent."
Auto Craft opened its fifth location, in Andover, in mid-January. It's a drop-off office, in a strip mall; the other four all are full-service locations.
The company will assess business for up to a year before deciding whether to buy or build in Andover, but so far "it's doing very well for us," Sartain said.
The Andover location gives the company two west-side and two east-side locations and one downtown.
Phillip Turner started the company at Waterman and Ida in 1976 and moved to 114 N. Wabash eight or nine years later. "We just outgrew that building," Randle said, and moved to 1427 E. First St. in 2007. The corporate offices are there as well.
Auto Craft will continue to grow, Randle and Sartain said, but they aren't interested in growing too fast, preferring to maintain an image as a neighborhood body shop.
That has helped them choose locations: The growth in west Wichita led them to open at 3131 N. Ridge Road, and Andover is the third-fastest growing community in the state, they said.
One of its former competitors, Fox Collision Center, grew too fast, Randle said. "We are growing, too, but we don't want to follow that model," he said.
Fox Collision closed 18 shops in Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas in late 2007 and filed for bankruptcy.
Does Auto Craft have a growth plan? "There was, but it seems to change every year," Sartain said, smiling.
He said the company has talked about opening offices in Derby and Newton and is looking at land and buildings in Junction City because of an insurance relationship it has with Fort Riley.
Some auto repair companies don't like working with insurance companies, Randle said, but Auto Craft does. "We love to," he said.
He said Auto Craft's emphasis on cultivating repeat business includes community involvement in the United Way and other programs as well as using a third-party company to mail surveys to each of the 8,500-plus customers whose cars are repaired each year.
The two said the nature of the business has changed, along with the number of locations.
Insurance companies are more likely to total cars now, they said, and customers are more likely to pay for repairs out of pocket because they want to keep their cars and because they don't want their insurance rates to go up.