It’s hard to imagine a more successful business transition than the one executed by Eric Laporte and his two partners.
With the average age of collision repair shop owners continually rising, many are faced with the need to transition their businesses to the next generation of entrepreneurs. Very few are lucky enough to have children who want to take over the business. To ensure the continuity of these collision repair shops in which they have invested so many years of their lives, the majority of them have to find suitable candidates to take over the reins, lest they be forced to eventually wind down their operations.
When Éric Laporte was faced with this dilemma about ten years ago, he reflected on the future of the three shops he owns on Montreal’s North Shore. Through a contact in the Fix network, he recruited two young technicians who had a solid background in collision repair shop management and who had expressed their desire to become owners one day.
The son of a collision repair shop owner, Éric Laporte took over from his father in 2007 before acquiring a third shop in 2008. With a college degree in business management under his belt, he also possessed extensive experience in the collision repair business, having worked in the family’s shops during the summer holidays as a teenager. From washing customer vehicles to estimating damage and performing body repairs, he literally learned his trade on the job.
“It was a different time,” he observes, “but in the last few years we have seen an incredible acceleration in technology. Not only are vehicles more complex to repair, collision repair shops are also faced with significantly more administrative tasks than in the past. For us, it has always been important to stay ahead of technological advances such as new management software, innovative materials, and all kinds of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS). Of course, this implies continued investment in training and the acquisition of state-of-the-art equipment.”
This explains in large part the sound financial health of the Fix Auto St-Martin, Laval Est and Terrebonne shops that he owned until recently.
As we will see below, Éric Laporte turned over his three shops to Nicholas Charbonneau and Alexandre Campeau last January.
From the moment they arrived in the company, the two qualified repair technicians and lifelong friends made a significant impact. ” After five years of working together I could see that they had a keen interest and some good ideas. All it took was a business dinner with them to convince me that I had found the right partners,” explains Éric Laporte. “We quickly developed a mutual trust. I could see that they had acquired a wealth of experience working in other shops and in various management positions. I liked their vision and their willingness to take the business in which I had invested so many years of my life and raise it to the next level.”
A simple plan
A transfer plan, based on the acquisition of shares in the company, was set in motion. ”The plan had to be straightforward,” interjects Éric Laporte.” I wanted it to succeed and for everyone to be in a win-win situation.” The goal was to complete the transaction after ten years, which ended up taking half the time.
To ensure a successful transition, the owner organized regular management meetings in which the numbers were crunched, problem issues diagnosed, and successes highlighted.
As for Alexandre Campeau and Nicholas Charbonneau, the process to transfer the company could not have been structured any better. ”We found a good partner with an open mind,” proclaims Nicholas Charbonneau. ”He will continue to support us over the next year even though we now own all three shops outright. Although it has been a long road to get to where we are, we continue to value his advice.”
According to Alexandre Campeau, additional shop acquisitions are not out of the question if the opportunity arises. However, the two owners know that they face several immediate challenges. ”We need to make our industry sector more attractive to the next generation,” they observe. ”Manpower shortages are still a problem, and we are working hard within our teams to build good chemistry. We also have a policy of fostering talent development within the current team members on our shop floor. As did Éric Laporte, we must make room for the next generation and encourage employees who want to progress within the company.”
The co-owners share the responsibilities within a complementary framework. The strengths of one partner are on the operational side, while the other partner’s strength is in business management. While together, they continue to fine-tune their approach to both human resource management and customer relations.
They have also appointed trustworthy individuals to assist them in the management of the three business locations, and they share Éric Laporte’s commitment to staying one step ahead of technological changes. ”We’ve always been in the collision repair business, and we know that the changes will continue,” points out Alexandre Campeau. ”With all of these new repair procedures, for example, we definitely want to maintain our training initiatives. We want to progress even further with the team we have now.”
Do your homework
According to Éric Laporte, the success of the transfer hinges on a few key elements. Once the decision was made to transfer the company into new hands, he sought expert advice to determine the best formula. He decided to give these young entrepreneurs the chance to prove themselves by encouraging them to learn the ins and outs of his organization over the next few years. And finally, he started the process with a ten-year window in which to make it happen. “You have to be smart about it and do your homework while always keeping an open mind,” he concludes.
For Fix Network regional vice-president Yves Roy, this story of a successful transfer is truly inspiring. “As the average age of collision repair shop owners continues to rise, this concept of transferring these businesses will be increasingly common over the next few years. Éric Laporte’s structured approach proves that it is possible to find quality candidates to successfully implement a long-term succession plan. As a network, over the next few years, one of our core objectives will be to encourage this type of transition where every stakeholder involved comes out a winner.”