Bob Juniper bought Three-C Body Shops Inc. from his father, who originally got it from his brother. The first six years of his leadership as president and CEO saw annual growth around 15 to 20 percent, but in the early 1990s, everything changed.
Insurance companies came out with preferred shop programs. However, Juniper wasn’t willing to use non-original parts or follow other practices that pointed to low-quality work, and his shop wasn’t put on the list. By 1991, sales were down 15 percent.
Juniper traced the problem back when customers complained about a color match or the way a new fender fit. When he’d ask “Why didn’t you bring it to me? I fixed your car the last time,” many said insurers had told them they had to choose from a list of repair shops.
Even after regulation made it clear insurers couldn’t direct people to certain shops, they could still infer — and Three-C’s business continued to decline.
An upset Juniper tried radio commercials to improve his business. The drop slowed, but the business was still in trouble. So, he decided to be candidly honest about what he felt was going on.
“I had four or five people I used as advisers, where I’d bounce ideas off people about my business, and I said, ‘What do you think if I would do this?’ Every one of my advisers, in this particular case, said ‘Don’t do that — that would be business suicide, or the equivalent,’” he says.
His advisers felt the insurance companies might try to blackball the shop, but as a self-confessed contrarian, Juniper went ahead with his plan.
Over the first few months, not much changed. It was complicated to explain over a 60-second radio commercial. After six or eight months, though, Three-C’s sales took off.
Insurance companies pushed back, but that validated what Juniper was saying.
“They were going to try to put me out of business and they tried so hard that it worked against them,” he says.
Away from the herd
Today, 58 people work at the company, which has about $12 million in annual revenue.
“We came from a small four-bay body shop that was a front business for a gambling operation to one of the largest collision shops in the country today, and it was because we went against the grain,” Juniper says.
Not only did Three-C carve out a niche — people who didn’t want to go where their insurance company tells them to get their car fixed — its story spread to other body shops. Juniper co-founded a marketing company that helped more than 100 others follow a similar path before it was dissolved.
“Many times, following the herd is not the right way to go because all you’re doing is turning yourself into a commodity,” he says.
It’s often worth it to take a calculated risk sooner and be different. In the case of Three-C, Juniper felt he had a good chance for success. Plus, doing nothing probably meant the company would be gone in a few years anyway.