Mark Sanders grew up in the collision repair business. Now he operates the largest such company in the nation. What does he know that you don’t?
Mark Sanders might not play drums in a rock band, but he knows a thing or two about rhythm – not on a stage in front of thousands of screaming fans but in about a thousand body shop bays around the country that serve millions of satisfied customers.
As president and chief operating officer of Caliber Collision, Sanders oversees the largest collision repair company in the nation. Caliber operates 388 collision repair centers under the banner “Restoring the Rhythm of Your Life.” He emphasizes that it’s not just an idle slogan to him or to the company’s nearly 8,500 employees. It’s a way of life and his company’s purpose.
“That’s Caliber’s highest calling,” Sanders says. “We realize we’re in the service business and just happen to fix cars. Delivering on our purpose will allow us to achieve both our vision, to be the company that improves the image of the collision repair experience, and our mission to become the collision repair provider of choice in every community we serve.”
Starting in January 1997, Caliber Collision Centers opened a modest number of shops in California: in Hollywood, Rialto and Riverside. Shortly thereafter in 1997, Caliber acquired an additional two shops – in downtown Fort Worth and Colleyville, Texas – which had special meaning for the entrepreneurial automotive repair industry executive. These two Texas shops were acquired by Caliber from the COO’s father, Joe Sanders, and were where the younger Sanders got his start.
“I chose this profession as I grew up,” he says. “My father was very involved in the collision repair industry and was a great mentor for me and many others who still work at Caliber today.”
Clearly, Sanders has a passion for what he does. Without much prompting he’ll tell you about the recognition that Caliber’s locations have earned for their up-to-date technologies and also tout Caliber’s strategies of segmenting the market and customer-first service to meet the needs of today’s sophisticated consumers.
“The challenge lies in anticipating and reacting to carrier, customer and teammates’ needs to ensure that we deliver world-class service and quality assurance that’s unmatched in the industry,” Sanders explains.
Those are not always easy tasks in the 21st-century marketplace. But Sanders, along with Caliber CEO Steve Grimshaw, approaches the challenges with investments designed to pay off. According to Sanders, the company continues to pour millions of dollars a year into providing ways for its team members to learn and share best practices in processes, procedures and leadership that’s critical to successfully growing the business.
“I get an incredible amount of personal satisfaction seeing teammates take on roles and responsibilities that they never thought possible even five years ago,” Sanders says. “As all of us grow right along with Caliber, it’s satisfying to see so many people who I care about blossoming into great leaders.”
Caliber also strives to stay mindful of the people in the communities it serves. Its Recycled Rides program has gifted 30 vehicles to military families and nonprofits to provide those in need with reliable transportation, and through its Rhythm Restoration Food Drive, it donated more than 2.3 million meals in 2015 to 28 food banks across the United States. Caliber also has donated nearly $1 million to the American Heart Association.
Despite all the good works, though, Sanders still has a business to run, and in the current industry environment this responsibility offers significant challenges for the man with the title of “chief operating officer.” When asked about worrisome changes in the industry, he cites the corporate average fuel economy standards (CAFE), passenger safety and a “ravenous” consumer demand for comfort and infotainment.
“This tsunami of change has resulted in Caliber dramatically increasing our investment in the proper equipment to repair today’s vehicles, along with the face-to-face training required to repair each and every vehicle back to pre-accident condition. Combine these trends with the OEMs’ efforts to implement repair certification programs for the vehicles across the industry, and a lot is changing every day, week, month and year.”
But the biggest challenge Sanders sees for the future of the industry – no surprise – is attracting and retaining qualified technicians and painters from the pool of millennials coming into the job market. “With the aging collision repair workforce, we see this as the biggest challenge in maintaining and extending our leadership position in the collision repair marketplace,” Sanders says.
No easy answers, he knows. But Sanders believes Caliber has a secret weapon: “Our passion for serving our clients and customers with honesty, integrity and humility. And our belief in empowering the people we work with to rise to ever greater heights in terms of their responsibilities, performance and success in life.”
Name of Shop: Caliber Collision Centers
How Many years in Business: 19
Number of Employees: 8,450
Projected Annual Sales Volume: 1.5 billion-plus
Why Caliber is a Member od ASA: “We think it’s important to be part of an organization that gets input from all parties in the collision repair industry supply chain. It allows us to identify and take positions that are truly focused on improving the overall collision repair experience.”