Business

Always setting things straight

Dick Strom stands between a dented Nissan Pathfinder and its virtual version glowing on a computer screen.

He watches the digital SUV as the real one’s crushed front end is slowly tugged by thick chains rigged to 8-foot hydraulic towers.

A laser beam sweeps the truck’s belly, sending measurements to Strom’s screen. Strom keeps his eyes on a millimeter-by-millimeter read-out as the truck is pulled back to its pre-collision glory.

Strom’s collision repair business has come a long way from the days when a trained ear measured an auto frame’s stretching.

“I’d listen to the ‘tink, tink’ sound, like a soda can crunching,” Strom said. “You had to learn the sounds and relax the molecules. It’s like a ballet, almost.”

It was over 30 years ago that Strom opened shop in his backyard, armed only with a hand-held Craftsman tool set. Now his Modern Collision Rebuild has touch screens measuring paint mixtures, computer programs calculating invoices, 16 highly trained employees and two generations of loyal customers.

“It feels good to have lasted so long,” he said. “I still serve customers from 30 years ago – except I usually don’t see them much once their kids grow up and quit using their cars.”

Strom and his wife Bobbi own the business while their sons, Micah and Aaron, have taken over many of the day-to-day operations. Strom admits he hasn’t kept up with all the shop’s new technology, leaving such laser-guided, computer-assisted tasks to technicians like Tim Ruck.

But Strom still has a hand in many of the shop’s operations, as his grease-stained fingertips and paint-dusted forearms reveal.

“I enjoy what I do,” he said. “I can’t wait to get to work in the morning, but I’m always ready to go home at the end of the day. I like taking something that’s beat-up and putting it in as good a shape as when it came from the factory.”

Ruck shares Strom’s sense of satisfaction after a day’s work setting cars straight. He also values Strom’s leadership.

“It’s relaxed but we get a lot of work done,” Ruck said. “There’s a lot of trust and a real team effort. Everybody believes in each other.”

Ruck also appreciates the health and environmental measures the Stroms have taken.

Modern Collision Rebuild has earned a Kitsap Earth Day Award and received recognition from the Green Works program for their recycling efforts. The shop has maintained a five-star “EnviroStar” certification for over two years. The program monitors stringent guidelines for air quality, hazardous waste management and pollution prevention.

“Strom has taken a leadership role in his industry,” said Eva Crim, the Kitsap EnviroStars coordinator. “His business has such a high rating because he’s going beyond the minimum requirements.”

Only four other collision repair shops in the county have a five-star rating, she said.

The recycler

Strom’s shop recycles 17 types of material, including cardboard, batteries, air conditioning refrigerants and many plastics. He uses drained oils to heat the shop and boils down used paint products in a still for use as a thinner on his paint guns.

The shop’s office reuses one-sided paper for in-house documentation. The air quality is also strictly monitored, with filters changed often and powerful fans blowing out paint fumes.

“Fresh lungs, clean hands – it’s a great environment to work in,” Ruck said. “It’s been real good for me. I’ve started to pay more attention to things around me.”

Strom is still figuring out a way to use the old bumper covers that quickly pile up in his shop.

“I estimated that 20-50 million of these are tossed out each year,” he said. “That’s an awful lot of garbage in our landfills.”

Strom’s concern for the environment stems from a lifetime spent on the island.

“I was born and grew up on Bainbridge,” he said. “There’s a lot more respect for the environment here. I’ve learned it’s the right thing to do.”

Strom has also taken his convictions to the pages of trade magazines, urging other repair shop owners to find ways to recycle used parts. He has also tackled fraud and employee drug use in the pages of BodyShop Business Magazine, Auto Body Repair News and other magazines. He averages about 3,000 words a month in articles published in more than a dozen national and state publications.

His growing name in the industry has made him a sought-after panelist at industry conventions. But his advice to others is to take a look at the simple things he’s done at his shop for over 30 years.

“We take take care of our employees and our customers,” he said. “That’s the key to any business.”

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