A Happy Accident
It could be considered fitting that Lee Cadwallader, president of Select Collision Group, got into the auto industry accidentally, as the business’s focus is helping people easily navigate the repair and insurance process after they’ve been in an accident.
Yet, just as those satisfied customers whose testimonies are featured on the company website indicate, even an accident can have a happy ending. And that’s exactly how Cadwallader feels about her career: an accidental start has turned out to have a very happy ending.
Cadwallader grew up in Harrisburg and is a graduate of Susquehanna High School. She went to Central Penn College, where she studied to become a medical assistant, and spent the first part of her career in medicine, working for a large pharmaceutical company.
“My neighbor owned the first [collision] shop we purchased. He was usually out golfing in his backyard … One day, walking my dogs, I made a joke telling him I wanted to do what he did.”
It turned out her neighbor was selling his business at the time, and Cadwallader saw an opportunity to change careers, moving in the same direction her neighbor was retiring from.
She and her husband decided to check out the shop and, as she said, found the business was actually “very much like the healthcare industry my husband and I were in.”
They decided to take a chance on this new endeavor and purchased the first facility.
“I started marketing to agents as I did physicians in the past, as well as giving the facility a makeover and [making it] more female friendly,” Cadwallader said.
In the first three years of business, they purchased three facilities, adding their fourth in 2015.
Cadwallader feels fortunate to have a strong staff with excellent customer service and communication skills on whom she can rely in each of their four facilities. She does travel to all of the facilities during the week, just checking in with the staff and helping out wherever there is a need.
“I believe our staff goes above and beyond to be helpful to our customers,” she said. “It shows by the thank-yous that come in the form of food or flowers, as well as the customer surveys we send out.”
Developing a trusting relationship with a customer is vital when that customer has been involved in an accident. Dealing with damage to your vehicle after an accident can be a very unsettling and challenging situation, but Cadwallader takes great pleasure in helping her customers through those difficult times.
“What I love the most is to see the look of relief on someone’s face who is struggling with the process or had an accident for the first time, knowing that we are going to walk with them through the whole process,” she said.
This year marks her 20th in the industry, and although Cadwallader said that when she was just starting out there were very few women involved, “it has grown with more women coming into the industry,” she said. In the beginning, she recalls “there was talk as to whether I would make it. We just continued to do our job well and to learn and grow.”
Building a good relationship with not only her clients, but also within her community is important to Cadwallader and the Select Collision Group staff.
One particular example she shared was when “we worked with Recycled Rides to help give a car to a single mother of three who was in a domestic violence situation,” she said. “We worked with the National Auto Body Council to repair and give a car to this woman so that she would have a vehicle to get to her job as well as take care of her children.”
She and her staff are actively involved with CBS 21 and their distracted driving campaign.
“We also give to all the schools in the area for their different driving programs,” Cadwallader said.
Additionally, each of the four locations, which include two in Mechanicsburg, one in Hershey, and one in Hanover, supports a charity based in their local community, and donations from Select Collision Group have also been made to organizations supporting the military and animals.
Currently, Cadwallader and her team are working on achieving the I-CAR Gold Class® status as well as OEM certifications for all of the facilities.
The Gold Class® recognition is the highest role-relevant training achievement recognized by the collision repair industry. Once a business has achieved this status, it must maintain the designation by continuing to develop the knowledge and skills required to keep up with newer models and technology. Only about 20 percent of repair shops meet the Gold Class standard.
OEM (original equipment manufacturer) certification programs generally require onsite training at the manufacturing property or training with the tools that the manufacturer uses.
An OEM-certified shop means they will not only use OEM parts to make repairs to your car, but they will also use the same tools as the manufacturer and in the correct way, ensuring that your vehicle is repaired to the manufacturer’s standards.
As far as what the future holds for Cadwallader and Select Collision Group, growth is definitely the goal.
“If we find other collision centers that are a good fit, we will be expanding as well as learning in this ever-changing environment of cars,” she said. BW