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Established Heavy Hitter

Backed by 50 years in operation, Emu Plains Smash Repairs is utilising its specialist skills, knowledge and equipment to carve out a healthy niche for itself.

What does it take for a collision repair business to successfully navigate its way through five decades in an increasingly volatile industry? For Emu Plains Smash Repairs, it has taken a combination of factors. While much has remained the same over the years, such as the passion and drive of the Hawks family and the location, other things have been constantly upgraded, including equipment, technology and skills. When Phil and Noelene Hawks opened the business back in 1969, Emu Plains was very much on the outer fringes of Sydney’s west but customers were happy to travel there for the quality of work they received. Darren Hawks says he joined the business in 1989, where he completed a spray painting apprenticeship and served another five years as a tradesman before Phil really began showing him the ropes.
“Dad taught me how to quote and how to run the business and it got to the point where we just ran the business together. One week he might do quotes and I would look after the workshop or vice versa. It wasn’t like I was just thrown in the deep end when dad retired – I knew how to run the business. Having said that, times have changed with workloads and it’s so much more hectic and fast-paced. Back then we only had about eight staff – now we have 23!”
Phil remained part of the business into the 2000s but his health declined and, unfortunately, he passed away in 2007. Today, Noelene remains an owner and involved in the business but it’s Darren and his wife, Amanda, who have taken the day-to-day reins – Darren in the workshop and Amanda on the admin side. Although the business effectively started off in a tin shed with an ash floor, a regular series of extensions and upgrades to equipment have been crucial to keeping it modern, says Darren.
“You have to keep up with technology or you get left behind. For example, about three years ago we installed two new Low Bake spray booths. One is a conventional oven, while the other is fitted with gas-infrared, like at PPG’s NSW Training Centre. It’s awesome and, together, it gives us the best of both worlds. The gas-infrared may not be cheap to install but it’s cheaper and easier to run than a conventional booth and it’s great for smaller stuff because it’s so quick.”
Around this time, the focus also went onto the paint brand the business would use going forward. When an awkward colour had cropped up, PPG’s ability to quickly help with matching it got Darren thinking.
“It was time for a change so I looked at all the waterborne paint brands and did shop trials and demonstrations. I just found PPG’s Envirobase (High Performance) easier to use and the painters love it. We bit the bullet and changed the booths and the paint system at the same time. It was a steep learning curve but it was worth it. I was told you won’t fault PPG’s aftersales service and that is what I have found. If I call PPG with an issue, they are straight here.”
While Emu Plains Smash Repairs does its fair share of regular accident repair work, it has also managed to retain a point-of-difference by gearing itself to a steady stream of larger, structural type repairs.
“Many years ago, we ran tow trucks so we have always been involved in structural repairs. Today, tow-in work is a big part of our business – at any one time we have at least 30 tow-in jobs onsite. Around this area there is not a lot of repairers who want to touch structural stuff. Some don’t have the staff and some don’t have the equipment but we have both. Along with a couple of Car-o-liners, we have 3D measuring equipment and the appropriate spot welders. I even get insurance companies sending vehicles here just to be digitally measured. It might get repaired elsewhere but we get asked to, say, 3D measure the chassis to make sure it’s right. We are taking dashes and engines out all the time and, these days, we have a mechanic on staff who does a lot of those things, as well as suspension damage.”
“Like everyone else, it’s hard for us to find good skilled staff, particularly because I need panel beaters who can do structural repairs. A lot of younger tradespeople struggle with that type of work. That is why we employ apprentices and do a lot of I-CAR training. Currently, we are on our way to ‘I-CAR Gold’ and I’m actually ‘I-CAR Platinum’. Paint training is through PPG – Terry Noble (PPG Business Support Specialist) will do training here or our staff will go to PPG’s NSW Training Centre. Our third-year apprentice painter, Teeghan Shackley, has become a great part of our paint shop team. She has a really good work ethic and she does everything to the best of her abilities which has helped grow a really good bond with the male tradesmen she works alongside.”
While the industry has seen plenty of changes in the 50 years since Emu Plains Smash Repairs started, Darren reckons the next five to ten years will see even more challenges. Just as it was in the past, Darren says meeting those challenges is about having the right equipment and skillset in place.
“I remember when airbags first came out – it was a big thing and people were concerned about replacing them. Now we do them every day of the week and something that was daunting 25 years ago, is now run of the mill. It’s all about learning the right repair processes and following instructions.”
As part of his partnership with PPG, Darren has taken advantage of the MVP Business Solutions program by going to courses and seminars, as well as having one-on-one onsite sessions.
“I think the MVP Business Solutions sessions are really valuable to attend. It’s easy to get caught up in your own little world so it’s good to be able to network with other repairers. It’s particularly good to be able to float ideas and hear how other business owners do things. It could be anything in the shop – repair methods, dealing with staff, how to set up for the best performance, etc – and you might think you have the best process until you hear how someone else does it.”
Although it has not always been easy, Emu Plains Smash Repairs has always managed to maintain good insurance company relationships.
“Over the years, we have always been recommended repairers for insurance companies, including today where we are recommended by the big two, as well as a few of the smaller ones. People will whinge about insurance companies but, at the end of the day, we need them as much as they need us. I like to think that we are in a good position because we are set up to do larger structural repairs. While it would be nice to have a nice new factory, managing the business the way we are and doing the work we are is suiting us fine.”
Shop Facts
Emu Plains Smash Repairs
Owner: Noelene and Darren Hawks
Staff: 23
PPG product: Envirobase High Performance
Territory Manager: Phil Taylor