How to Start a Body Shop in Chicago

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Chicago, it seems, is the city of fender benders. In 2011, more than 280,000 accidents occurred in the state of Illinois, which breaks down to more than 770 accidents every single day. While this might not be a good thing for drivers, it's not the worst news if you're interested in starting an auto body business.

If you like working on cars and are interested in opening your auto body shop, what do you need to get started in a city like Chicago? Follow these four steps.

1. Handle the Paperwork First

No matter where you're planning on opening your doors, you'll have to handle some paperwork before you can turn on your Open sign for the first time. In Chicago, this includes things like registering your business with county, state and federal agencies, finding a location, checking the zoning and obtaining business licenses and building permits for any renovations or construction you need to do.

It's always a good idea to get this paperwork out of the way first before you start purchasing equipment or spending money on marketing.

2. Secure Funding

Next, secure the funding you'll need to stock your shop, hire employees, pay for marketing and handle bills until your shop starts making money on its own. Be sure to overestimate your expenses for things like equipment. If you need $100,000 to stock your repair shop entirely, try to borrow $130,000 to cover any unexpected costs.

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Consider seeking out a loan from the Small Business Association. While they don't provide funds directly, they have partnerships with lenders that allow them to offer low-interest loans with no downpayment for small businesses that are just starting. SBA loans have a lower risk and are often easier to obtain than loans directly from your financial institution.

3. Stock Your Shop

The next step is probably the most expensive — stocking your shop with the equipment you'll need to repair everything from a minor fender bender to a full body rebuild.

This will vary depending on the specific type of repairs you're planning on doing, but should include:

  • Lifts
  • Wheel balancers
  • Hoists
  • Paint guns and associated equipment
  • Rim straighteners
  • Tire changers
  • Hand tools and air or electric powered tool

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Don't forget things for your office and waiting room like computers, chairs, decorations and maybe even a coffee machine for your clients to utilize while they wait.

4. Prioritize Your Marketing

Before you open your doors, one last thing you need to consider is marketing. Word of mouth can be a great tool, but it will only get you so far when you're just starting. In a city like Chicago, marketing can be as simple as putting up a flyer in your local coffee shops and other places that are frequented by many people. Social media marketing is also an invaluable tool — it's hard to run a successful business without an online presence, so consider investing some of your marketing capital there as well.

Marketing isn't an exact science — you may see more returns from social media marketing than you will from radio or television ads, so it may take some trial and error to determine the best blend of marketing mediums to make your business successful.

Opening an auto body shop in Chicago may be the best thing you ever do, but it's not something you should attempt without proper preparation. If you're not sure about anything, the best thing you can do is consult with an expert to help you make the right decisions and ensure you can build a solid foundation on which your new shop can thrive.

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