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Business to Business

Shining Knight rides into panel beating brokerage

One of a few women in New Zealand to be trained as a panel beater, Karen Knight (pictured) has moved from running her own panel shop to broking for the industry.

She has set up Crash Brokers, a phone-based service connecting the public with a select number of “top” panel beaters. The line is open for extended hours on weekdays.

This is the only service of its type in New Zealand, or anywhere else, as far as she knows.

“Crash Brokers provides a free service to the driving public which has neither the technical knowledge nor confidence, the time nor the inclination to deal with this unregulated and highly variable industry. There are added problems with the many logistical problems of car accident repairs,” she says.

Currently, Crash Brokers links drivers with service providers in the greater Auckland area. But Knight’s business plan provides for growth into other geographical areas, most likely via a mechanism of regional franchises, due to the high level of localised knowledge and contacts required to operate Crash Brokers effectively, Knight says.

Other technical services are also possible candidates for brokerages.

After launching late last year, the business is already changing the nature of the panel-beating industry – by increasing its professionalism.

Knight will only direct callers to a select number of panel beaters (fewer than 20) in Auckland because most of the 600 aren’t up to scratch, she says. This list is a closely guarded secret. “It’s my IP.”

These panel beaters offer high quality technical work and service. All have fleets of courtesy cars, for example. And as people, they are ‘delightful’ for her to deal with.

“The industry suffers from a (sometimes deservedly) shabby public perception of tow-trucks, shabby back-street garages and blokes in dirty overalls.

“However, whilst that may be a reality at one end of the market, there are some extremely professional and well-managed businesses at the other end of the continuum. And of course, like any bell curve, most sit somewhere in the middle of the pack.

“We are simply seeking to present a much more professional face to what has historically been seen as a necessary but somewhat unsavoury industry. And at the same time of course, provide our customers with the benefit of my insider knowledge.”

Panel beaters approach her asking to be included. “They pay a modest commission but my referrals save them a huge amount of marketing.”

Knight (46) and a business partner owned The Body Shop in Otahuhu for nearly 20 years till the late 90s. She says the novelty value of being a rarity in the male-dominated industry usually worked in her favour.

But eventually she felt it was time for a change so she traveled and studied an MBA.

Now out on her own, she has attended further workshops - run by the government Biz Info service - primarily for help with brand development and publicity.

Now it’s just a matter of getting the message out there.

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