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
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
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
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
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.”
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.
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
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
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.