Hybrid Repair in the Heartland : A Small-Town Iowa Shop Owner Reveals How He Has Been Able to Profit Off Hybrid Repair

Friday, May 1, 2020 | May 2020

Ready or not, electric vehicles are here.

Like many other trends in and outside of the industry, the EV movement is quickly encroaching inward from the coasts to the Midwest. No longer does California only need to worry about EV repair. Along with rolled ice cream and plant-based fast food burgers, the craze is reaching the Heartland, but this “fad” is here to stay—and only growing.  With that being said, few Midwest shops have caught on to the movement.

Keith Williamson, owner of Williamson’s Repair & Tire in Bondurant, Iowa, has—and it’s ultimately one of the factors that has saved him from throwing in the towel and selling his shop. 

In 2013, Williamson was thinking of calling quits. Like other owners around the country, he was working too hard and not making nearly enough money. After a few other instances that began to drive him further into a burnout, he finally told his wife that he was going to get help. Williamson joined a bottom line impact group where he learned to start thinking like an owner. The shift in leadership mentality encouraged Williamson to start looking into areas of the industry around him that weren’t being serviced. That’s when he noticed an opportunity. No shop near Bondurant—or even in the whole state of Iowa—was servicing hybrid or electric vehicles.

After doing his own research, training, and purchasing a few hybrids for himself, Williamson began servicing hybrid vehicles in 2016.

Williamson shares how he has been able to profit off hybrid repair in the midwest, as well as a guide for other shop owners to follow suit.

Identify the Need.

Although the number of electric vehicles on the road is growing, the size of the market of EV repair is still substantially smaller

than traditional vehicle repair. As mentioned previously, electric vehicle ownership is also exponentially higher on both the east and west coast; but this should not defer shop owners in the Midwest from delving into electric vehicle repair. Instead, owners are encouraged to research their surrounding area and the potential market before investing in the needed EV equipment and training, says Williamson.

Williamson’s Repair & Tire may be located in a small town of only 5,000 people, but it is just a short 15-mile drive from the center of Des Moines, Iowa’s largest city, with an estimated population of over 216,000. Because of the close proximity to a high number of EV owners, Williamson’s is able to attract customers from the state’s biggest hub.

In order to ensure that there would be enough of a hybrid market, Williamson invested in a local EV assessment. He wanted to see how many hybrid vehicles, made between 2005–2010, were in a 40-mile radius of his shop.

“I had a company do a physical assessment of our area, and it showed that at the time there were 4,000 hybrids that fell into that category,” Williamson explains. “I thought, ‘OK, that’s a start; there is a market out there.’”

Since he started servicing hybrids four years ago, 10 percent of Williamson’s overall business is now derived from electric vehicle repair—proving to Williamson, and the repair industry as a whole, that the market in his area exists, and is profitable.

Invest in Equipment.

Beginning a new sector of a business is never an inexpensive process, but thankfully for Williamson, adding the equipment for electric vehicle repair to his shop wasn’t done all at once.

“We probably have $20,000–$25,000 worth of hybrid equipment now, but we’ve added it all gradually,” Williamson says.

For basic hybrid repair, owners can expect to get by with spending a few thousand dollars, he explains. Although, with more basic equipment comes longer repair time.

“We’re a lot quicker and more accurate now, than when we started out doing it [with less equipment],” he says.

If owners decide to delve into the hybrid battery sector of electric vehicle repair, more specialized equipment will have to be invested in in order to charge and discharge the batteries.

That $20-$25,000 investment has turned into an annual profit of roughly $100,000 on hybrid repairs alone, and has been growing each year for Williamson.

Keep up with Training.

A few years after Williamson made the choice to expand to servicing electric vehicles, he hired a technician to primarily work on the hybrids coming into the shop. Although the tech wasn’t necessarily too excited for the specific EV repairs, after training and working hands-on with them, he now loves his role and has even purchased a hybrid of his own.

In order to get his new technician up to speed on hybrid repairs, Williamson worked one on one with Andrew to pass on processes and techniques that he had previously picked up through his own training.

Williamson and his team now participate in hybrid training at MWACA’s annual event, VISION, each year. Williamson also periodically invites instructors to come to his shop to teach classes on hybrid batteries and systems to further educate and equip the Williamson’s Repair & Tire team with the most current EV repair information.

Since hybrid repair training is a bit scarce, Williamson will also look online for virtual training, including webinars and online classes.

Market the Service.

In order to communicate to Bondurant and the Des Moines area that Williamson’s Repair & Tire is the go-to place for hybrid vehicle repairs, Williamson has implemented an EV-specific marketing plan.

“Our marketing starts out with hybrid landing pages on the website. That way, if anybody Googles ‘hybrid repair’ or ‘EV battery,’ they can easily find us,” he says. “I even get calls from the east and west coast.”

At the top of williamsonsrepair.com, in between “Vehicles” and “Reviews” is a dropdown menu labelled “Hybrid.” There, seven of the most popular electric vehicles are listed—once clicked, each vehicle model’s page includes information on the specific model and recent relevant customer reviews. The page also includes a short bio on the green efforts Williamson’s takes, including the shop’s solar panelled roof.

Williamson says he has also done several different hybrid advertising pieces, as well as a Facebook campaign featuring hybrid repair videos and posts.

“We try to cover all online and digital methods,” he says.

For added visibility, Williamson began writing articles in a couple of local magazines, one in Bondurant and another in a nearby neighborhood.

“I started writing articles and that brought in some people,” Williamson explains. “Some of the articles are hybrid-specific, and others are just about generic vehicles.”

New to this year, Williamson is starting to use a direct mail service to send out advertisements specifically to hybrid vehicle owners, and says it has helped boost his customer-base.

Look Ahead.

“I’ve seen in the news recently that every vehicle manufacturer is switching to hybrid vehicles,” Williamson says. “And within five years, they’re not going to have anything that they make that doesn’t have some sort of electric system—whether it be all electric, hybrid, or another system out there.”

As the hybrid market grows, the repair industry is going to be forced to accept the technology, he explains. If not, the remaining shops are going to all be fighting for the same shrinking market of non-electric vehicles.

“If you’re not open to at least being able to service the basic things on a hybrid vehicle, I think that you’re going to lose out on a lot of business,” Williamson says, “you’re not going to be a viable choice.”

Although a time where the majority of vehicles are hybrid or fully electric is years to come, beginning to service them now puts a shop at an advantage for the future and brings in more customers and vehicles now.

“Not everyone currently owns an electric vehicle, but when a family does own one and brings it in to get serviced, they may also have one or two other domestic or Asian vehicles that can also be serviced,” Williamson explains. “We can’t look into just the hybrid side of things, we have to look at all the other cars that they’re bringing us.”