Small Business Owner Spotlight: Hank Wadkins, Auto Damage Appraisers

Company Name: Auto Damage Appraisers

Number of Employees: 20

Location: Albany, Georgia

Hank Wadkins who is the owner of Auto Damage Appraisers in Albany, Georgia spoke with Automile and shares his learnings and best practices for running a small business.

Tell us a bit about Auto Damage Appraisers and how you ended up owning this company?

Auto Damage Appraisers started as a family business. I am the 3rd generation leading it. It was started by my grandfather in 1976. Our clients are insurance companies, and this industry was going away from mom-and-pop vendors. They wanted a one-stop shop vendor, and I made the decision to be that vendor.

What is the biggest challenge that businesses like yours face?

I think the biggest challenge that pretty much all American businesses face today is finding employees who actually care. Employees mostly come in to get a paycheck. I am very selective when it comes to recruiting employees. I go sit down in a restaurant and if I see a waiter giving it all and working really hard — I tell him to give me a call. I can teach anyone the skill that is needed to do the job but focus on trying to get employees who are passionate and willing to give it all.

What are some of the key business strategies that have brought your business success?

1) I don’t put all the eggs in one basket. Instead of having one big client, I have focused on smaller clients. No one client is 10% of my business.

2) Keep an eye on our competitive difference and ensure we are constantly ahead of the game.

3) Introduce technology to automate our business (even though I am quite old fashioned!).

Can you share more about how you have introduced technology and the role it has played in the success of your business?

From estimating system, payroll, and accounting, to mileage logging, we have automated it all. We use QuickBooks for payroll and accounting, which is working well. We use Automile for tracking mileage. When it comes to estimating the damages, we have used some new technology that enables the owner of the car to generate pictures and send to us. But automobiles are like people. They all have their own characteristic. We work with 90+ contractors along with existing employees who make in-person visits when necessary to evaluate and assess further.

Also, we have a lot of supervisors who use our company car, and they were spending time tracking business mileage manually for IRS purposes. Keeping a day-by-day log was not only cumbersome but inaccurate. So, we decided to introduce telematics technology from Automile. The employees were so excited that they told me –“I will pay whatever if I don’t have to keep track of mileage log.” So it was clear to me how important it was to automate the tracking process. I also sell my vehicles every couple of years and buy new ones. I know that down the road, with the data that we are capturing on the vehicles, it will be helpful information for the next owner too. The other important aspect of it is that if a vehicle gets stolen, we can track it down easily. That is huge!

Based on your learnings, what advice would you give to small businesses?

Anything in life is attainable but it is going to cost your life and sweat. Also, the value of technology is something that I didn’t like and didn’t want in the past because of the fear of the unknown. But I have learned that we have to separate what is real and what is not. The tech is where the world is going and if you don’t stay ahead of it, you won’t have a job or business. The old school guys are gone who didn’t invest in technology.


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