Talking Shop

Local workshop thriving in a rural community

Four minutes away from the crystal-clear waters of Esperance Bay, Melisa and David Rowe have set up shop in a beautiful town in WA.

A four-minute drive from the crystal-clear waters of Esperance Bay, Melisa and David Rowe have set up shop in one of the most beautiful rural towns in Western Australia.

In a small, beachside community, the Rowe’s automotive repair shop, Esperance Smash Repairs has garnered a well-respected and trusted reputation in the community.

As managing director, Melisa’s primary role is to coordinate the flow within the workshop. Managing the human resources division, the OH&S requirements and apprentices, Melisa juggles many hats.

With her husband, David Rowe, they have created a trusted rural repair shop that has survived each changing, and challenging decade.

Purchasing the company in 2006, David and Melisa are passionate about providing quality customer service and workmanship.

Esperance Smash Repairs works alongside the local branch of Windscreen O’Brien, a business already owned by the Rowe’s before they acquired the complex.

Being the largest repair shop in Esperance, the business encompasses 1330 square metre workshop, and a purpose-built workspace that has the capacity for 30 vehicles.

Almost doubling their company size since 2006, Esperance Smash Repairs currently employs 15 staff with a variety of skills and backgrounds.

Their staff comprises of four apprentices, three office managers and 8 trades people. With knowledge ranging from automotive repair, to paint and automotive glass, the staff at Esperance Smash Repairs pride themselves on their attention to detail and quality repairs.

Business in a rural town

Strong and clear communication with clients is important in any business, but in a rural town, it can make all the difference.

Esperance Smash Repairs strives to keep a clear line of communication throughout the entire repair process.

“We pride ourselves on effective communication with our clients. We ensure each client is kept up to date about their vehicle. We communicate throughout the entire process to solidify trust,” Melisa says.

“We make sure adequate ‘touch points’ occur to guarantee that we meet a client’s expectations.”

Esperance Smash Repairs has a dedicated team, with one unified approach.

“We have an amazing team of hard working and dedicated staff,” Melisa says.

“Everyone who has completed an apprenticeship with us has continued to work with us. We encourage staff to take time away if need be, but we also encourage them to return.”

The Rowe’s pride themselves on a family friendly environment that also helps to keep and attract staff.

“We have a family friendly environment, but we also make a work life balance a priority,” Melisa says.

“Our family has grown up in our workshop and around the business. Some of our staff members have grown up here in a sense too. We encourage our team to enjoy work, but also enjoy home life. It is all about maintaining a good balance.”

Workplace productivity

Increasing workplace efficiency and productivity is a key focus for Esperance Smash Repairs.

“We are always looking to streamline our workplace productivity,” Melisa says.

“We are currently looking to improve our management side of the business. Using the latest IBody Shop program, we are undertaking middle management training to streamline our systems better.”

“I am always open to learning from other shop owners as well. There is so much we can learn from one another. We enjoy visiting other businesses and exchanging ideas.”

Having an honest reputation is essential in maintaining a harmonious and productive relationship with insurers. Melisa outlines how they preserve a positive relationship with insurance companies and assessors.

“Being open and honest with assessors and insurance companies is our priority,” Melisa says.

“We appreciate that insurance companies give us around 80 per cent of our work.

“As a self-assessing centre, we have a great relationship with some of the major insurers. We have been dealing with some of our insurers for over 20 years.”

“Taking the time to discuss what is best, and negotiating fairly for all parties is vital for David and I.”

Operating a business in a rural community, however, can bring multiple obstacles when it comes to training and upskilling staff.

“Staff training is a highlight this year, we are 800km away from Perth, so the cost to send staff away is very high,” Melisa says.

“We like to encourage trainers to come to our beautiful town instead of us travelling all the time.”

Women in industry

A career in the collision repair industry has proven to be a successful and rewarding journey for Melisa and David Rowe.

Starting the Esperance Windscreens O’Brien business together at just 21 years of age, Melisa would juggle being a commercial property manager with invoicing work at night to achieve their goals. It is this dedication and commitment that made going from employee to employer a smooth transition.

Since acquiring Esperance Smash Repairs, Melisa has been acknowledged and recognised as a leader for females in the automotive industry.

In 2023, Melisa won the MTA Western Australia Business Woman of the Year Award which recognised Melisa as a ground-breaking influence in the industry.

Melisa also cites completing the Australian Rural Leadership Program in 2013 as being a career highlight.

Forging a pathway in a male dominated industry, however, hasn’t always been smooth sailing. But fostering a passion, one also shared by her husband, Melisa found that the Esperance community welcomed her in the fold.

“Being a woman in the industry has become easier over the past 5 years or so. It has been great living in a rural location, that has helped a lot,” Melisa says.

Originally from Mandurah in Western Australia, the move to Esperance was only supposed to be for one year. After loving their stay, they extended their trip and have been in Esperance for 28 years.

“We have been in the industry for a while now, since 2006. People know who we are now and are familiar with the business and how it is run,” Melisa says.

Melisa highlights the need for encouraging females to experience the automotive industry, whether that be through an apprenticeship, or work experience.

“There has always been a great need for women in the automotive industry. Women have a great eye for detail and it’s the quality in tradespeople that business owners look for,” Melisa says.

“I encourage any women that are interested in the industry to take on some form of work experience.”

“Females are very much needed in our industry. Any female is more than capable in completing any automotive trade available. There is also the business side of collision repair that females can tap into. There is opportunity for everyone.”

At Esperance Smash Repairs, females are celebrated for their strengths.

“We have two women working with us on the workshop floor and two women in the office. Females have a great eye for detail and our team certainly has that,” Melisa says.

Successful recruitment

With the nationwide recruitment issue that has affected the automotive industry, many workshops have resorted to sourcing staff from overseas. For Esperance Smash Repairs, their apprentices have proved to be an integral part of their loyal workforce.

“We have been extremely lucky that our continued apprenticeship training over the past 18 years has given us 25 apprentices,” Melisa says.

“With four apprentices in their 3rd and 4th year, we feel grateful to have a loyal workforce.”

Esperance Smash Repairs encourages people from all walks of life to give the repair industry a fair shot.

“From mature age people, to females, to local high school students, we always encourage work placement for younger and mature age people wishing to have a trial to see if the automotive repair and refinish industry is for them,” Melisa says.

“We work closely with the local high schools and have often waited for someone to complete their final year at school before starting an apprenticeship with us.”

“We enjoy training our staff and creating a healthy workplace environment.”

Remaining true to their core values of clear communication, honesty, and quality service and repair, has allowed Esperance Smash Repairs to thrive since 2006.

“Any small business owner knows how challenging it can be to run a small business, and the automotive industry is no different,” Melisa says.

“For anyone starting off in this industry, I would highly recommend becoming a member of the Motor Trade Association and also to the local chamber of commerce.”

“Always offer the best service and quality to clients, even when that can mean saying no at times.”

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