Service King Paint & Body LLC
Local independent body shop owners who are looking to cash out could also benefit from continued expansion by the two firms. The standardization of practices at newly acquired shops should benefit consumers as well, with faster repairs at a cheaper rate.
For North Texas, the stakes also include bragging rights as home to the top collision-repair firm in a $30 billion industry and the jobs that go along with it.
Uniting an industry
Both companies took different paths to emerge as two of the largest collision repair operators in the country. But their financial supporters aren’t finished pursuing consolidation. The eventual objective is to gain a national footprint in a highly fragmented sector.
In one corner in the fight for supremacy is Service King, with its growth plan backed by Wall Street heavyweight Blackstone Group (NYSE: BX). On the other side is Caliber, with financial support from one of Canada’s largest pension plans, Omers Private Equity.
Both Blackstone and Omers have said a stock offering is possible for Service King and Caliber, but neither has immediate IPO plans. Still, market conditions could change their minds.
“Even if going public wasn’t in the immediate future, money is a very powerful incentive and can help them change their decisions if they can tap into enough to help fund their growth, ” said Jason Moser, an analyst with Million Dollar Portfolio at The Motley Fool.
Selling the companies to other private equity firms is also an attractive option to maximize returns on investments. In 2014, the Carlyle Group sold its majority stake in Service King to Blackstone, returning nearly four times its initial investment.
Caliber has also been tossed between different private equity partners. In 2008, it was bought by ONCAP, an arm of Onex Corp., a Toronto-based private equity investment and holding platform. ONCAP sold Caliber to Omers in 2013 in a deal valued at nearly $425 million, with ONCAP earning 7.5 times its initial investment. Omers invests the pension funds of more than 440, 000 people, including one of every 20 employees working in Canada’s most populous province, Ontario.
Twenty years ago, it would have been difficult for Service King and Caliber to play a role in uniting the disjointed industry. They didn’t have the financial and operational capability. But Blackstone, Omers and other private-equity firms have changed the game.
“Private equity firms are looking for folks to invest in that are high quality and very adaptable, ” said David Roberts, managing director for FOCUS Investment Banking’s automotive services group. “They measure with profitability and ratings from insurance companies and consumers. (Companies) need to have high margins and know how to grow within markets.”
Service King and Caliber both have a dominant portion of the collision repair market, but they aren’t alone. There are two other titans in the industry, Minneapolis-based ABRA Auto Body & Glass and Chicago’s Gerber Collision & Glass.
ABRA was sold by Palladium Equity Partners to San Francisco private equity firm Hellman & Friedman LLC in 2014 for a 6.7 times cash on cash return on Palladium’s investment.
Gerber, which operates as Boyd Autobody & Glass in Canada, is the only publicly traded collision-repair giant. Its stock debuted on the Toronto Stock Exchange in 2003.
Still, the four combined account for only about 1, 000 shops, leaving ample opportunity for the consolidation that generates returns attractive to private equity investors.
The industry hasn’t always been concerned about growing scale and finding efficiencies, though; that’s a fairly recent development, nor was the path to becoming one of the nation’s largest providers of auto body services always so clear.
Lennox attended Eastfield Junior College, where he did a two-year program in auto body repair. After school he took his first professional repair gig with a freight company, but quickly decided he wanted to do his own body work.
“I grew up in the business and was self-taught, ” said Lennox. “In the beginning, my hopes were to create a business that provided enough income for my family.”