Brad Zara started Zara’s Collision Center, originally known as Zara’s Auto Body, in 1987 and was initially the sole employee. On Aug. 13, the company was sold to Caliber Collision, the largest collision repair consolidator in the country, with more than 1,400 locations nationwide.
Brad Zara and his brother, Mike Zara, who served as the parts manager, will both be retiring, but said that having the rest of the staff be able to stay on was important to them.
“Based on our stage of life, we had begun the process of succession planning probably six years ago,” said Zara. Noting that the company was in business for 34 years, Zara said, “We started early, so that created a bit of an earlier ending – just like when people have kids young, and then they’re empty-nesters sooner.”
Zara said they were initially grooming a couple of the mangers to potentially take over one day, but the plan “gave us flexibility based on what ended up being the best option when the time came.”
Zara noted that while vehicles will always need to be repaired, the industry as a whole is shifting away from independent operators. In 2018, the first national collision company entered the Springfield market when Gerber Collision & Glass purchased Dick Taylor Collision Services, a second-generation family business.
“For a small independent to compete against the large national companies would definitely be difficult should they infiltrate our market,” he said. “It used to be that the collision consolidators focused on major metro areas, but Springfield is now the size of market that they’re looking at. They see viability in markets like ours, and they’re going to blanket the central Illinois region.”
Zara noted that national relationships with insurance companies and vehicle manufacturers are becoming more important.
He viewed selling to a national company as a way to “allow for our folks to continue. Those leaders are still in their same roles; they kept our whole team.” Being part of a national company also offers more opportunities for the employees. “As an independent operator, you have limited upward mobility. A lot of our young folks want to be able to progress,” said Zara.
“I didn’t get out because I was tired of it, it just seemed to be the right thing to do for the business and for us,” said Zara. He has no specific retirement plans, although he said he and his wife, Julie, enjoy spending time in Florida.
“I’m not going to do anything quickly, just see where God leads me if there is something else I should be doing.”