South Shore Breaker

Highly wreck-a-mended business

Women showing they are an asset to the autobody business


After spending 28 years in the publishing business, managing the front office and performing accounting duties for Lighthouse Publishing in Bridgewate­r, Michelle Nickerson decided she needed a change of pace.

What did the West Northfield married mother of two adult daughters embrace as her next challenge? She took over the reins of an autobody shop.

“In 2013 I had an opportunit­y to run CSN County Collision Centre, an establishe­d business in Blockhouse. I managed it for two years, then purchased it outright two years later. What did I know about autobody repair? Absolutely nothing,” said Nickerson during a recent interview.

“I had a good technical team alongside me, so I didn’t need to know how to do bodywork. With my management, accounting and customerse­rvice background, I knew how to manage and keep a business afloat, whether it’s an autobody shop or any other enterprise,” she said.

Nickerson was quick to credit her staff of seven and suppliers for helping her flatten the steep learning curve, particular­ly in a male-dominated profession.

“The guys in my shop are awesome. I have always said I work with them, not above them. We have a mutual respect and they would do anything for me,” she said.

“I’ve also been fortunate to benefit from an incredible amount of guidance from Billy Uloth, from APM Colonial, a paint and materials supplier, and provider of technical support. Billy has been with me since the start and I’d be lost without him. He wants me to succeed. He’s amazing,” she added.

Conquerall Mills resident Larry Frank has been an autobody technician for 30 years, the last 12 at County.

“You need a good feeling for this job. When I’m working on a car body, I feel more with my hands than I see with my eyes,” said Frank.

“It’s great working with Michelle. When she took over, she asked the guys, all of them had only worked for men, if they had a problem working with a female owner. No one did and our team has got along really well ever since,” he said.

No industry group, including Industry Canada, offers data on the number of women who have sole ownership of autobody shops. Nickerson knows of no other Nova Scotia bodyshops with female owners.

“I sometimes get customers who don’t want to talk to me. They would rather speak with one of the guys. I’m OK with that. At the end of the day, their satisfacti­on with our work is all that matters,” she said.

Nickerson said her company has experience­d steady growth during the past nine years.

“I have invested in new equipment and training. I want to ensure our technician­s have access to the latest techniques and products. I sent my painter to Toronto recently to learn leading-edge techniques. He came back with a wealth of knowledge and new skills,” she said.

“One of our techs, Corey Laird started here as an apprentice. He is now a Red

Seal autobody technician. We needed to hire another apprentice so Lauren Sharratt came on board, fresh out of trade school. She is doing great and is on track to earning her Red Seal designatio­n with us,” she added.

A self-professed car junkie, Sharratt was born in London, Ont. and moved to the United Kingdom when she was two. When she returned to Canada as an adult in 2016, she worked as a car detailer. She said an office job has never appealed to her.

“I met a couple car enthusiast­s at a car meet and found I really enjoyed being around cars,” she said, her Bedfordshi­re accent revealing her English upbringing.

In 2019, Sharratt enrolled in the autobody course at the Nova Scotia Community College Akerley campus in Halifax and graduated last year. She

was one of three women in a class of 12. All three graduated and are currently apprentice­s. Sharratt said the other two women are working in Halifax and Amherst.

“I love working in the autobody industry. It’s rewarding and you are always learning. You start working on a smashed car and it is returned in perfect condition to the owner,” said Sharratt, a First South resident.

“Being an apprentice, I do have my challenges, but it’s a skilled trade and the whole point is overcoming the obstacles and making things right. Everyone is quick to help when one of those challenges surface,” she added.

Sharratt said she encourages women to go to college, learn a trade and broaden their horizons.

“If women want to always be learning and never get bored, they should consider a career in autobody repair. Just go for it,” she said.

Nickerson said she and her staff take pride in providing excellent customer service.

“People don’t look forward to coming back to see us, of course, because that would mean they have been in another accident. But when they do need work done, they leave much happier when they pick up their vehicles than when they dropped them off,” she said.

CSN County Collision’s 8,000 sq. ft. facility is located on a large property, allowing for future expansion.

According to the Automotive Industries Associatio­n (AIA), there are 6,390 collision-repair facilities in Canada, 169 of them in Nova Scotia.

And according to research conducted by IBISWORLD Canada and provided by AIA, 24,422 employees work in the Canadian collision-repair industry, and the approximat­e 2021 collision-repair revenue in Canada was $6.8 billion.

 ?? PETER SIMPSON ?? Michelle Nickerson, left, is the sole owner of CSN County Collision Centre in Blockhouse. Lauren Sharratt is an apprentice technician working toward a Red Seal designatio­n. Both women have found their place in the male-dominated autobody industry.
PETER SIMPSON Michelle Nickerson, left, is the sole owner of CSN County Collision Centre in Blockhouse. Lauren Sharratt is an apprentice technician working toward a Red Seal designatio­n. Both women have found their place in the male-dominated autobody industry.

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