40 Trips Around the Sun and 20 Trips Around the Shop

by Jill Tuggle, ABAT Executive Director

Last month, I celebrated a milestone birthday – I turned 40 – eek! While I was not super thrilled to be entering a new decade, I did spend some time thinking about all the years that led up to this milestone and looking back at where it all started in this industry for me. I am so proud of how far I have come and how far the industry has come. I am honored to be a part of what we are doing.

I have now spent half of my life in the collision industry…20 years. 

I started in this business as a wheel girl. Yep – I picked up and delivered wheels and tires to body shops all over DFW. I didn’t aspire to do a job like that; it definitely wasn’t the position I interviewed for, and I admittedly turned my nose up to it when the hiring manager first asked me to consider it. I interviewed for and was tentatively offered the job of receptionist on the grounds that I go ride with a driver to see if I liked it. The owner thought my outgoing and bubbly personality would fare well with customers. So I humored them and rode with a driver…and surprisingly, I loved it. 

The body shop guys were not the “grease monkeys” I pictured but some of the most kind and knowledgeable people I have ever met. They treated me with respect, took the time to teach me about what they were doing and always offered a hand to help me load my wheels. Sometimes, I’d even push my ego aside and let them! They watched me receive promotions, get married, have kids and so much more. One of them even sang at my wedding. They have championed me and pushed me to be my best. 

Eventually, I started my own marketing business which ultimately led to my involvement with ABAT. I volunteered a bit and was soon asked to consider the role of Executive Director. Nervous and excited, I started my new journey on what I call “the other side” of the business.

My eyes were opened to so much. I was surprised to learn about things that had never even been mentioned to me before: things like OEM procedures, position statements, CRIBs, insurance companies not paying for everything and so on. Honestly, I felt like “how the hell have I not learned any of this?!?” But I hadn’t. I only knew what I knew. And then John Eagle happened. 

That’s what gives me passion in my role now. I know that there are still shops and employees out there who only “know what they know” and they haven’t been taught it all – not even close. This industry can be cruel at times; words like “hack” and “clown” often get thrown around. Yes, some shops ignore procedures, choose not to seek training, bend the knee and worse. But there are also shops out there who are simply still in the dark, and some are just now trying to climb out. 

ABAT wants to be there to meet shops right where they are. Be there to answer the questions, to provide the training, to help show them their choices and to demonstrate how other successful businesses operate. We are crashing down the walls of competition and debunking the lies we have been told. That’s something I have gotten fully behind. This industry is full of good people – find them and learn from them. 

My role in the industry has evolved so much throughout the 20 years I have been in it, and yet, it still feels like I’m swallowing the ocean. Our Board of Directors are my mentors and cheerleaders. People like Aaron Schulenburg, Ron Reichen and Danny Gredinberg have been counselors and confidants. I owe all the thanks in the world to the folks who believed in me and pushed me to get where I’m at. Cheers to continuing this journey around the sun and the shops!

Want more? Check out the November 2023 issue of Texas Automotive!