There is nothing typical about Cougar Paint & Collision Inc. The rustic looking building stands out along Yellowhead Trail, looking more like a cabin than an autobody repair facility.
Once you open the doors, however, the magic really begins. Homey, comforting, and filled to the brim with memorabilia, the scent of fresh coffee wafts through the air, and often a tray of freshly baked treats, courtesy of happy customers, greets you. Whether you are at Cougar for collision repair work or one of their award-winning custom paint jobs, you will feel right at home.
Graham Dick, founder of Cougar Paint and Collision Inc. has his desk situated out front with the rest of the staff in order to greet all of the customers coming through the front door. None of the front office staff (nor any of the estimators) are in offices. Everyone is accessible; one of the signs in front of the building says, “Our Family Serving Your Family.”
The banter among the staff and with the customers adds to the warm, friendly atmosphere when Graham, or his son Gordon, calls an insurance company on behalf of a driver, shows a classic car owner their upgraded ride, or hands over the keys to a young adult who just had their first custom paint job.
“I ran a couple of other shops for other people and then decided to start my own autobody repair shop along with my wife Eileen,” says Graham of how he came to start Cougar Paint & Collision Inc. “It was 1983 and the economy was very challenging. A lot of people said, I’ll give you six months to maybe a year.”
That was 35 years ago.
Although Cougar has never changed its address, it started off small; just a bay in its current location at a modest 1,500 square feet. It wasn’t long until Cougar had to expand into the neighbouring bays. As other businesses in their building left, Cougar kept expanding. Today the autobody shop spans the entire building, operating out of over 17,000 square feet and keeping up with the newest trends in the repair industry.
“About 25 years ago, insurance adjusters and appraisers wanted autobody shops to appear more professional and clean up the reputation of the industry,” Graham explains. “In the old days, things would be dusty, dirty coffee cups and parts for cars would be sitting around, etc. It was not known as a classy business. A lot of companies took the change very seriously and renovated their shops to look more like a dentist or lawyer’s office with ceramic tiles and glass blocks. I didn’t want customers to walk in and be intimidated into thinking ‘This place looks like Caesar’s Palace! My repair is going to cost me a fortune!’ Instead, we went in the opposite direction and made our reception area look like a rumpus room or cabin – more relaxed and welcoming, rather than corporate.”
It was a good move. Even customers that no longer drive due to their age stop by for coffee and to say hello to Graham, Eileen and the staff, because it really does feel like home.
It’s comfy in there, but each team member takes their job very seriously. Gordon and Heather, the Dick’s children, joined the business 10 years ago, making it a family owned and operated enterprise with true family values providing honesty, integrity and professionalism to every customer.
“We work on unibody and conventional frames, fiberglass, motorcycle paint work, custom repairs, upgrades and do everyday collision repair services. We do a little bit of everything,” Graham points out. “We don’t specialize in just one thing, and that makes us different.”
Graham and his staff are always up for a challenge. “I’ve painted a lot of weird stuff over the years from coffins, guitars, surfboards for charity, Coke machines, gas pumps, and even flames on a little girl’s MixMaster® for a Christmas present.”
Another example of his work sits behind Graham’s desk – a spare wheel cover that he painted for a late friend. After his friend became paralyzed and started driving a modified van, Graham painted him a masterpiece – a wicked metal-themed skeleton in a wheelchair with flames shooting from his mouth. Subtle personal touches, like the Chevy symbol for eye pupils, were added to include the things his friend loved.
Superior customer service is everything to the staff at Cougar Paint and Collision. “We are not afraid to go the extra mile for every customer,” Graham explains. “Our entire staff, whether they are located in the front office or in the back working on customers’ vehicles, are always willing to look around for special parts or directly call an insurance company to try and save a driver’s vehicle. If someone can’t pick up their vehicle until after hours, we wait for them. Our #1 goal over the past 35 years has always been to do everything we can to make our customers happy.
“We offered lifetime warranties long before it was fashionable, and when you come in here to get your vehicle looked at, you are talking to an owner of the company. The gentlemen doing the estimates are also the people who have years of experience working in the back, fixing the vehicles. They are certified journeyman Red Seal technicians and professional autobody painters. The customer always talks to an owner and someone that can make a corporate decision.”
Industry trends, vehicles, and technology have changed over the years, but they have learned to work with these changes in order to keep up a high level of customer satisfaction.
However, there is one thing Graham wishes he could change. “Going head-to-head with franchises and national chains when you are an independent family-owned and operated shop can be challenging. Our biggest customer focus is keeping the public informed that after a collision they can have their vehicle repaired at any autobody repair facility they choose. They do not have to go where the insurance company suggests. Whether it is a national chain or a local family owned facility, it’s the vehicle owner’s choice.”
Cougar Paint & Collision has always given back to the community by supporting charitable organizations such as the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation, and by sponsoring local sports teams. The staff at Cougar is very proud of its Mayor’s Award, received for working with youth with disabilities. As avid bikers, the Dick family has also supported Kids with Cancer and were instrumental in organizing the first Kids with Cancer rides on Harley Davidsons at Camp He-Ho-Ha, along with rides around the track at Commonwealth Stadium during halftime at Edmonton Eskimos games.
From a permanent sign displayed on the front of the building to purchasing advertisements throughout the years in support, they have always “saluted the troops”. Eileen tells a story from a few years ago. “During an outdoor customer appreciation event in front of the office, a line of military vehicles passed by Cougar on Yellowhead Trail. While driving by, the soldiers noticed the large ‘Cougar Salutes The Troops’ sign out front, and actually saluted us.”
Cougar has recently been recognized by Edmontonians and residents in surrounding communities with two very prestigious awards. Readers of the StarMetro publication and their Community Choice Awards voted Cougar Paint and Collision as the winner in the auto service centre category. Another award was from the readers of the Edmonton Journal, where Cougar Paint and Collision was voted the 2018 Reader’s Choice Gold winner in the autobody repair category. Many other awards and recognitions for their work, car shows, and community service adorn the walls of the office. However, the recognition that makes Graham and his staff the happiest is the look on a customer’s face when they see their repaired vehicle, or when the staff receives a positive review online or a thank you card from one of their many satisfied customers.
Today a number of their customers’ children and grandchildren bring their vehicles to Graham, Eileen and their staff. The commitment to quality, service and being the “most approachable autobody shop” in town has never changed.
The logo hasn’t changed either. Rather than rebrand as the company grew, you’ll find a hand-drawn cougar on the business card. It was sketched by a dear friend 35 years ago as Graham and his buddies sat around wondering what to call the company. The artist passed away shortly after she drew the cougar. Graham incorporated it into the logo and it’s been on their business cards ever since.
“If you own your own business you have to be there. It pays to go the extra mile,” Graham says as he reflects on the past 35 years. “You have to lead by example. There isn’t anything in the back of the shop that I couldn’t do… well, maybe not as well as I used to! I’m a little older, you know. These days I’m trying to stay out of the back shop. That’s my son Gordon’s job now but he started at an entry level position with the company. Both Gordon and my daughter Heather didn’t receive any special treatment since joining the company. For example, Gordon started out sweeping the floors and emptying the garbage while Heather started by doing minor clerical duties.”
The shop has been Graham’s passion for most of his life. “I have even been known to talk in my sleep about moving cars around in the shop,” he jokes, then adds, “Cougar wouldn’t be what it is today without learning from some great people like Mel from Supreme Plating who was a wonderful business mentor, and Carl from Elmwood Car Sales, a family friend, who was determined to be our first customer and give us their cheque for our very first Cougar job.”
Graham also appreciates the friendship and support of Bob Lupul and Jerry Novakowski, two gentlemen he apprenticed under at Crosstown Chrysler Jeep Dodge in the early 70s.
The team at Cougar Paint and Collision share a very big and heartfelt thank you to the many customers they have been privileged to work with over the years and the new customers that will one day walk through their door, being greeted by the staff with a smile and the simple question of “How can we help you?” Each customer is known by name and enjoys Cougar’s signature hospitality in a warm and friendly home-like atmosphere.
“Now it’s time for us to start providing our children with more responsibility in the company. We are not going to make the shop any bigger, however we must continue to stay ahead of the curve with the changes in our industry. We really enjoy our present north side location and will just keep doing what we have done for 35 years, loving what we do and working with honesty and integrity.”
“And,” Graham pauses to smile, “always making each and every customer feel welcome. We will always have the coffee on.”
Learn more about Cougar Paint & Collision and enjoy the extensive gallery of autobody repair, custom body work and custom paint work at www.cougarcollision.com. Follow the company on Facebook (@cougarcollision), Instagram (@cougarpaintandcollision), and Twitter (@CougarEdmonton).