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Among the Elite

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Name: Elite
Auto Painting and Body Repair

Location: Modesto,
Calif.

Owner: Moises
Martinez

Established:
1994

Square Footage:
18,000

Number of Employees:
16

Repair Volume:
120 to 140 vehicles per month

Average Repair Ticket:
$2,100

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Making good decisions has become a habit for
Moises Martinez. Start with the 34-year-old’s decision to open
his own shop after spending 10 years at a nearby Ford dealership.

Another good decision he made was to embrace
direct repair programs. Though others sometimes view DRPs as having
complications, such as mandates about which parts can be used
and price restrictions on jobs, Martinez – owner and president
of Elite Auto Painting and Body Repair in Modesto, Calif. – chose
to be a part of them and, as a result, has a booming business.

Martinez estimates that 95 percent of the
jobs that come through his shop each month are the result of direct-repair
relationships. In fact, when he opened his doors in 1994, Martinez
hit the road with a marketing program designed to convince insurers
that Elite was the easiest independent with which to do business.
So far, the program has paid huge dividends.

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"I’ve developed sales routes for maintaining
close communication with customers and prospects," he explains.
"I have a book for each route to keep business cards up to
date and to record comments. When I get back to the shop, I determine
the causes of any problems and report back to the customer."

The formula, which has helped the shop grow
from eight to 16 employees in three years, works as well today
as it did in 1994. The fact that Martinez’s employees repair 120
to 140 vehicles each month, with an average repair ticket of $2,100
per job, is ample evidence of what a wise decision it was to pursue
insurers. Martinez now has direct-repair relationships with Farmers
Insurance, Allstate, Caliber Collision (which represents 10 insurance
companies) and Cal Farm.

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The Start of Good Decisions

Martinez was manager of the dealership shop
when presented the opportunity to purchase a former Miracle Auto
Paint facility nearby. "I decided it was time to do more
for myself and my family," Martinez says. "It was a
pretty clear financial decision. I was putting in long hours already,
so I decided I might as well do it for my own benefit."

He brought more than high hopes to his new
venture. Before he opened his doors, the 12,000-square-foot building
got lots of new equipment: a CCC computer system, a UniversaLiner
frame rack, two Buske hoists and an Air Filtration heated downdraft
booth. Elite has since added a Saico Hydroline downdraft booth
and expanded into a 6,000-square-foot building behind the main
facility.

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Although Martinez had developed a loyal following
at his previous shop, he didn’t initially have much walk-in traffic
or direct-repair business. Instead, he focused on dealership work
to pay the bills, completing jobs for local Toyota, Lexus, Mazda
and Chevrolet operations.

After only six months, Elite hooked up with
Farmers Insurance and business boomed. By the end of the first
year, repair volume had reached an average of 80 vehicles a month.

With a volume like that, it was necessary
for Elite to master the art of maximum productivity. And it has,
by focusing on the basics of the business. Drivers bring in their
vehicles only after parts have been ordered and received. Once
a vehicle is brought in for repairs, it’s assigned to one of four
body men, who repair the damage and oversee prep work before it’s
turned over to the shop’s painter, Gerardo Carranza. This approach
ensures minimal downtime for Carranza, which, in turn, guarantees
speedy service for customers.

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As the only painter, Carranza virtually spends
his entire day mixing paint and shooting it. In this manner, the
shop can complete eight to 10 spot jobs and one "complete"
every day. The shop switched to NAPA/Martin-Senour Finishes two-and-a-half
years ago on the recommendation of Carranza, who had used the
line during a previous job. Since the change, Elite has enjoyed
outstanding efficiency and quality, not to mention significant
monetary savings in the paint department.

While the volume of jobs has grown at Elite,
so, too, have skills. Martinez, who is the regional I-CAR coordinator,
understands the importance of ongoing technical training. For
this reason, a vast majority of the shop’s technicians – Elite
employs four body men, one painter, four preppers, two detailers
and a parts runner – are I-CAR certified. In addition to I-CAR
training, employees receive regular product and technology updates
from their NAPA/Martin-Senour representative.

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Getting the Word Out

Elite’s growth hasn’t been solely the result
of its relationships with insurers. Martinez understands the importance
of marketing, too; Elite is one of the few shops in Modesto (population
approximately 200,000) with a television advertising presence.

Martinez advertises through a local cable
carrier, often running ads during high-viewership broadcasts,
such as NFL and NBA games. The shop invests approximately $1,000
each month for advertising. "We’ve been doing that for about
a year," he says. "When an agent recommends that the
customer bring his car to us, we want to be sure the customer
knows who we are."

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Much of the expense of the advertising is
reimbursed through co-op dollars from the NAPA AutoCare Collision
Center program. Elite was one of the first shops in California’s
"Central Valley" to join the value-added program. "Our
NAPA/Martin-Senour jobber, The Paint Store, was very high on it,
so we decided to give it a try. It’s saved us a ton of money on
advertising alone," Martinez says.

The NAPA AutoCare Collision Center program
has numerous benefits, such as providing shop owners with reports
on customer satisfaction, as well as sales comparisons for same-size
shops with similar market demographics. It also offers member
discounts for training and services.

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Elite has even begun to tout the benefits
of the NAPA AutoCare Collision Center program to consumers. The
program offers various incentives that can be passed on to customers,
such as the NAPACARD Consumer Credit Program, which provides customers
with 90-days, same-as-cash terms. Customer satisfaction can be
monitored through postage-paid reply cards that are provided in
the Customer Satisfaction Index Program, and the NAPA AutoCare
Collision Center program provides a Peace of Mind Warranty, which
guarantees repairs for six months or 6,000 miles.

On a Roll

It looks like Martinez is on a roll. His decisions
to purchase Elite Auto Painting and Body Repair, pursue DRP relationships
and develop a marketing campaign all turned out to be good decisions
for Elite. The same could be said for the consumers who decide
to bring their vehicles to Elite.

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Keeping Informed

In California, where state and environment
regulations are especially tight, it’s extremely important to
stay educated about new low-VOC products and technologies. Daniel
Carranza, owner of The Paint Store (Martinez’s supplier), said
the VOC regulations are extremely tough in the Central Valley.

For example, emissions are limited to 4.5
pounds per gallon VOC for basecoat/clearcoat composite, compared
to the national average of 5.5 pounds per gallon. He said Elite’s
use of HVLP equipment and NAPA/Martin-Senour primers and high-solids
finishes has kept the shop in compliance. "It’s a lot tougher
on the local shop owners because they have to track all VOC emissions,"
Carranza said. "There are shops only 20 miles down the road
in Sonora that don’t have to track their VOCs."

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