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Coming Up Corvettes

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Name: Jerry’s
Custom Paint & Collision Center

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Location:
Gresham, Ore.

Owners:
Jerry and Lori Geiszler

Established: 1979

Square Footage:
10,000

Number of Employees:
Nine

Repair Volume:
60 cars per month (25 percent restoration)

Average Repair Cost:
$2,000 – collision
$12,000 to $15,000 – body and paint restoration

Jerry Geiszler has restored so many "American
Dream cars" that it could be said he’s in the business of
making dreams come true.

Most of Geiszler’s customers are 40 years
or older, have profitable careers, and the money they spend on
their "toys," if you will, is extra income with which
to play. According to Geiszler, these toys are also known as the
American Dream car because to own one is an American dream.

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"This is the car I wanted when I went
to high school," says Geiszler, referring to the Corvette.
"That’s what these people are doing. They’re reliving their
youth."

Geiszler takes pride in helping them do just
that. It’s extremely satisfying for him to work on Vettes – fiberglass
and all – because he knows that when a car is completed, someone’s
dream is fulfilled. He also respects the car’s uniqueness. The
Corvette, Geiszler says, is one of a kind because it’s the only
two-seater that’s remained a two-seater throughout its history.
"It’s the true American sports car," says Geiszler.

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It’s apparent to anyone who speaks with Geiszler
that he loves these cars. It’s also apparent that he knows nearly
everything about them.

A Long Time Coming

Geiszler was introduced to the Corvette and
to body work at the age of 15, when he began working in a body
shop as a helper. It was the same type of business as the one
he now owns: a collision-repair shop specializing in Corvette
restoration. It was at this first job that Geiszler got a taste
of, and hooked on, Corvettes.

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So hooked, in fact, that when Geiszler was
offered a college scholarship – he had a 4.0 high-school grade
point average – he didn’t take it because he loved his work at
the shop.

These days – and many Vettes later – Geiszler
and his wife, Lori, own Jerry’s Custom Paint & Collision Center
in Gresham, Ore. What started out as a custom Corvette repair
facility in 1979 – 32 Corvettes rolled in the first week – is
now mostly collision concentrated. Geiszler began turning more
and more to collision repair in 1981, and today, Corvette restoration
makes up about 25 percent of the business. "[Corvette] customers
also had family cars, and when they saw what kind of work we did,
they wanted us to work on those cars, too," he says.

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With the hopes of expanding his business (he’d
like his collision-repair volume to increase by 100 percent),
Geiszler purchased a 10,000-square-foot facility two years ago.
Part of his reason for wanting to expand: Geiszler believes a
lot of smaller shops aren’t going to survive because of some industry
trends, such as shop sizes are growing at an alarming rate – 20,000
to 30,000 square feet – people are buying multiple shops and the
bottom line is shrinking due to rising costs and stagnant rates.
Geiszler’s remedy: Do more volume.

While still on the lower end of the spectrum,
Geiszler is confident that with some of the best techs in the
business and with more room to grow, he’ll be successful increasing
his volume. And because the shop now has a higher volume of collision-repair
work than restoration work, it naturally profits more on collision
repair – even though the average Corvette body and paint restoration
costs $12,000 to $15,000 compared to the average $2,000 collision-repair
ticket.

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"There would be no way for someone in
our area to make a living by working exclusively on Corvettes
because Corvette repair work is seasonal," Geiszler says.
"This is true of just about any kind of restoration business
– unless you’re in the Sunbelt."

While Corvette restoration isn’t the largest
part of his work anymore, Geiszler isn’t giving up his dream cars
– he’s simply changing what they mean to his business. Corvette
restoration used to give Geiszler something to fall back on when
things got slow; now, however, his goal is to increase his collision-repair
volume and profits so when Corvette business does roll in, it’s
just "gravy."

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An American Dream

Jerry’s Custom Paint & Collision Center
clientele predominantly own 1963 to ’67 Vettes. Geiszler’s favorite?
The 1967 big block – a convertible with a 427 engine, the fastest
Vette ever made. "Everybody wants one," says Geiszler,
who’s owned a Vette since he was 22 , has had several over the
years and presently owns three: a 1985 "perfect" coupe
with 20,000 miles; a ’68 350-horse coupe with 60,000 miles and
a ’65 small-block convertible. His shop techs (three bodymen and
three painters. One technician exclusively does all the fiberglass
work and also worked at the shop where Geiszler started out in
as a teenager) have been working on his ’65 and ’68 for years
now – because, of course, his cars are last in line.

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There have been a few Corvettes – other than
Geiszler’s own – that have taken a couple years to complete, too.
These were missing so many pieces that a lot of research went
into just locating what was needed. Geiszler says his customers
usually don’t mind the wait. As a matter of fact, some are happy
to have a free place to store the car.

The most expensive and possibly the most time-consuming
restoration done in-house was about six months ago. It was a frame-off
restoration in which the body comes off the frame and every single
part of the car is rebuilt and refinished – done on a ’71 LT1.
It cost $32,000, and surprisingly, the customer was in his 20s.

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Geiszler’s most unusual request also came
in about six months ago: A club owner wanted the shop to make
a Corvette body shell, which would be lowered from the ceiling
carrying the club’s dancers.

The Dreamers

Geiszler’s Corvette customers are won over
by word of mouth and by the advertising the shop does at local
car shows. Car-show awards also serve as advertisements. Over
the years, Jerry’s has won local and national best-paint awards
on custom vehicles, attaining this honor 13 out of 18 years at
the Portland Roadster Show – a well-known custom car show that
draws cars from about 15 states.

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But, Geiszler doesn’t rely solely on word
of mouth. To advertise and launch his new location, he got creative
by holding a "Corvette Cruise In." More than 100 Corvettes
"cruised in" to his new shop, where he handed out restoration
and paint-quality awards. This way, potential customers not only
enjoyed themselves, but also got to see the shop’s quality Corvette
work.

Because Geiszler and his crew are not only
good at Corvette restoration, but also enjoy it, they’ve developed
a following – work comes from all over the Northwest and from
as far away as the San Francisco Bay area (a couple customers
even come from San Hose, Calif., which is an 850-mile hall). "We
enjoy doing top-quality work, and because most Corvette owners
are really picky, we’re able to do the best quality work and they’re
willing to pay for it," he says.

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Why are Corvette owners so picky? Possibly
because Corvettes have had the most material published about them
than any other car ever made, which means – especially in the
restoration business – that Geiszler generally deals with customers
who are well-educated about their cars. "There are volumes
of books [Vette owners] can look through to learn about their
car," he says. "And they become really, really involved
in the restoration."

In fact, some customers do a good share of
the restoration themselves. For the most part, this is a good
thing. But, Geiszler points out, he gets some – thank goodness
not many – overeducated customers who think they know more than
he does about the car. "Sometimes," Geiszler says, "it
can be a little bit painful dealing with someone who becomes too
intense about this project. But in general, we’re way pickier
than the people we’re working for."

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When customers are involved with restorations,
they take the car apart, have the paint stripped off and, if they’re
going to restore the frame, do the frame work themselves. Jerry’s
does the body and paint work, and then the Vette owners take the
car home and put it back together. "That’s when it’s really
satisfying," says Geiszler, "because the owners are
also involved in the project, and they’re grinning from ear to
ear when they come to see the progress on their car."

The Difference

So what’s the big deal about working on a
car not made of steel? To Jerry’s Custom Paint & Collision
Center, it’s no big deal at all. Fiberglass has a unique repair
process, but since Geiszler learned how to do the repairs properly
more than 20 years ago, he has no horror stories to tell. "It
makes you feel good to be able to do something that most shops
can’t," he says. "Most shops don’t want anything to
do with fiberglass; they’re afraid of it."

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In fact, during the Portland Roadster Show,
other bodymen and painters have stopped by to tell Geiszler he’s
crazy for working on Corvettes – the customers are too picky,
it’s too hard and too many things can go wrong.

And it’s true. A number of things can go wrong
if you’re not prepared. The major difference between Corvettes
and other cars is the way they’re constructed. A Corvette, according
to Geiszler, is like a giant jig-saw puzzle – a whole bunch of
pieces bonded together to make the car. "The front of a Corvette
is made out of about 19 pieces that you bond together into a single
unit," he says, "which is part of the reason people
don’t want to touch them. People don’t get them together correctly."

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Painting, too, can be a hassle. "Other
shops have had problems with using the wrong primers on bare fiberglass
and having the paint come off," Geiszler explains.

The length of time it takes to work on Corvettes
also is discouraging – you could put 10 metal cars through the
shop in the time you could put through one Corvette. The waiting,
Geiszler says, is usually on parts. "You have unique steps
you have to do to put the car together," he says. "It’s
just a different animal to work on."

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An often-misunderstood animal. Case in point:
After a newspaper article featured a 1972 Vette that earned Jerry’s
Custom Paint & Collision Center an award for best paint at
the roadster show, Geiszler began receiving phone calls from other
shop owners having problems with Corvette repair. People from
local shops even stopped by to see the Vette for themselves. "I
give out a lot of free advice," he says. "I figure we’re
all in this together, and if we can make everything better, then
we might as well do it."

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Dream On

Although Geiszler and his employees now concentrate
more on collision-repair work, Corvette body and paint work will
always hold a special place in their hearts.

"Everyone here just flat enjoys it,"
says Geiszler, referring to Corvette restorations. "But we’ll
definitely cut it down to a select amount of customers who can
afford to do it just the way we want to do it."

A Side Order

In 1981, after noticing that he and his employees
were having trouble getting parts – especially for older Corvettes
– Geiszler started a business called The Corvette Image and began
manufacturing Corvette body panels and parts. (Geiszler gained
much of his manufacturing knowledge from the shop he started out
in, which manufactured fiberglass bodies and parts for early Fords.)

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Geiszler’s Corvette Image supplies major Corvette-parts
dealers around the country, and it began manufacturing parts strictly
for the restoration market in 1986. About one mile away from Jerry’s
Custom Paint, Corvette Image is a smaller business – it has less
volume than the body shop – but, Geiszler says, its bottom line
is larger than that of the shop. Geiszler attributes the higher
profit margin to competing with a true market – i.e., competing
against other manufacturers. "In the body shop business,"
he says, "I’m largely controlled by prevailing rates, that
type of thing."

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