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Designing A Dream: Kustom Kreations

The newly opened Kustom Kreations, nestled in the scenic Sierra Nevada mountains of Carson City, Nev., is stopping traffic – literally.

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Shortly after the shop’s grand opening in
February, several men stopped by to admire the highly stylized
1957 Buick in the shop’s front showroom. They didn’t need any
collision work done, but the shop’s eye-catching design intrigued
them enough to stop and come in.

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According to owner Jim Farcello, this is exactly
the reaction he was hoping for when he designed and built his
new 6,050-square-foot collision repair shop. In fact, he approached
the facility’s design in exactly the same way he restores and
customizes cars – with an eye for detail and artistic flair.

Judging from the positive first impressions
he’s creating, his design strategy is working. "The nucleus
of every shop is its front office and customer areas," says
Farcello. "It’s the first and last thing customers remember
about your shop."

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For this reason, he calls his dramatic entranceway
a "showroom" rather than a lobby. In addition to the
custom Buick and Harley-Davidson motorcycle on display, the showroom
also includes such unique features as a full wall of sliding-glass
doors large enough to drive cars through, a gallery of framed
magazine articles featuring Farcello’s custom work, and two colorful
couches carved into the rear fins and bumpers of ’58 and ’60 Chevrolets.

Designing for Productivity

The shop’s overall design goes beyond just
making first impressions and was designed with productivity in
mind. The features Farcello points to as efficiency boosters include
a covered estimating and detailing bay near the shop’s front entrance
and the L-shaped layout of the facility, which allows shop management
to easily monitor work in progress without leaving the office
area.

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A key architectural consideration within the
shop was the addition of overhead skylights and southern-facing
bay doors to maximize the shop’s natural sunlight supply. This
is in sharp contrast to Farcello’s previous location, which had
no windows in the body and paint areas. Within days of opening
his new shop, Farcello saw a noticeable improvement in both productivity
and employee morale. "I really worked to make the new shop
a more pleasant environment for our employees as well as our customers,"
he says.

Strong vendor relationships also helped his
efforts, since Farcello consulted two of them he works closest
with for many of his shop’s design features. And although he based
many ideas for the new shop on knowledge gained during his 24
years in the collision repair industry, Farcello also incorporated
new concepts he learned while attending industry training. In
the process of building his new shop, Farcello attended a Sherwin-Williams
Automotive Finishes Corp. management course entitled, "Advantage
Shop Management." He found the knowledge gained in this course
to be "eye-opening" with regard to organizing his shop
for maximum efficiency and long-term financial stability.

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Creating a Name

Part of Farcello’s long-term financial stability
came from his well-known reputation for custom painting and restoration
work, which he gained during the late ’70s, when he lived and
worked in the Los Angeles area. Farcello admits to working day
and night on pet projects, such as the Buick – which took him
a total of two years to complete – now seen in his showroom.

Although the name of his shop still reflects
this talent, Kustom Kreations is a true collision repair facility.
In fact, Farcello says that approximately 95 percent of the shop’s
business is collision repair, with 15 percent of that business
being direct from a dealer or dealer referrals. Only 5 percent
of the shop’s business is custom work.

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Farcello does, however, point to his shop’s
custom work as a key factor in establishing a loyal base of customers
since moving to Carson City. The area has an unusually high concentration
of classic and restored cars, particularly for a city with a population
of only 45,000.

One reason could be linked to nearby Reno,
where casino owner Bill Harrah established a museum devoted to
custom and classic cars. Another factor may be Reno’s nationally
known annual car festival, "Hot August Nights," in which
Farcello has been an active participant – both as a competitor
and, in recent years, a member of the organizing and judging committees.
Thanks to his involvement with the contest and his previous ownership
of a local karate studio, Farcello has developed strong community
links, a network that he calls one of the "best forms of
marketing."

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This networking is paying off for the shop,
which has a track record of steady growth. Last year, Kustom Kreations
grossed more than $750,000 and, based on its new facility and
location, Farcello expects to achieve another 25 percent growth
during 1997. Also, the shop is now situated next door to two of
Carson City’s largest dealerships, which Farcello sees as yet
another growth opportunity.

Lone Wolves at Work

In addition to community and dealer ties,
Farcello points to the talents of his nine employees as the key
to his shop’s consistent growth. The staff at Kustom Kreations
includes three painters, four body technicians, a general manager/estimator
and Farcello’s wife, Sue, who does the billing. Their son, Cody,
is one of the shop’s body technicians.

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Farcello takes great pride in his staff’s
low turnover rate, which he credits in part to what he calls the
shop’s "lone wolf" philosophy. He keeps his pack together
by placing a lot of emphasis on self-motivation, creative freedom
and independence – all attributes Farcello sees reflected in the
lone wolf that adorns his shop’s sign. He tries to instill these
attributes in his employees by encouraging them to set their own
priorities and work at their own pace.

To help his staff stay in tune with the latest
techniques and industry trends, Farcello built a training and
break room for on-site training classes. Farcello also expects
all of his employees to be I-CAR certified. He uses this commitment
to training to back up his "lone wolf" philosophy and
provides his staff with the latest equipment and technology available.

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The shop recently switched to Sherwin-Williams
Automotive Finishes because of the company’s commitment to high-quality
color-matching technology and the location of its training center
in Reno. Farcello feels that today’s car owners are very demanding
when it comes to color matching, and he expects his paint vendors
to live up to these high standards. Kustom Kreations’ paint shop
includes five bays in the paint and prep area, a heated downdraft
Future Cure spraybooth and a separate mixing room.

A unique feature within the shop’s body area
is the addition of two 10-horsepower Comair air purifiers/compressors.
According to Farcello, "Air volume is often a design aspect
that many shops neglect." The shop’s air, which Farcello
feels should be a top priority, is fed through an overhead piping
system that includes individual air drops in each bay for easy
access to all power tools.

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The shop also includes a separate building
to house its two Chief EZ Liner frame-straightening racks and
Universal Measuring Systems. Farcello intentionally placed this
equipment the farthest possible distance from his front showroom
to shield customers from the noise – another design detail that
was well-thought-out.

By utilizing the latest technology, the shop
is able to service customers more efficiently. Kustom Kreations’
general manager, Mark Hanley, cites this as one reason the shop
maintains such high Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) ratings,
which are routinely between 93 and 98 percent.

A specific technology improvement Hanley points
to is the shop’s Mitchell estimating system, which uses ImageMate
video technology. He says the system has greatly helped to accelerate
the estimating process for both customers and insurance representatives.

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This system is part of the shop’s commitment
to working closely with the local insurance industry, even though
Kustom Kreations has chosen not to participate in specific DRP
programs. As a matter of fact, the shop’s showroom – in addition
to featuring the cool cars mentioned earlier – has designated
office space for adjusters, and Farcello has sponsored several
seminars for local insurance companies to learn more about the
technical aspects of the collision repair industry.

Another way the shop keeps up with insurance
issues is through its membership in Collision Team USA (CTU),
a national consortium of body shops that helps participating shops
consolidate their buying power when purchasing parts and supplies.
According to the group’s president, Frank Downs, its members also
share recommendations regarding the standardization of the collision
repair industry with regard to insurance issues, shop safety matters
and customer quality concerns.

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Meeting Demands for Quality

According to lead painter Benny Benson, Farcello
is even more demanding than the customers. Farcello personally
checks the finish on all paint work done in the shop, and he personally
details each car before it’s returned to the customer.

This concern for detail is yet another example
of the many steps Farcello has taken to make sure his customers
start with a positive first impression. And, based on the shop’s
growth and high number of return customers, Kustom Kreations also
makes a lasting impression.

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