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Like a Rock: Southwest Collision of Alsip, Ill.

Ask anyone in the collision-repair business in suburban Chicago about the work and reputation of Southwest Collision of Alsip, Ill., and the adjectives they’ll use can be
summarized in two words – rock solid.

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The shop is established in a village five
miles from the Chicago city limits. But the shop’s next generation
of ownership – Glenn Lochow, who rejoined the business in 1996
to work alongside his parents, shop founders Bill and Joanne Lochow
– is prepared to meet future challenges. "The entire industry
is becoming more efficient and competitive, and there are fewer
repairs available," Glenn says. "We’ll have our work
cut out for us."

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And work is just what the Lochows have been
doing. Founded in 1969 in two small buildings on its current property,
the business has grown steadily and now occupies a brand-spanking-new,
11,000-square-foot facility that would bring a smile to the face
of any efficiency expert.

Glenn, who is expected to take over the shop
in the coming year, will take on a business with a solid foundation
and reputation. But he’s also ready to put in the hours and to
make the necessary changes that will be needed to keep this successful
ship afloat. "We’ve been through a tremendous amount of change
in the past few years," says Joanne, executive vice president.
"It’s been 28 years since we founded the shop, and the industry
has changed dramatically. Glenn’s involvement in the business
will let Bill and I back off a bit and bring a fresh perspective
to the way we do things."

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Offering Customers More

Once strictly a collision-repair operation,
the business today includes a successful mechanical-repair shop.
Tremendous synergy exists between the two operations – a satisfied
customer of the collision shop inevitably becomes a client of
the mechanical-repair business, and vice versa. As a result, Southwest
competes from a position of strength with three nearby full-service
collision-repair operations and dozens of smaller businesses.

Southwest serves the needs of virtually any
vehicle owner with any collision-repair or mechanical-service
need. "We don’t have a specialty," says Joanne. "The
one thing we don’t do, though, is focus on wholesale work, where
they want their jobs done right now and for very little money,
which detracts from the value we can offer to our other customers."

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To enhance Southwest’s already-strong closing
ratio with retail customers, Glenn worked with a local graphic-arts
firm to produce an attractive brochure, describing the shop’s
capabilities and commitment to quality. A more far-reaching step
toward achieving this goal: the Lochows’ decision to join the
NAPA AutoCare Collision Center program, a value-added program
that offers shop benefits from technical training to marketing
support.

In addition to hundreds of retail customers,
Southwest serves a growing collection of commercial accounts,
including a local rental fleet, a cable-television company, a
chemical firm, two heating-and-air-conditioning businesses and
a stationery-store chain. Another steady commercial client is
a nearby manufacturer and distributor of premium-quality tow trucks.
Southwest paints three to five tow trucks per month, which is
no easy feat.

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The shop’s strategy of attracting commercial
accounts while also delivering unmatched service to retail customers
is consistent with the owners’ 10 to 15 percent projected annual
sales and revenue growth. A major piece of this growth program
was put into place with the opening of the new facility.

Growing and Changing

In planning the new, U-shaped building, Bill,
shop founder and president, spent months visiting other shops,
researching building design and productivity, and tinkering with
an architect’s scale model. The end result of this painstaking
process is a facility that Henry Ford would have loved. Production
follows the building’s contour: metal work at one end of the "U,"
prep and painting in the center and detailing just beyond the
spraybooth. The mechanical-repair department is located at the
far end of the building, and the customer-reception area is as
clean and bright as a doctor’s office.

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In addition to a new facility, the business
has the very latest in repair and refinishing equipment for its
eight technicians – six in the collision-repair department and
two in the mechanical-repair operation. (Of the six collision
technicians, two work in body repair, three specialize in prep
and refinishing, and one is a detailer.) Southwest replaced its
old crossdraft booth with a Saico drive-through, downdraft unit
and also acquired two prep stations and two post lifts. The most
recent additions are two Edwin Trisk infrared curing lamps.

The shop also changed paint lines. As of 1995,
Southwest has been using NAPA/Martin-Senour Finishes. The NAPA/Martin-Senour
technical team helped the Lochows "dial in" their products
more effectively and integrate short-wave heat lamps into the
shop’s production operation.

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A Continuing Commitment

Southwest has established itself, but its
managers realize the reality of change: to do so is to survive.
"We’ve earned our place as a leader in this market,"
says Glenn, "but we’re going to have to compete even harder
and smarter to stay there."

In order to do this, Glenn expects to spend
a greater percentage of his time identifying and implementing
programs and procedures to help the shop continue to grow without
further expanding its facilities.

"Finding ways to become more efficient
will be a permanent challenge for our industry," Glenn says.
"I have an economics degree, which will help me keep track
of our total performance and make sure that we’re the most productive
shop in our market. That’s the key to our continued success."

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