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Multiple Shops, Multiplied Profits

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Name: Alamo
Body & Paint, Inc.

Location:
San Antonio, Texas

Owners:
Wayne Baker

Established:
1973

Square Footage:
80,500 (total of three locations)

Number of Employees:
152 (total of three locations)

Repair Volume:
1,150 cars per month (total of three locations)

Average Repair Ticket:
$1,300

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They say everything’s bigger in Texas. Take
Alamo, for instance. (No, not the historic battle.)

Alamo Body & Paint, Inc. in San Antonio,
Texas, according to operations manager Mark Fuller, lives up to
the Texan adage: It’s big – three locations big.

Established in 1973, the business has grown
to a total of 80,500 square feet, 152 employees and moves about
1,150 cars per month (with average repair tickets of $1,300) through
its three locations.

Built specifically for housing corporate offices,
the third and newest location, which opened in April, is the smallest
of the three shops – measuring in at 22,500 square feet – and
is the only location with a second floor (which houses the offices).

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Fuller says each facility’s work flows efficiently
and that the shops do "a pretty good job on dollars for the
production space." Although the new facility has the smallest
physical paint area probably of any shop in town comparable to
its size, a recent visitor was amazed at the amount of production
that goes through that shop’s paint department (which currently
has five preppers and room for 10 cars).

What happened to the Texas adage, "Everything’s
bigger in Texas"? Why not have a larger paint department?
"Years of experience tell me I don’t need that much physical
space," Fuller says, "because, traditionally, … if
we prime a car, we park it back outside. … One person can’t
work on more than one car at a time, so why should I spend the
money for building space?"

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The Texas climate really helps with space
conservation, too. "Ten months out of the year, technicians
work outside and/or with the doors open," says Fuller. "They
can wash, dry, mask and do body work in the parking lot."
Reassembling cars outside of stalls means not tying up productive
stall space, and this regional advantage allows the shops to produce
without needing the actual building space in which to do it.

This wise use of space, however, doesn’t mean
Alamo is done expanding. Fuller says he’s looking to grow the
business again with another location in San Antonio and one in
Corpus Christi, Texas. The goal is to have five shops in the next
two years.

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Benefits of Multiple Locations

What are the benefits of having three locations?
According to Fuller, benefits include:

  • Corporate offices. Having all the information at one
    location makes it easier for him to know what’s going on – without
    having to physically be at another location or having to modem
    into all of the facilities.

  • The ability to shuffle. Alamo can shuffle work when
    one location is busy and another is not, which makes it possible
    for Alamo to handle a lot of business and keep the shops running
    the numbers they should.
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  • Employee retention and steadier workload. The business’
    size and the amount of work Alamo has year round helps to draw
    employees and eliminate seasonal slowdowns. "We don’t have
    the normal little seasonal humps and bumps that most businesses
    have," says Fuller, adding that publicity (in part from DRPs)
    is another reason business isn’t affected by the season.

  • Employee benefits. Since growing to its current size,
    Alamo has a big enough group that good health and dental care
    can be offered at a reasonable price to employees – which, again,
    helps Alamo to keep employees.
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  • Hindsight. "If you make a mistake at one location,
    you don’t make that mistake at the next one," says Fuller.
    One manager, with about a year’s experience working for Alamo,
    gets the benefit of Fuller’s 11 years of experience – and mistakes.

    "When I opened the other location, it probably did $1 million.
    This store did $4 million the first year," he says. "Experience
    can help you grow twice as fast, if not more. That’s a major plus
    with multiple locations."

    • The ability to cater more to customers. If a customer
      lives on one side of town but works on another, the car can be
      worked on at whichever location would be more convenient for the
      customer – a real plus for customer service.

    "Size has so many more benefits than it does problems,"
    Fuller says. "One of the benefits you get with our size is
    you can do the impossible in the shortest amount of time with
    the manpower and the equipment." For example, Alamo has the
    ability to stop production to fix a car with $5,000 worth of damage
    for someone who lives out of town and needs his car in three days.

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    Problems with Multiples

    The following are challenges that Fuller says go with managing
    multiple locations:

    • Workload overload. Being able to handle the work, even
      with Alamo’s size, is the biggest problem. "[Work] is out
      there," he says, "and we can only handle so much."

    • Consolidation, assimilation and communication. Consolidating
      the businesses – trying to funnel them into one – and communication
      between the three locations (such as relating problems back and
      forth from store to store) pose multiple challenges.

    • Employees. Fuller explains that employees may get disgruntled
      at one location and think they can just relocate to another location.
      "They feel like they have somewhere to go [while staying]
      within the organization," he says. "This does become
      a problem at times."

    Alamo’s Soldiers

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    To beat the rush of battered vehicles entering Alamo’s front lines
    on a daily basis, 34 body technicians and eight painters have
    been enlisted. "They’re the best there is," says Fuller
    about his outnumbered painters.

    At the new store, there are two painters to nine body men, but
    the painters manage to keep up. They have at their disposal two
    paint booths and some helpers. "They pull the trigger all
    day long," he says. "All they do is make paint and put
    it on cars."

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    Heavy industry involvement helps Alamo’s soldiers be all that
    they can be. All three shops are I-CAR Gold; employees include
    an I-CAR glass instructor and an I-CAR detail instructor; one
    of Alamo’s general managers is on the I-CAR advisory board; and
    Alamo’s owner, Wayne Baker, is on the advisory board of Texas
    State Technical College in Waco, Texas. Also, some employees are
    ASE certified, and quite of few are MACS certified to perform
    air-conditioning work, including A/C conversions and refrigerant
    recycling/reclaiming.

    Besides the more traditional employees – such as painters, preppers,
    etc. – Alamo also employs an in-house health and safety person
    who keeps up with all mandatory employee safety programs and hazardous-waste
    communication programs (he monitors Alamo’s waste, too). Fuller
    says he’s also signed Alamo up with the South Texas Safety Council
    and that he’s heavily involved with an OSHA exemption program
    and with the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission,
    which helps shops find ways to reduce their waste.

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    An outside firm helps with OSHA and EPA guidelines. "We’re
    real, real big from the top down on health and safety," says
    Fuller. "That’s just an ever-increasing problem in our business."

    Equipped for Winning

    Alamo’s operations depend on its equipment. The larger facilities
    each have two Spraybake downdraft paint booths, two Blowtherm
    downdrafts, two Spraybake prep stations, and two Chief and two
    Car-O-Liner frame machines. The new, smaller location also has
    two Spraybake downdraft booths, one Spraybake cut-in station,
    one Spraybake prep station and two frame machines – one Car-O-Liner
    and one Chief. The shops also utilize three Benwil lifts and three
    Rotary lifts, and have used ICI paint for about a year and a half.

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    Any future equipment purchases would be primarily for the new
    location. "It will need another paint booth before it needs
    anything, and it will be a Spraybake," says Fuller, who explains
    that Spraybake was instrumental in getting Alamo to install IRT
    rail systems underneath the new shop’s prep station. Fuller says
    it was "a chore" to get Baker to try, but Fuller’s glad
    it was done because the production time is phenomenal and the
    cure time is exceptional. Spraybake also got Alamo hooked up with
    a Eurovac vacuum system in two of the locations.

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    As for computerization, Fuller says it’s so important that they
    couldn’t function without it. "There are not enough people
    left here who know how to function without a computer," he
    says. "We’re that dependent on it." So dependent, in
    fact, that Alamo employees a full-time "computer nut,"
    whose basic function is to maintain the shop’s software and hardware
    and to do anything "new" Alamo needs done.

    Baker, who remains very active in his business, is also extremely
    involved with the computerization. Since opening the third location,
    he’s helped with the consolidation of all Alamo’s payables/receivables.
    (All day-to-day functions, as far as locations go, are now handled
    through the central corporate office.) This has been a major undertaking,
    according to Fuller, but has proven to be very cost beneficial.

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    Alamo’s computerized estimating systems include CCC, ADP with
    EZFocus and PhotoLink. Although Alamo used ARMS for the past 15
    to 20 years, it recently began using a new management system from
    Combined Computer Technologies (CCT). According to Fuller, Baker
    had CCT rewrite the program, which now does anything Alamo wants
    or needs it to do, such as job costing, management reports (gross
    profit and financial statements), and thank-you and follow-up
    letters. According to Fuller, it covers every aspect of the business.

    Big Populations, Bad Drivers, Big Accounts

    Alamo is always hopping. And bad drivers, Fuller says – only half
    kidding – are the reason. "It could rain for five minutes
    and there are 300 wrecks in San Antonio, if not more," he
    says.

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    With such a highly concentrated population in the Texas town,
    the San Antonio freeways haven’t yet grown to handle the volume
    of cars. For its size, Fuller says, San Antonio probably has three
    times as many cars on the road at any given time than most major
    cities. "It’s a zoo out there," he says.

    Tourism, which, of course, adds to the population problem, is
    the second largest industry in the city; military is the first.
    As a matter of fact, between the Army and Air Force, there are
    five bases in San Antonio.

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    The shop’s many military-personnel customers, however, don’t make
    up the bulk of the business; DRPs – through many major insurance
    companies – do. As a matter of fact, DRPs make up about 80 percent
    of Alamo’s business.

    To illustrate how busy Alamo is, Fuller tells a friendly story
    about competition. One Alamo location, he explains, has been operating
    for 11 years. Alamo’s largest independent competitor recently
    built a 30,000-square-foot facility less than three miles from
    that Alamo location. The competition, Fuller reports, currently
    has more business than it can handle – something that hasn’t affected
    Alamo’s traffic at all.

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    "I was beating on this guy’s door every week wanting to know
    when he was going to get the doors open to give me some relief,"
    says Fuller, not even half kidding.

    Writer Eileen Benedict is associate editor of BodyShop Business.

    Hey! Over here!

    Alamo spent a lot of money on advertising when the new facility
    opened. According to Fuller, about 2 percent of sales is budgeted
    for advertising, and the way business is now, they’ll probably
    spend $1,500 to $2,000 per month on radio advertising – "and
    that’s strictly name awareness."

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    Alamo has an ad in the Yellow Pages, but Fuller hopes this is
    the last year because he doesn’t think it’s cost effective. "We’re
    spending a fortune," he says, adding that he’s convinced
    Baker to downsize the ad.

    Other forms of advertising include billboards and sponsor programs
    with a local IHL hockey team and a local minor-league baseball
    team. Alamo can also be seen on billboards in little-league parks
    and in high school football programs.

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