By Jason Stahl
The sharks were swimming when I pulled into the parking
lot of Pallotta Ford Lincoln in Wooster, Ohio. They could smell bleeding oil, and no doubt they
heard me clunking down the road from a mile away. So I was not surprised when
they descended upon me the moment I walked in the door.
I introduced myself to the first two gentlemen I saw and
told them I was looking for Dan Gilbride, the body shop manager.
"Need a car?" they asked.
"Why yes I do," I replied. "My ’02 Pontiac
Bonneville just hit 160,000 miles and is ready to fall apart. But there’s one
problem: I also need the money to buy a new car."
I’ve never seen anyone disappear so fast.
Done It All
Gilbride himself wasn’t looking to sell me a car. He
was there to give me a tour of the body shop, only a little ways down the road
from a Nagy’s Collision Centers location where I spent time working last month.
Gilbride has done just about everything there is to do in
the collision repair industry. He has been a porter, a technician, a shop
owner, a vo-tech teacher and now a shop manager. He is a 1987 graduate of the Medina
County Career Center. What does all that mean? He’s sharp as a tack when it
comes to estimating and is rarely taken advantage of. He knows what can and can’t
be done when it comes to restoring a vehicle to its pre-accident condition.
"I like educating insurance adjusters on collision
repair," he says, mentioning that they still fight him on a $1 tire
disposal fee mandated by the State of Ohio.
He also likes the new waterborne product his shop
transitioned to last October. The oldest painter on staff initially balked at
the prospect of switching, but now, Gilbride says, "He loves it."
This painter is fondly referred to around the shop as the "Inventor of the Quad Coat" and "Holder of the Secret to the White Pearl." Body
shop humor, of course.
Gillbride installed an air movement system to facilitate the
waterborne drying process, but admits production is down a little in summer
"because we can’t chase the humidity out." Waterborne covers better
than solvent, though, he says.
"I’m glad we made the switch so that when the EPA
comes calling, we’ll be compliant," Gilbride says.
At a Glance
Name: The Collision Center at Pallotta Ford Lincoln
President: Mike Pallotta
Manager: Dan Gilbride
Established: 1998 (expanded 2004)
2010 Gross Sales: $1 million plus
Square Footage: 11,000
No. of Employees: 7
No. of DRPs: 6
Repair Volume/No. of Cars Per Month: 70
Being a dealer, I would have thought Gilbride would be
selling mostly OE parts. But he said that’s not necessarily the case. "I tell customers they have to have an OE policy to
get OE parts," he says.
One nice thing about being a dealer is the occasional bonus workload that comes in like when an ice storm damaged many cars in the lot and amounted to $25,000 worth of work for the body shop.
Gilbride and I talked about the potential labor crisis
that awaits the industry once the Baby Boomers retire. He’s doing all he can to
turn young kids on to the industry, including hosting two apprentices placed
through the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
"It’s a big investment," Gilbride says.
"They require 1,200 clock hours of training in addition to everything
Dealers and Body Shops
I met the big man himself, owner Mike Pallotta, and we
talked about trends relating to dealerships and body shops. Some time ago, I
was told by an industry expert that most dealerships were opting out of having
a body shop because they couldn’t make it profitable.
"Dealers weren’t committed to the body shop,"
said Pallotta, who obviously has committed after adding on to the shop to make
it 11,000 total square feet. I agree with him people have told me that
dealers generally treated the body shop as an afterthought, shoved in the back
Now, I’m hearing it’s trending back because of weak new
car sales. But for dealers to be sold on getting back into collision repair,
they have to be sold on a new model of doing business that will result in a
decent profit. They definitely do not want to do things the "old