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Room to Grow

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Name: American Auto Body

Location: Akron, Ohio

Owner: Joe and Rocky Piscazzi

Established: 1976

Square Footage: 20,000

Number of Employees: 10

Repair Volume: 60 cars per month

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Rocky Piscazzi recently learned that relocating to a new body
shop can trigger Murphy’s Law of moving – everything costs more
than expected.

"Even though I’ve learned that [relocating and] renovating
a building can be expensive, I also know it’s well worth the cost,"
says Piscazzi, president of American Auto Body in Akron, Ohio.
"Within two years, we plan to double our staff and our production
volume."

Piscazzi and his 10 employees moved into their new 20,000-square-foot
"home" last July. The new facility is more than three-times
larger than their previous 6,000-square-foot shop, which was located
alongside a nearby Honda dealership.

According to Piscazzi, the new shop’s size has given them the
necessary space to upgrade their technology and to streamline
their production area to keep up with the increased workload.
"The best part about our new shop is that there’s still room
to grow," he says. "We’re no longer limited by the constraints
we faced at our smaller location."

Decisions, Desicions

American’s current shop was converted from a vacant Ohio Bell
building, which included office space and a 68-by-200-foot storage
garage for utility trucks. The garage, it turned out, offered
the perfect amount of space for a center-aisle design in the shop’s
new production area.

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Piscazzi decided on this center-aisle design after exploring several
layout options with the engineers from the Collision Repair Design
Service (CRDS) from Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes Corp.
The primary design concern was to allow "growing" room
for future equipment, and the center-aisle design addressed this
concern because it could be easily reconfigured.

Once the design decision was made, both Piscazzi and his general
manager, Dennis McIntosh, agreed they wanted their new shop to
be a high-tech facility for two reasons: so they could treat customers
with respect by delivering the highest quality repair and so they
could treat employees with respect by providing a good working
environment (This philosophy seems to be working. The shop’s employee
turnover rate is low compared to other shops, and Piscazzi hasn’t
had trouble attracting experienced workers – the shop’s bodymen
each have more than 20 years industry experience).

With the high-tech decision in place, the shop’s body repair area
was renovated to house 10 to 12 bays with the use of Car-O-Liner
and Kansas Jack frame machines and a Kansas Jack Power Point floor
pulling system. The area also has separate rooms for mechanical
work and spare-parts storage to keep the main area clean.

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Piscazzi also installed a new Sherwin-Williams computerized paint-mixing
system that can save as much as $7 per pint by allowing the painters
to easily calculate formulas for small amounts. In the past, the
shop’s painters would shy away from manually calculating these
formulas because it was time consuming. "For touch-up areas,
most painters would mix a pint of paint because it was easier,
even if they only needed a half-pint for the spot job," says
Piscazzi. Now, Piscazzi says, painters only mix the amount of
paint they really need, saving the shop money in materials.

The rest of the paint shop includes a curtained-off downdraft
paint prep station, an Accudraft downdraft heated spraybooth and
up to 10 bays for final painting prep. Piscazzi also decided to
install radiant heat rather than forced air because he felt that
radiant heat was more efficient for shops that have doors open
often.

As for the door-opening system itself, Piscazzi made it as efficient
as possible by installing in the driveway a new sensor system
that opens the large bays. Similar to systems that dealerships
use, the sensors automatically open the door when a car is ready.

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It’s not just new equipment that Piscazzi decided to invest in.
He also took advantage of services available to help his shop
run more efficiently, such as Sherwin-Williams A-Plus membership
program – which provides shops with numerous business-development
tools. In addition to the marketing materials the shop received
upon joining the program, Piscazzi and McIntosh were intrigued
by the program’s financial management ideas.

"Too many shops in the industry don’t pay attention to their
real costs," says McIntosh. "They think if there’s money
left in the checkbook at the end of the month, they made a profit.
We want to know our business more accurately."

For this reason, Piscazzi is taking computer classes. The shop
currently uses a single Mitchell workstation to run its management/estimating
system, but in the future, Piscazzi would like to add four to
five networked workstations throughout the shop.

Meeting New Neighbors

Completing their design and installing the shop’s new equipment
was only the beginning of getting settled into the new neighborhood.
Piscazzi and McIntosh knew that, in order to fill their larger
shop to capacity, the most important step would be to meet their
new "neighbors," such as local insurance representatives
and potential customers.

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To accomplish this, Piscazzi spends as many as three days a week
on the road, selling his services and the quality of his shop
to insurance representatives and potential dealer and fleet accounts.

"Working with insurance companies in DRP arrangements is
the wave of the future, and shops have to do their best to work
within this structure," says Piscazzi, adding that he hopes
these calls, combined with quality work, will build a trust factor
between his shop and the insurance companies. American does have
one advantage here: McIntosh used to work as an insurance-claims
adjuster.

The shop also strives to maintain close relationships with area
dealerships. American is a preferred shop for three Akron dealerships:
Rick Case Honda, Dave Walters BMW and Cascade Motors (which sells
Porsche, Audi, Mazda and Oldsmobile).

"Since our shop used to be affiliated with a dealership,
we understand their needs and know how to cater to unique demands,
such as pick up and delivery or fast turnaround for priority customers
who want to drive the car off the lot the same day they buy,"
says Piscazzi.

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To help sell his services to dealerships and insurance companies,
Piscazzi hands out a brochure that tells about the shop’s quality
track record and commitment to new technology. A similar brochure
is given to customers who walk in for estimates. The brochure
highlights the criteria the shop met to be selected as a member
of Sherwin-Williams A-PLUS program. Along with the brochure, customers
receive information about the lifetime guarantee on the paint
products and the shop’s own lifetime warranty.

"A lot of shops won’t talk about warranties to customers,"
says McIntosh. "We feel, however, that it’s important for
our customers to know that we take pride in and stand behind our
work."

Marketing the Quality

Despite all the marketing resources he uses, Piscazzi still believes
satisfied customers and their recommendations are the best type
of advertising.

This same kind of customer satisfaction is what originally earned
American Autobody its well-known reputation for doing custom restoration
work. It wasn’t until years – and many satisfied customers – later
that American evolved into a collision-repair shop.

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"When you do restorations, you really have to look at the
car as if it were a fine piece of jewelry," says Piscazzi.
"This is the epitome of perfection."

"We approach collision-repair work the same way. We believe
if you can tell a car has been worked on, it’s not done right."

Tip of the Trade:

To help sell his shop to dealerships and insurance companies,
Piscazzi hands out a brochure that tells about the shop’s quality
track record and commitment to new technology. A similar brochure
is given to customers who walk in for estimates. Along with the
brochure, customers also receive information about the lifetime
guarantee on the paint products and the shop’s own lifetime warranty.

Tradition and Testarossas

A commitment to maintaining good relationships with insurance
companies and dealerships has always been a part of American Auto
Body’s philosophy, which was developed by Piscazzi’s father, Joe,
who started the shop in 1976. That first year of business, Joe
worked as a preferred shop for Progressive Insurance – long before
the term "preferred" became such an industry buzzword.

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These days, however, Joe is officially retired and says that golf
is his main business – but he still enjoys stopping by the shop.
It’s obvious to visitors who meet Joe that he’s had a lot of fun
during his 30 years in the business – especially when he tells
stories about how he got his start.

In the beginning, Joe did custom restoration jobs for wealthy
customers, such as fashion designer Ralph Lauren, who once shipped
two Ferraris (valued at more than $1 million) from New York to
Akron. One of the cars, a 1958 Ferrari Testarossa, took nine months
to restore for a total of $68,000.

Even though Joe was trained as a civil engineer, his success with
custom work convinced him to go into the collision-repair business.
He bought an existing body shop and claims that his first month
of business was a "real eye opener" because he learned
there was a lot more to running a shop than he expected. It was
then he learned the value of working closely with the insurance
industry and dealerships. These relationships, he says, can give
shops a steady stream of work, but more importantly, the opportunity
to bring these customers back by doing quality work.

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