Growing up in Flushing, Queens, N.Y., Jahid Habasi was engrossed in the automotive field. His father was a mechanic who wound up opening up his own body shop. But, once he retired, Habasi had to venture off on his own and find his own path.
In 2007, Habasi entered the pharmacy program at St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkhill, N.Y.
“I did it to make my parents happy, to let them know that I’m book smart as well as street smart,” says Habasi.
While he was in college, Habasi looked for a job. And like two magnets destined to snap together, he found himself working in a collision repair shop.
“I started working with Ted [Lambert] here at Crystal Clear Collision, and he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” says Habasi. “He said, ‘It’s either going to be you pursuing your master’s degree or you taking on the role of management here.’”
At a Glance
Location: Port Chester, N.Y.
Square Footage: 5,000
Owner: Ted Lambert
Repair Volume/No. of Cars Per Month: 100
Average Repair Cost: $3,000 per job
No. of Employees: 7 total: 2 frame/ bodymen, 2 painters, 2 assembly/disassembly, 1 detailer
Crystal Clear Collision is an auto body repair facility in Port Chester, N.Y., nestled right on the New York and Connecticut border. It has been family owned and operated for more than 37 years. Many of its customers are based in the affluent town of Greenwich, Conn.
Habasi graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas College in 2011 and is now entrenched in his own form of “grad school.”
“This is my grad school,” jokes Habasi, referring to working at Crystal Clear. “It’s been a very fun ride, I love cars and, believe it or not, the pay is even better than being a pharmacist.”
“The satisfaction I get having every car get out of here at 100 percent and seeing customers satisfied is just a different feeling, rather than pushing pills all day. I really enjoy what I do. I have friends that are still pursuing a pharmaceutical career and don’t have jobs.”
“It’s been a really nice three or four years since I’ve been working here. I’ve learned a lot. From what Ted said, I came in here ‘wet behind the ears,’ but they’re not so ‘wet’ anymore.”
Habasi and Crystal Clear aren’t worried when they hear about all the negative feedback the body shop industry receives as a whole. That’s due to their small size, surprisingly enough.
“A lot of the shops around here have very high-end clientele, and when they end up taking their cars into huge-facility body shops, cars end up getting lost, parts aren’t ordered, and for a small period, you end up losing your car for two weeks,” explains Habasi.
The edge, Habasi says, is in Crystal Clear’s ability to know what’s going on at all times.
Behind the Bays
Scheduling System: CCC ONE
Estimating System: CCC ONE/ CCC ONE TOUCH
Prep Station: CMC
Computerized Measuring System: Chief
Straightening System: Chassis Liner
Paint: Spies Hecker
“At our shop, it’s only 5,000 square feet and we know exactly what’s going on. When customers see the right body shop being run the right way, I think we’re able to change their minds. I’ve been here almost four years now, and we’ve never had any of that kind of feedback. We have a one-on-one personal relationship with each one of our customers. I know our customers are very satisfied with the auto body industry as far as they know us.”
Because of Crystal Clear’s customer-first mentality and overall customer loyalty, Habasi says he has no fear of mega-consolidators.
“All of our customers are educated, and that’s what I like about it, they all know how steering goes,” he says. “Our customers are very loyal, and they’ve been coming here for such a long time, they know our work.”
“The customers in this area like to see you go the extra mile. We do a lot for our customers, anything from picking up or dropping off their vehicles, free car washes, you name it. Customer service here is our priority along with our quality of work.”
Aluminum has been the topic of conversation in many a shop over the past year, and Crystal Clear has made it a point to embrace the change. As an OEM-certified shop for both Mercedes-Benz and BMW, the Port Chester shop is now also aluminum-certified for both brands. When asked his advice to shops looking to dip their toes into aluminum, Habasi says it’s all about being clean, thorough and precise.
“With aluminum, it’s a bit hard to tell where kinks are and everything else, especially with the frame route, so you have to always set your car up on the frame machine,” he explains. “It’s just about being precise, keeping your shop clean, not cross-contaminating, being accurate and keeping your guys educated.”
Habasi explains how Crystal Clear’s repair philosophy and methods are a mix of personal experience and OE recommendations.
“As far as the owner goes, he’s been in the business for almost 40 years and has had a lot of experience and wisdom in the field,” he says. “It’s a mix of both, but obviously the OE way has to be taken into consideration first.”
“We have implemented the lean mode of operation in our business. We thrive on our highly skilled and seasoned workers, the ever-changing tools and technology and finally our process. Our process is like a ‘conveyor belt’ here, as one of our techs says, and it’s one of our keys to success.”
Habasi calls the shop’s process a “conveyor belt” because as soon as the car gets towed or driven in, it goes through the production line like clockwork The same protocol is followed for each car. Techs who disassemble a vehicle will also assemble the same vehicle. Every A, B and C technician follows through on their own repairs until the job is done, mostly because Habasi is a firm believer in, “Too many chefs in the kitchen will spoil the broth.” A techs normally get the “train wrecks,” and C techs get the small “scratch and dent” repairs. Habasi personally follows through on each job and tracks each step, but they’re also tracked on a board that everyone can see as well.
Being a smaller shop, Habasi explains how word-of-mouth is their No. 1 method when it comes to marketing.
“We have accounts with dealers, and they supply about 50 to 60 percent of our workflow here,” he said. “When I came here about three or four years ago, I put the shop website up, making it myself. I created a Facebook page, and I’m thinking about opening up an Instagram account as well. Ted and I are like a one-man group, basically running everything here between the two of us.”
For shops struggling to find insurance work, Habasi offers a simple solution: Keep the quality of your work and services up.
“Word-of-mouth gets around,” he explains. “If supervisors from insurance companies are looking for DRP shops, they’ll know whether you’re a good shop or a bad shop. If you keep your standards up, they’ll come after you.”
Another step in keeping your shops top notch is keeping up with technology and training.
“I just became I-CAR Platinum. It’s always good to stay up with whichever area you’re in,” says Habasi.
When current owner Ted Lambert retires in a few years, Jahid will step in to take his place. When asked if he’s apprehensive about the promotion, Habasi said no.
“I’m so excited, you have no idea! I can’t wait, it’s always been my dream to be a shop owner, even as a kid, believe it or not.”
At 28 years old, Habasi understands there is a huge gap in age between him and the typical body shop owner or manager. He sees that difference rear its ugly head when it comes to technology.
“Unfortunately for them, the times are changing and calling for more technology, from Web presence on the Internet/social media to using the CCC One mobile app on a tablet to write estimates.”
Habasi counts himself as more environmentally conscious than some of the older guard as well.
“As part of the future generation of shop owners, I look forward to making the work environment a healthier one and going ‘greener,’” he says.
Habasi is also dedicated to educating clientele about the repairs and why it’s important to have them done properly rather than just shopping around for the cheapest price.
As far as reaching out to his fellow millenials, Habasi knows that marketing is key.
“Branding and marketing is big amongst millennials, and since I want to be the go-to shop for premium service in my area, I need to pursue that.”