53,000 square feet, includes body shop, truck repair, RV repair,
office space and NAPA Auto Parts store
Number of Employees:
Approximately 200 cars and light trucks per month
Average Repair Ticket:
$1,300 to $1,400 for cars and light trucks
That’s the name of the street in Yuba City,
Calif., where Dick Sanchez’s body shop is located. One look down
the street, however, makes you wonder why it hasn’t been renamed
"Dick Sanchez Boulevard."
As you turn off Garden Highway onto Wilbur,
it becomes evident that Sanchez is a successful businessman. On
the right is Sanchez’s A-Plus RV, a new- and used-RV dealership;
directly behind that business is his NAPA Auto Parts store; and
further up the street, attached to a two-story office building,
is one-half of Dick’s Body Shop, where paint, body and detail
work are done. (The body shop is the only NAPA AutoCare Collision
Center within 50 miles.) Located at the end of the street, which
ends in a circle, is Sanchez Truck Repair in a two-story office
building. Across the street is the other half of Dick’s Body Shop,
where frame and sheet-metal work and front-end alignments are
done. Working back toward Garden Highway, the next building is
A-Plus Service, Parts and Repair, where Sanchez repairs RVs.
In total, Sanchez has more than 53,000 square
feet of shop, store and office space spread over 12 acres – a
total that doesn’t include the commercial buildings he owns, which
are across the street from the A-Plus sales lot.
And if that’s not enough to convince you that
he "owns" the street, you should know that Sanchez actually
put most of the road in himself, including the underground infrastructure.
Obviously, things are going well for Sanchez,
but that certainly wasn’t always the case.
From Broke to In Business
When Sanchez graduated from high school in
Yuba City, he and a friend were ready to chase the "American
Dream" – or at least a decent paying job. When they heard
that Douglas Aircraft in Los Angeles was hiring, they decided
to mix adventure with practicality and hitchhiked there.
"I was 18 and too young to know any better,"
says Sanchez. "We were so broke we had to rent at a boarding
house on credit, the credit being the check we would receive on
our first pay day."
Having earned his first check from Douglas,
he would never be broke again. In fact, he started working on
cars on the side, which gave him a little extra spending money
and a chance to do something he liked to do.
In 1958, Uncle Sam called, and Sanchez reported
for duty at Fort Ord in Monterey, Calif. After boot camp, he was
stationed at Fort Sill, Okla., where he continued his car-repair
moonlighting. It was here that his "American Dream"
started to get bigger, even though the shop floor was made of
dirt and a small electric fan was the exhaust system for his homemade
paint booth. But as he saw it, his body work was the most redeeming
experience he had in the Army.
After the service, Sanchez took a job as a
body man in a Sacramento body shop. In 1960, wth this experience,
he decided to make his dream a reality by opening his own shop.
"I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but it sounded
like a good idea at the time," says Sanchez. "The business
was basic; I sanded by hand. In fact, I did everything by hand.
When I look back, I do wonder how I did what I did."
There’s no doubt that his beginnings were humble, but it didn’t
matter to Sanchez. He was doing what he wanted to do. "My
customers appreciated what I did for them," he says. "It
doesn’t get any better than that."
No Secret to Success
Obviously, Sanchez’s business has grown at a phenomenal pace over
the years. When asked what his "secret of success" is,
he gets very serious and downplays his success. "I don’t
think there are any secrets," he says. "It’s just a
matter of hard work, determination and commitment. There never
was a time when I turned a customer away because he or she was
too demanding. We treat the customer as ‘king,’ and everything
else just falls in place."
The key to treating customers like kings is in "reading"
the customer correctly – a point that Sanchez says is often misunderstood
if just taken at face value. "Each customer is unique, and
each job is unique," he says. "Not everybody wants or
needs the type of finish that would be used on a ’98 Lexus. Just
as some cars are more expensive, so are some finishes. This doesn’t
mean we compromise the quality or the service, we just figure
out what level each customer wants. For example, if a single mother
comes in here on a fixed income and wants her car refinished,
we find a way to do it that works for her and for us."
Another thing customers want these days are modern, clean waiting
rooms and restrooms, and according to Sanchez, it isn’t even a
dirty business on the shop side these days. "Anyone who stops
in is curious of where they’re getting their car repaired."
he says. "If the place looks like a dump, they figure it
probably is. The way I figure it, a professional-looking business
just keeps you even. The rest is up to how well you can communicate
the advantages of your shop."
As a matter of fact, Sanchez uses the condition of his business
– out front and in the shop – as a sales tool. He personally takes
customers on tours of the entire shop so they can see, first hand,
the care that his workers take on each individual car, truck or
RV. "Most people don’t have a clue as to how we do this work,"
says Sanchez. "A tour personalizes the work because they
visualize their car in here and then the next logical step – they
visualize it after it’s been repaired."
Upon completion of a job, an employee runs through a final check
of the vehicle to be assured all repairs have been completed and
all lights and accessories are working properly. The office staff
then advises the customer of the warranty and provides each customer
with a postage-paid evaluation card when the vehicle is picked up.
An Equal Opportunity Competitor
Sanchez is what you might call an equal opportunity competitor.
As mentioned earlier, Sanchez owns two large commercial buildings
alongside his auto and truck businesses – in which he rents out
space to a number of business, including three auto mechanic shops.
And he sees this as more of a help than a hindrance to his business.
"Although 25 percent of my overall business is mechanical
repair, it’s associated with the collision repair business,"
says Sanchez. "I’m not looking to do a lot of mechanical
repair outside of the collision repair, except for some of my
long-time customers who won’t let anybody else work on their cars
– I just can’t say no to them.
"Taken as a whole, renting space to these shops actually
helps drive my NAPA store business. They buy from me because it’s
convenient, and we can supply their needs better than anyone else.
If there’s competition, it’s more between the three of them, rather
than between them and me. This wasn’t done by design, but it seems
to work for everybody. Their shops have followings just as we
do. It’s a great arrangement."
Another benefit of running the NAPA Auto Parts store is that Sanchez
is his own best customer. "How can I go wrong selling quality
products to myself? If there ever was an ideal setup, I’ve stumbled
upon it," he says.
To help stay on top of the business, Sanchez gets new-product
demonstrations from his NAPA/Martin-Senour rep, who also keeps
him up to date on any price increases; Sanchez is prone to buying
large quantities before a price increase, which, in effect, saves
him a lot of money.
Also key to his productivity and profitability is the Color Dominator,
NAPA/Martin-Senour’s color spectrophotometer. "I don’t know
how I ever got along without it," he claims. "We used
to do a lot of sprayouts searching for that blendable color match,
which, of course, was an imperfect and time-consuming method.
Now we push a button and, in under a minute, the Dominator gives
us the right formula."
Other pieces of equipment that aid his body shop business are
two Chief EZ Liner frame racks, a Dataliner laser measuring device,
two Quadraft downdraft spraybooths, two DeVilbiss jamming booths
and a Chief Genesis electronic measuring system.
In addition to having the equipment needed to stay productive
and profitable, Sanchez has five insurance companies for which
his body shop provides direct repair. And though he has this insurance
business from which to draw, he still advertises heavily on radio,
television, newspaper and at local athletic events. "There
are no guarantees in this business of when the next customer will
come through the door," he says. "As everyone knows,
the best form of advertising is the work you do that other people
see; but not everybody gets to see it, so we think it’s a worthwhile
investment to advertise as often as we can."
Sanchez admits that it can be challenging to work with insurance
companies, however, he says the real key is to work with the individual
adjusters. "I’ve never thrown an adjuster out of my office,"
he says. "One on one, we can work out any difference of opinion."
All in the Family
Both of Sanchez’s children grew up in the business. It was a fun
place to be as children since there was always so much happening,
but the longer they were involved, the more it seemed like work.
So after they both went to college, they were determined not to
be in the family business. Sanchez’s son, Rich, earned his C.P.A.
and went to work for a fertilizer firm, and his daughter, Debra
DeWitt, went to work as a welfare case worker. But within a few
years, both came back to work with their dad: Rich manages the
NAPA Auto Parts store, and Debra is the corporation’s office manger.
"It was important for them to establish their independence
and work for someone else," says Sanchez. "They learned
to appreciate just how well they had it here and, after giving
it a great deal of thought, they decided they actually liked the
work they had grown up doing."
Of course, Sanchez was happy to see his children get back into
the business. "It’s all going to be theirs someday,"
he says, "so the better they can run it now, the better they
will run it later."
In addition to his two children, Sanchez has 48 employees. He
has several 20-plus-year employees, but he hasn’t yet found what
he would consider the best incentive plan. Having tried many different
plans, it seems to just come down to treating his employees as
"It’s a family-owned business, and the people who work for
me are an extension of my own family," says Sanchez. "Overall,
it seems to be the little things that matter the most to them."
For example, Sanchez has a company limousine that he uses for
employee special occasions, such as weddings and birthdays. "It
makes them feel special, and I think they really appreciate it,"
Being part of the family also means taking a serious attitude
about the job. All of Sanchez’s employees attend seminars regularly
and the body men are I-CAR Gold and/or ASE certified. Painters
also attend a week of training in Reno on a regular basis.
Sanchez also takes industry involvement for himself seriously.
He is a member of ASE and the California Auto Body Association
and has been an auto body instructor at a local community college.
Moreover, he has sponsored I-CAR Gold training at his shop.
His Road of Success
So what kind of encore is there for Sanchez? New-car dealerships?
Quick-lube franchises? A racing team?
Being more humble than that, he just wants the opportunity to
earn the business of the next customer who walks through the door.
And, if and when he decides to add yet another business to his
résumé, he’ll also need to add a new street – Wilbur
Avenue is full.