What started as a one-person local business in the late 1980s will celebrate a milestone anniversary in February. Zara’s Collision Center, based in Springfield, Ill., will mark 25 years of operation Feb. 9.
Zara’s Collision Center was established on Feb. 9, 1987 as Zara’s Auto Body when owner Brad Zara was 23. Before starting his own shop, Brad’s experience amounted to two years of auto body at what is now the Capital Area Career Center and at another local body shop where he worked in high school and stayed on as a full-time technician after graduation. After six years learning all aspects of the repair process, estimating and some management experience, he went out on his own.
Zara’s Auto Body began in an empty building that Brad equipped and furnished while building a customer base. As a one-man show, Brad would sell the job, order and receive parts and material, perform the repair and refinish operations, clean the finished vehicle, do the billing, collect payments and pay the bills. Many times, he would need to drive to pick up payments from insurance companies and then drive to the parts and material vendors to pay them.
By the end of the first year, four technicians had been hired. Then in September of 1988, Zara’s moved into a building that had already been an auto body shop vacated when the previous owner relocated. Although the facility offered better exposure and a non-residential neighborhood setting, it was not much larger than the original location. The second shop was soon outgrown. Property was purchased to build a new facility at Zara’s current location.
In business only a few years, it was tough to persuade a bank to finance a state-of-the-art collision repair shop, Zara’s says. With the help of his wife Julie’s brother-in-law, Bill Peterman, their CPA and owner of Money Concepts Financial Centre, a business plan was developed that secured financing. Construction of the new facility was completed in December 1991 and the name officially changed to Zara’s Collision Center.
The second property remained in operation as Zara’s staff grew from eight to 24 employees over the next four years while sales tripled. In the spring of 1994, an addition was added to the third shop, which allowed for the second property to be sold and those employees to move. Another building addition occurred in 1995, and a mechanic was added to the staff, allowing for virtually every facet of collision repair to be handled internally for greater control and predictability of the total repair process.
In 2004, Julie Zara joined the business as co-owner and marketing coordinator after a long teaching career. Also that same year, Zara’s Collision Center received the Small Business of the Year Award from the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce. In 2005, Zara’s was honored with the CSI Complete Clearly Elite Award as the top collision repair business in North America.
In addition to Zara’s contribution to the Springfield community as a successful business entity, the establishment of their Benevolence Program soon became a significant charitable activity, the company says. December of 2011 was the 13th year that Zara’s has purchased at least one vehicle, restored it to pristine condition, and then donated the vehicle to an individual or organization in need. Over the course of 13 years, Zara’s has given away 20 refurbished vehicles.
Zara’s says it is also known for its imaginative billboards in the Springfield community, for which it is common for the public to ask when the next billboard concept will be appearing.
Zara’s is reognized, too, for the long-term service of its staff and I-CAR and ASE certified technicians. So far in 2012, Zara’s customer satisfaction rating is 98.3 percent as reported by the CSI Complete survey firm.