How to Guide a Shop Through Tragedy
Marvic Vila had no experience in collision repair. None. When it came to driving her own vehicle, she could not tell you what a certain light on the dashboard meant or how to change a tire. A nurse-turned-real estate agent, Vila served as her husband. Ademir’s, go-to advisor. So, when he came to her with a proposal to open a second location of his shop, Fix Auto San Francisco-South of the Market, she told him, “If you believe in it, you should do it.”
In 2015, Ademir signed on to be a part of the Fix Auto Brand, with Vila helping him with permits for his second facility.
Three years later, however, life was forever altered when Ademir suddenly passed in 2018. Vila was left with the decision to either leave the collision repair industry behind or tackle managing a business with which she had no previous experience.
Everyone, from her family to her husband’s employees, was urging her to give up on the dream. How could she succeed when she knew nothing about the job?
But Vila was determined—to great success. In 2019, Vila’s accomplishments were recognized when she received the Fix Auto Vision Award. She now runs a $2.5 million business comprising two, successful collision repair shop locations.
“My husband’s dreams and visions lived on through me,” she says. “We had become one when he passed away.”
Throughout the two years, Vila conquered challenges in staffing the facility and learning the ins and outs of a new industry by turning for help from her trusted advisor.
When Vila first entered her husband’s body shop, she felt like no one was on her side. The staff had loyalty to Ademir.
Vila took over the management of the body shop with one advisor by her side: her husband’s accountant and trusted colleague, Albert Ho. He worked with Vila’s husband since 1999 and had over 35 years of experience in the collision repair industry.
He says the growth of the shop was very slow for the first year as Vila learned how to manage the team.
“The team had doubts about me and whether I could do the job—and, honestly, they should have,” Vila says.
She recognized that her team viewed her as an outsider. Vila says it’s important that she reminded the staff that, while she didn’t have any collision repair experience, in particular, she had management experience in her previous real estate role, where she managed a team of 13 people.
In order to establish trust and build a team, Vila was frank with them. She told them either they could get on board and follow her or they could leave.
“Work with me or work yourself out,” Vila recalls saying.
Five employees did leave—but not because of a lack of confidence in Vila’s outcome. Ho says they left because the positions they wanted were not open at the Fix Auto shop.
In order to replace the staff defections, Vila took out her husband’s cell phone and began making calls to every single body shop connection he had listed among his contacts, eventually building a team of 15 vetted by her and Ho.
Tackling Leftover Obstacles
To take on a whole new business, Vila essentially stayed at the body shop from around 7 a.m. to midnight., working long hours to be there in person in case a team member needed her.
At the time she took it over, the shop’s average monthly car count was about 30 cars at both locations. The Daly City location was only producing about $40,000 in annual revenue and the San Francisco location produced roughly $120,000.
Turning that around was simply part of her natural hands-on, can-do attitude. When Vila first entered the industry she spent hours taking I-CAR classes and had her new team of employees complete the classes, too. These days, Vila has completed I-CAR training and brought the two body shops to I-CAR Gold Class status.
Three months after taking over, Vila formed more DRPs, which helped boost business.
After putting in the work at the beginning, Vila no longer works 14-hour days but delegates some of the responsibility to her body shop manager at the San Francisco location and Ho, who works at Daly City.
She also hires I-CAR instructors to come in on the weekends for extra classes, in an effort to keep the team up to date on processes, like welding and frame repairs.
Vila spends the majority of her day writing estimates. When she started, Ho spent time teaching her the basics of writing an estimate. To better learn the process, she would follow the steps the CCC program advised and make sure to walk around and assess every single car’s damage when it came to the body shop. Now, she schedules estimates in the morning and spends the afternoon working on inputting data and documents from the repairs into the shop’s management system.
On the weekends, Vila tackles the shop’s accounting.
The fledgling shop owner maintains an open-door policy and has no qualms about dropping everything to answer a technician’s question.
“I want my team to be able to come to me with questions,” she notes.
Vila strives to alleviate stress on her employees and help wherever she can in the body shop, but an assistant helps keep her appointments on track and on time.
Planning for the Future
Ho distinctly remembers when he realized Vila’s potential.
“You’re going to be running a $10 million facility,” he says he told her.
At the time, Vila says she thought that number was crazy. Yet, as of 2020, Vila operates two locations with an annual revenue of $2.5 million.
In the wake of her husband’s passing, Vila says she was lucky if the shop was repairing even 10 vehicles a month. Since restructuring the way the business is run, the team works on roughly 2-4 drop-offs per day and estimates for about 6 DRPs per day, Ho says.
A significant portion of repairs came to the facilities once the shop was a part of the Fix Auto program for DRPs. Villa says that, in order to maintain a healthy stream of repairs in the future, she has to stay on top of trends in the industry, like calibrations of ADAS features in vehicles.
The team at the Fix Auto locations currently performs pre- and post-repair scans of every vehicle.
She emphasizes that, as an owner, she has to remain aware of how subletting calibrations plays a role into the shop’s overall cycle time.
Despite some bumps in the road, Vila remains competitive in the industry. In fact, she’s looking to expand the shop in the next couple of years.