Where Family Values Meet Competitive Drive
Shop: Custom Craft Auto Collision Inc. Owner: Robert and Andrew Gallegos Location: Santa Fe, NM. Staff Size: 20 Shop Size: 17,000 square feet Average Monthly Car Count: 115-140 Annual Revenue: $5 million
For 31 years, Custom Craft Auto Collision has been one of the most important parts of Robert Gallegos’s life.
“This is how we pay the bills,” says the father of five. But building a business from scratch required a lot of hours spent outside the home.
“When they were growing up, I missed a lot,” Robert says of his children. “Most kids grow up and then they’re gone,” he says. “But mine, they grew up and they’re here.”
Three of Robert’s five children work alongside him at the Sante Fe, N.M., shop, which he co-owns with his brother, Andrew.
Alyssa Branch, Robert’s oldest, helps run the performance shop down the street. His youngest, Calista Gallegos, who the staff affectionately refers to as “Boss Lady,” works as an estimator; middle child, Miranda Gallegos currently works at the reception desk and “wants to be a doctor someday,” her father says proudly.
That’s not even the extent of the family ties at Custom Craft, bearing out why the staff is so tight knit and why the shop is valued in the city of 85,000 people. Robert and Andrew’s mother, Lilly, is the shop’s accounting manager. Mary, Robert’s wife, is the office manager.
“You can see it in the reviews,” says Andrew. “We are a family serving our community.”
The $5 million-per-year Custom Craft Auto Collision has fostered a unique workplace culture that not only allows it to produce high-quality repairs, but also weather the storms that have come its way.
Custom Craft’s Custom Layout
Nothing is done by accident at Custom Craft—it’s all done to benefit customers and employees, says Andrew.
“Our technicians are our most important asset,” he says, noting that’s why everything in the shop is meticulously set up for their benefit.
Custom Craft, which used to be housed in three separate locations, now operates out of a single 17,000-square-foot facility, home to top-of-the-line equipment and ingenious organization.
“When other people build shops, you see where the money went: the office, the paint booth, and so on,” says Robert. “Here, we put money into everything.”
The shop has 18 lifts and 24-foot ceilings, with suspended LED lights that are adjustable to each technician's height. Andrew says if techs don’t need to bend over to see a part, that’s a benefit to the company, since their health is important.
One of the shop’s unique features is its airborne parts storage, which is only accessible by elevator.
“The technicians bring their carts in the elevator, load up the tools, and then bring them down so there’s no heavy lifting of bumpers or anything like that,” says Andrew. The parts elevator is large enough to store up to eight parts carts at a time, helping to make repair times significantly shorter.
Efficiency is baked into every other aspect of the shop. There is a sliding track system running throughout the shop floor that moves each car along in the repair process, eliminating the time-consuming process of juggling vehicles for technicians.
Workplace and Culture
However, the brothers note, the facility isn’t just for technicians—it’s for all Custom Craft employees and the company as a whole. That’s why there’s a kitchen with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, a laundry room, and even contactless bathrooms, which Andrew points out were installed before the pandemic.
Treating employees with respect and showing them compassion, though, goes deeper than stocking the office. That’s why the brothers say they celebrate each and every one of their employees every chance they get—especially when it comes to birthdays.
“We have birthdays down,” says Robert. “We get a cake, both shops come together to eat, and the birthday person gets a cake in the face.”
And what’s cake without singing?
“A lot of our employees are older and nobody sings to them anymore,” says Andrew. “But that’s how we were brought up, we take everything personally.”
When the coronavirus began to spread across the U.S. in early 2020, the Gallegos brothers, like many, say they were concerned for the health and safety of their community. They wasted little time setting up precautionary measures and implementing safety procedures for their employees and customers.
Each of Custom Craft’s employees wears a mask throughout the day and frequently visits the numerous sanitizing stations set up throughout the shop. Staff members also disinfect each vehicle upon its entrance into the shop and apply sterile covers to the vehicle's steering wheel and seat cushions. Additionally, the tablets used by employees are wiped down between each use.
While they were concerned about the health of others, the brothers say they never feared for their business.
“We did slow down,” Andrew admits. “We went from [scheduling] a month and a half out to just a week out.” a welcomed change of pace for customers.
“No one wants to wait a month and a half to get their cars fixed,” says Andrew.
That change of pace did mean entering into uncharted territory for the shop.
“We were used to having the parking lot full and seeing our schedules booked out,” Robert says. “For the last eight years, we’ve run with a month backlog … [the change] wasn’t bad, but it got us out of our comfort zone.”
Whereas many businesses across the country feared having to cut staff size due to the pandemic, the Gallegos brothers said it never crossed their minds.
“We didn’t fear laying off employees because the work was there,” says Andrew. “We are not a DRP with any insurance company, so our business is all referral.”
Custom Craft’s hot rod restoration shop, Custom Craft Performance and Styling, actually saw an increase in business during the early months of the pandemic.
“A lot of people who do have the money that haven’t been affected by [the virus], they’re bored at home and want a toy to play with,” says Andrew. “They don’t ask questions, they just want it done.”
An issue that Custom Craft did encounter, which has been a struggle throughout the industry during the pandemic, was hiring.
“Our newest hire was about four months ago … and it was trying,” says Andrew.
Per tradition, any new hire at the shop goes through training, onboarding, and most importantly, learning how things go. That process was made more difficult because of high stress levels and social distancing because of the pandemic. However, Andrew says in time the new hire fit right in, getting to know other staffers, sharing a few laughs, and becoming part of the shop’s culture.