A Lifelong Student of the Industry
Shop Name: Redwood City Auto Body Inc. Location: Redwood City, Calif. Owner: Alex Kuang Staff Breakdown: 5 employees Shop Size: 10,000 square feet (main building), 7,500 square feet (aluminum and body work building) Number of Lifts: 2 Monthly Car Count: 20 now, 60 (pre-COVID) Average Repair Order: $6,500 (pre-COVID) Annual Revenue: $1.7 million, ($3.5 million pre-COVID)
In the heart of Silicon Valley sits Redwood City Auto Body, an immigrant-owned collision repair shop that prides itself on doing everything by the book, even when a pandemic comes crashing through its doors.
Alex Kuang, owner of Redwood City Auto Body, says that prior to the pandemic there was rarely a quiet moment on his shop floor in Redwood City, Calif. Now, with half his previous car volume, and a far smaller staff, he says he’s trying to stay positive and plan for a brighter future.
Kuang’s passion for learning, which can border on an obsession, has guided him through life. He says his goal is to become a consultant for the collision industry in order to share everything that he has learned.
Here’s what he’s learned so far.
Blazing New Territory
When he was 10 years old, Kuang and his parents emigrated from China to San Francisco, which he affectionately refers to as his hometown.
Kuang’s mother worked as a seamstress and his father as a chef, but Kuang says by the time he was 11, he knew he was “a car guy.”
“I would see nice cars driving down the road, and I fell in love with them,” he says.
Kuang says he entered the industry at 16 years old, working as a part-time helper, only because he couldn’t get hired on full time until he turned 18.
He quickly climbed the ranks, selling paint supplies for one of Axalta’s brands, Spies Hecker, then becoming a paint technician at Golden Express Auto Body in San Francisco, all the while saving up for his own shop.
On Jan. 1, 2010, Kuang, now 43, opened the doors of Redwood City Auto Body, making one of his life dreams come true.
Quick Shop Look
Redwood City Auto Body functions out of two buildings on the same property and has certifications to work on vehicles from Ford, Honda, Subaru, Jeep, Nissan, General Motors, and more.
The first facility Kuang purchased spans 10,000-square-feet and houses the business’s main office, estimating, painting, and detailing bays. The second, a 7,500-square-foot building that he bought in 2014, is where aluminum and body work take place.
Kuang says his only uses parts provided by the original equipment manufacturers.
“Then there’s no chance of voiding a customer’s vehicle warranty,” he says.
Redwood City Auto Body prides itself on its perfect five-star Yelp rating (based on more than 280 reviews), its 4.7 stars on Google Reviews, and a 4.8 on CarWise.
Kuang says he attributes the shop’s success to his greatest asset, his staff. Each of his technicians goes through I-CAR training, Kuang says, to maintain the shop’s I-CAR Gold status and 15 OEM certifications.
When it comes to repair procedures, Kuang’s love of learning shines. He says he spends hours per day pulling each of them himself and highlighting the proper procedures for his staff to follow. He says one of his greatest strengths is researching, and when he pulls repair procedures, he knows he is saving his techs time and giving them the most accurate information.
Hitting Hard Times
Kuang says his shop used to be one of the busiest in the neighborhood, but as of March 2020, the city went quiet, and his car count dropped by more than half.
“When I was busy, I worried about getting the cars out,” he says. “Now, ‘How do I get the cars in?’”
Early on in the pandemic, Kuang says he prided himself on keeping all of his staff. They kept busy cleaning the shop and remodeling, “utilizing the time [they] had to make improvements.”
Even though business was slow, Kuang says he paid his staffers their usual wages to build loyalty and to show them how much they meant to him.
“The guys could see what I was doing for them,” he says. “They know I hung on until the last second.”
In September, Kuang had to cut more than half of his staff, including front office employees, parts people, estimate writers, and body techs. A shop that once brought in more than $3.5 million annually turned a profit of $1.7 million in 2020.
A Lifelong Student
Even with slower business, Kuang, a self-proclaimed workaholic, puts in 12-hour workdays, which he notes is four hours fewer than when he was on DRPs.
During business hours he says he helps customers navigate the insurance process, answers phone calls, and oversees the shop.
At night is when he says the real work happens—free of interruptions. With a meticulous process and an eye for detail, Kuang spends almost every night researching repair procedures and staying on top of industry trends.
“I research the vehicles, craft repair plans, and run the books,” he says.
As soon as a vehicle is dropped off at his shop, he says, “I research whatever it takes to bring it back to pre-loss condition.”
Kuang says what sets him apart from his competition is his dedication to doing everything 100 percent by the book, including advanced driver-assistance calibrations.
Whether it takes a few hours, or a few days, Kuang consults each repair manual in order to get the most accurate and timely information to his technicians. In fact, he even put out ads centered around just that.
After his car count suffered last year, Kuang says he began running advertisements on Chinese-language radio stations telling customers that his shop could find “what others missed,” because of his unwavering commitment to OEM repair procedures.
Looking to the Future
Running a successful repair shop has been one of Kuang’s goals for as long as he can remember, and he doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.
With COVID vaccinations picking up, Kuang says he hopes the market and his shop will rebound soon. Should that happen, he says the first thing he’s going to do is call each of his former staff members and welcome them back with open arms.
Beyond his shop back getting on its feet, he says his ultimate dream is to be a consultant for the collision industry, “like Mike Anderson,” the owner of Collision Advice, passing on everything he’s learned through his rigorous research.
Another of Kuang’s role models is the owner of European Motor Car Works, Kye Yeung. Kuang says during the pandemic, he and Yeung, beyond discussing business, started sharing recipes with each other as a way of mourning their shared love going out to eat.
Kuang currently serves as chapter president of the California Auto Body Association, which he says allows him to network with other shop owners and make connections in the industry. He says he’s already had a chance to start educating others, hosting Zoom interviews and fielding audience questions as best he can.
“What we do is very challenging,” he says. “We are always facing something new every day, and my goal is to support all shop owners.”