FenderBender Award Runner Up: David Caulfield
California Pizza Kitchen comes up as David Caulfield describes some of the thinking behind the design of his body shop.
“People were amazed they got to see the pizza being made,” he says of the successful restaurant chain and its open kitchens.
When it comes to Caulfield’s shop, Fix Auto Anaheim North, which brings in $4.8 million per year, similar thinking is at play in the shop’s design, where glass walls allow customers to see onto the shop floor.
“Auto body, to a certain extent, is entertainment,” he says. “People are fascinated with the reconstruction of something.”
So is Caulfield, a 2021 FenderBender Award runner-up.
A self-described painter by trade, Caulfield entered the collision repair industry in the mid-’70s and by 1988 had opened his first shop, shortly thereafter becoming Fix Auto Network’s third franchisee.
“I always wanted to be a shop owner and have my own shop—I craved it,” he says. “It was just the fascination with it and the passion, and taking something broken and fixing it, always focused on the task and not the money. I knew the money would come.”
“I just think he brings a different taste; I just don’t think there’s anybody out there who thinks or operates like him.” Jim Huard, owner of Painters Collision Centers, on David Caulfield
In a wide-ranging conversation with Caulfield, California Pizza Kitchen is just one of the many non-collision repair-lated businesses that comes up. He name-checks Best Buy for its use of department-specific customer service reps; Apple for the way it rolls out products; a fast food restaurant for its segmented service.
“I’m fascinated with Wendy’s,” he says, describing how he learned after a trip through the burger joint’s drive-thru lane that the person who took his order was working thousands of miles away, a division of work he describes as separating the customer experience from the plant.
Segmentation is vital, he says, because “you can go right to the problem and address it and not involve everyone.”
Fix Auto Anaheim North, which Caulfield opened in 2018, is split between a specialized collision repair center and an express collision center.
He says it’s segmented between heavy and light work, with the aim of boosting efficiency for each type of job by separating those that are time-consuming from those that are not.
“If you have a vehicle that has structural damage or the need for a welded panel, an extraordinary amount of mechanical work that needs to be done on the car, it’s going to tie up the smaller repair that takes zero to three days to fix,” he says, noting that roughly 85 out of 100 collisions don’t result in structural damage.
“It’s no different than going through a drive-thru craving a hamburger,” he says, “but the person in front of you ordered a Thanksgiving dinner.”
Caulfield’s division of work has resulted in the majority of his 25,000-square-foot shop being devoted to those structural and welded panel high-severity repairs, which have an ARO of $5,600 and a cycle time of 12.9 days.
The remaining 4,500 square feet of the shop are devoted to low-severity repairs, which have an ARO of $2,200 and a cycle time of 4.6 days.
Quality is Perception
When not drawing inspiration from outside the industry, Caulfield is likely trying to spread information within it. The urge to do so goes back to his early experiences as a shop owner.
“I used to go to other body shops and ask questions and they didn’t want to share,” he says. “I decided I would share my experiences so I could help [other operators], and maybe some day they’ll help me back.”
By the late-’90s, Caulfield says the industry had changed as those within it started “seeing there was a benefit in being introduced to new ways and not being boxed-in in their business.”
Building on that sharing economy, Caulfield has created a number of what he calls “inventions,” software and web-based applications that can help improve processes and efficiency, manage quality, and share shops’ KPIs.
“David is a very high-level innovator,” says Jim Huard, owner of Painters Collision Centers, an Arizona startup, who has worked alongside Caulfield in collision repair and says he considers him a close friend.
Huard says Caulfield is driven to improve the industry, doing it in a distinctive way, with fun and humor.
“I just think he brings a different taste, I just don’t think there’s anybody out there who thinks or operates like him,” Huard says.
When it comes to Caulfield’s shop, Fix Auto Anaheim North, Huard says it’s gorgeous, “one of the most modernized body shops I’ve ever seen.”
He even brings it back to food, noting Fix Auto Anaheim North’s cleanliness.
“Dave’s facility?” Huard says. “You could literally eat off the floor.”
Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Caulfield says his shop employed a full-time housekeeping crew. “All they do is clean, morning to night.”
Caulfield says that added level of sanitary assurance played out as a post-COVID spike in sales, simply because people felt safe at his facility.
Perception is an important part of a customer’s experience, reminds Caulfield, who says he would have liked to become an interior or exterior designer had he not caught the collision repair bug.
“Quality is not about the weld all the time,” he says. “Quality goes as far as what the customer’s perception of quality is.”
It’s through that lens, perhaps, that Caulfield sees a possible future idea—Huard refers to it as a boutique-style body shop.
“I envision one day that there’s no reason that collision repair and a dining experience couldn’t be put together,” says Caulfield.
It’s hard not to wonder: Why not?