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Domenico Nigro is in the ideas business.

Sure, he’s a body shop owner. He’s spent the last 20 years in the industry. And he’s very passionate about high-quality repairs.

But Nigro considers himself to be an innovator more than a shop owner.

“I’m a true entrepreneur,” says Nigro, the owner of Nigro’s Auto Body in Philadelphia. “I come up with a million ideas a minute.”

Nigro’s father opened the unassuming urban shop in 1984 after arriving in the U.S. from Florence, Italy. From the beginning, the Nigros have considered themselves innovators because their operations emulate that of progressive Italian shops. They were early adopters of waterborne paint and have been committed to high-quality metal repair without the use of fillers, for example.

Nearly 30 years after opening, the drive to stand out from the competition remains. Nigro is always coming up with new ways to generate more revenue and offer services customers can’t find anywhere else. His fresh ideas, mixed with time-tested Italian traditions, have drawn public recognition, improved his shop’s reputation, and ultimately helped bolster his bottom line.

“You have to make a memory in this business,” he says. “People get into an accident every seven years. You need thousands and thousands of customers to stay in business. And you need creative, different ideas to say, ‘Here’s what we’re doing differently.’”

Leveraging New Technology

One way Nigro has made his shop stand out is through technological innovation—most recently with three mobile applications, which he purchased and co-branded through Summit Software Solutions and AskPatty. All of the apps are available for any customer to download for free, and so far several hundred customers have done so.

ITALIAN IDEALS: Owner Domenico Nigro (second from right) and his staff still use many of the repair techniques his father brought over from Italy.

Nigro says he spent thousands of dollars co-branding the applications. The costs were well worth it, he says, because the apps help the shop attract attention and new customers. He’s even received news coverage for his efforts.

Here’s a look at the applications and what they offer to customers with smartphones:

1.) Nigro’s Auto Body Accident Assistance. This safety app helps people immediately make emergency calls if someone is in an accident. The information is pre-loaded into the phone, and lets a user call police, firefighters, and paramedics.

2.) Teenage Speedster. This is a texting app, which blocks text messages if a driver exceeds a certain speed limit. The driver gets to choose the speed. With the app activated, the user cannot send or receive text messages while driving.

3.) Mobile Tattletale. This speeding application is particularly useful for parents. It lets them know via text message if their kids are exceeding a pre-determined speed limit.

Italian Techniques

Another way the shop aims to remain unique in its market is through carrying on Italian repair methods. Four members of the shop’s staff are originally from Italy—Nigro; his father and shop founder, Aniello Nigro; technician Raffaele Mele; and painter Joseph Coulter.

They’ve all brought Italian repair techniques to the U.S. Aniello, in fact, was trained in collision repair in Florence. The main difference between repair techniques in the U.S. and Italy is that Italians don’t use body fillers, Aniello says. They repair the metal by hand, using a thin skin coat to protect it. The jobs take longer to complete; they do about 20 cars a month. And typically the work is on higher-end vehicles, which yield larger repair bills. The shop’s average repair order is roughly $4,000.

The finished product is higher in quality, Aniello says. Their work is so well regarded that they’ve done a large portion of it for the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum, a collection of racing sports cars belonging to renowned neurosurgeon Frederick Simeone.

Though the shop might take longer to perform repairs, it is still run in the most efficient way possible. In Italy, shops have long embraced lean strategies, such as using portable repair stations for MIG and spot welders, so technicians don’t have to move much while doing their jobs, Nigro says. His shop was committed to lean before it became an industry buzzword. The shop embraces the roots of lean: adding value while reducing waste. Key-to-key times are not the focus and customers will gladly wait knowing their vehicles are properly repaired.   

“We don’t cut corners,” says Nigro, whose shop does not participate in any direct repair programs (DRPs) because of the constraints they place on shops. “We guarantee our work forever. It’s what we like to do.”

Aniello says he takes pride in all that the shop does, whether steeped in traditions or emerging from the new technology it uses.

Ultimately, coming up with novel ideas or doing high-quality work serves the customer better, he says.

“When you treat people well and do what you have to do, the customer comes back,” Aniello says.

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