Giving Back Through Industry Education
Jose Reveles was a senior in high school in 1981 when he caught his first glimpse of the collision repair industry through a career exploration class. He enjoyed working on cars and picked up some repair fundamentals through the course, but he couldn’t visualize how the trade could make him a living until an unfortunate weekend a year later.
That’s when the first-generation immigrant, who has lived in Oxnard, Calif., since arriving in the U.S. from Mexico as a child, was involved in three accidents in three vehicles during one weekend. He was on the receiving end of a hit-and-run in his car and another hit-and-run in his brother’s car before he sideswiped a vehicle while driving his parent’s car and waving at a girl, he says.
When the repair estimate came in at $10,000, Reveles realized there was money to be made in collision repair. Though the vehicles were insured, Reveles convinced his parents to keep the insurance money and let him repair the cars himself. After some junkyard scavenging and a few days spent using the skills he learned in high school, he fixed the cars for around $1,500, impressing his family and friends in the process.
“Those three accidents really opened my eyes and I saw the potential of repairing cars as a business,” Reveles says.
Fast-forward 30 years and Reveles is the owner of Commercial Auto Body, an 18,000-square-foot shop in Oxnard that generates nearly $2 million in annual revenue and repairs about 85 cars a month. The shop has nine full-time employees. Throughout the school year there are some younger faces in the mix, too—high school students Reveles teaches through a Regional Occupational Program (ROP).
Dozens of students have learned the collision repair trade from Reveles since the early 1990s. Recently, he’s added an after-school high school program, as well. His outreach is pure volunteer work, but he says it has helped his shop build a strong reputation in the community. It’s his way of helping advance the industry and the lives of young people in situations similar to his.
“Some kids, like myself, might not have the money to go to a university,” he says. “I think it’s a really good investment and it’s a good thing to do. It’ll pay for itself when you walk into places and you see kids you mentored. When they say ‘thank you,’ there’s no better reward.”
At the time of the accidents, Reveles was going to college to become a dental assistant, another career he’d explored in high school. But when he didn’t have the financial resources to pay for books, equipment and tuition, he seized the opportunity to take a serious shot at starting his own auto repair business.
Reveles enrolled in an entrepreneurship academy through the U.S. Department of Labor, where he learned the basics of launching a business. That knowledge, coupled with the discipline and organizational skills he learned during his stint in dental assisting school, helped him create a vision and set goals for his body shop.
With $300 and a crude set of hand tools, Reveles opened a one-car 750-square-foot shop that was little more than a shed. He started fixing cars for friends and family. Over time, he grew his customer base. He worked every day, often until the early morning hours. For paint, he rented a spray booth at a nearby shop.
After six months of steady work, Reveles had earned enough money to move his operation to a nearby 1,500-square-foot space with its own paint booth. By the end of its first year of business, his little body shop had generated $35,000. Year after year, the growth continued.
“When I started, I was next to the largest body shop in the county,” Reveles says. “They thought the odds were bad for me, but now I’m the largest in the area.”
Today he’s teaching students how to do the same thing, with these keys to success:
Customer care. Reveles says honesty and courtesy are at the heart of his business. He’s willing to invest in customers where many of his competitors will not, offering payment plans when insurance won’t cover a repair, for example.
He’s careful about who he gives credit to, but if it’s clear someone is in a tight spot, they’re employed and they’ll make the payments, he usually doesn’t bat an eye at lending a hand.
“There’s more benefits than losses,” he says. “If I weigh the amount of success, the losses are very minimal.”
Marketing to his community. Oxnard has a large Spanish-speaking population and nearly all of Commercial Auto Body’s customers are Hispanic, Reveles says. His primary marketing method is buying spots on Spanish-speaking radio channels, and he’s kept his radio ads consistent for years. Up next, he says, are TV commercials.
Planning and goal setting. From the very beginning, Reveles put all of his business plans and goals on paper and stuck to them. That’s a practice he’s continued. In his sights now: He wants yearly revenue to hit $3 million in the next two years. He expects to be a two-shop operation by then. In fact, he’s already purchased the second building.
Commitment to the Future
Reveles began accepting high school students involved in the ROP in 1993 after developing a relationship with one of the instructors. Students in the program spend a semester or longer at his shop, shadowing employees, learning different aspects of the business and doing some hands-on work. Many end up working in collision repair and some, such as senior body tech Edgar Cordoba, stay on as full-time employees at Commercial Auto Body.
Cordoba, now 26, started interning at the shop in 2000.
“I didn’t know anything at all [about collision repair], but I liked it,” he says. “It helped me a lot. I wouldn’t be here if I wouldn’t have started through the internship.”
Today Cordoba is the one teaching interns. And though having high school students in the shop for most of the year might seem like a burden, Cordoba says teaching the next generation is engrained in the culture of Commercial Auto Body.
“They’re going to be the future of the auto industry,” he says.
Plus, Reveles says teaching youth is good for business. The community recognizes his efforts. Many of his customers are the parents, relatives and friends of students. He also has nearly two decades of plaques in his lobby—which is designed after the posh dentist waiting areas he saw back in school—promoting his involvement with the ROP.
A couple of years ago, two officers from the Oxnard Police Department approached Reveles with plans for a new after-school program for teens interested in automotive careers.
The program, called DRAGG (Drag Racing Against Gangs and Graffiti) introduces students to a variety of performance-oriented segments of the auto industry and provides scholarships toward auto careers. The aim is to keep at-risk youth off the streets and out of trouble.
Commercial Auto Body has hosted a variety of workshops for students in the program. The shop also painted the program’s promotional 2006 Mustang drag car.
Daniel Shrubb, a senior officer with the Oxnard Police Department and co-founder of DRAGG, says Commercial Auto Body repairs all of the department’s squad cars. And with the shop’s emphasis on education, bringing DRAGG to Commercial Auto Body was a clear fit.
“Jose’s heart is there and he wants nothing less than the best for the kids around him,” Shrubb says.
Reveles says that the program, along with his ROP involvement, helps him remember the roots of his success. “I identify myself as one of them, and I had a dream like they do,” he says. “Now that I am living the life, why not tell them what it took to get me here?”