How I Work » Gary Gardella
Gary Gardella is co-owner and production manager at County Line Auto Body in Howell, N.J. The shop has a campus of eight buildings, a staff of 32, and generates $4.7 million a year in revenue from 50 to 70 vehicle repairs per week. Gardella says the family-run shop’s goal is to build a reputation for high-quality work and sharp business thinking.
We’re a high-production shop, so there’s a lot to do each day. We’re very competitive, and we impress a lot of people when we talk about what we do. We have a small campus for our shop; we have eight buildings, a total of 35,000 to 40,000 square feet on 30 acres. Each building is dedicated to different departments, like teardown and reassembly, body and paint, and detailing.
We’re building a new 10,000 square-foot-shop so that we can consolidate. Right now we move cars five or six times a day, and while a car is here it probably runs 15 to 20 miles. We have to work really hard to make things run right. The new shop will be run with lean processes, like thorough teardowns, and we’ll be more efficient. We’ll keep the other buildings, but mainly for storage.
—Gary Gardella, co-owner and production manager, County Line Auto Body
Me, my brother and my father run the shop. My father started the business more than 30 years ago with a two-bay garage. It expanded from a chicken coop into this major operation. He never expected the business to be as large as it is today.
We do 90 percent collision repair work, but we are expanding to include more mechanical work. We’ve always done some, but we’re going to do more. We’re in an area that’s big for collision repair and the auto business; we’re about 15 minutes from the Jersey Shore, an hour north of Philadelphia and an hour south of New York.
My vision is that I want people to see us and what we do, and say, ‘That’s a class-act operation.”
Everything gets done in the morning. I pretty much knock out e-mails as soon as I get up, at around 4 a.m. or 4:30 a.m. That’s when I also work on our advertising; we have an ad agency that does all our design work. So in the morning I often send them e-mails about coupons, fliers and our website. We’re also working on menu boards for our waiting room, just like restaurants have menus hung up for people to order. Our customers will be able to see our services on menus. We want people to see what we have to offer.
I’m a serious runner, so every day by 5:30 a.m. or 6 a.m., I’m out running. I do mud races and obstacle races. In December I did a 24-hour race, and placed 15th in the nation. I try to do about four, maybe five races a year, depending on how my body holds up.
I usually get to work between 7 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. The best part of the day is the morning. It’s pretty quiet around the shop, and the managers actually get a chance to talk. We meet in the morning to make a game plan for the day. We look at the finish list and who needs to assemble what cars. And we identify trouble cars or emergency cars.
I’m the production manager, my brother is the office manager, and my father handles the paint department and any other fires that need to be put out. Sometimes he’ll even paint cars; he’s more hands-on than my brother and me. I deal with the technicians, teardowns and parts delivery, while my brother writes estimates as well as deals with DRPs and customers.
I’m 33 now, and I’ve been working here since I was 18. I did a very short stint in college, but I’ve always worked on cars. My brother got a teaching degree. We both decided to help out our father.
It’s really hard to work together sometimes. We’re all still a close family. My mom’s here pretty often, hanging around, sometimes helping.
We take work seriously. When we’re here, we’re at work. The collision business takes a lot of time. Nobody sits back with their feet up. There are no absentee owners. Most collision business owners are not hanging out at the beach and knowing their place is running perfectly. Maybe in the future it will be that way.
Things change nonstop throughout the day. There are always challenges, like with insurance companies wanting faster cycle times. But I have really good relationships with our technicians. Most of our guys have been here 10 years or longer. We’re really tight; we’re like family. We don’t need to crack the whip, but we do make sure production is moving and cars are filtering through the shop.
What’s good is that while we’re a high-volume shop, we give serious thought to high-quality work. At one point we felt we were getting too big to do high-quality work. From 2002 to 2006, we had 40 employees and 30 techs. We cut way back in 2009, to 25 employees and 20 technicians. And it wasn’t because of the economy, either; it was because it was too difficult to manage that many techs. We get these crazy snowstorms in the middle of the winter, and with so many buildings, it was a lot to manage.
We’re definitely happy with what we have here. We’re improving our shop, but we’re not necessarily trying to make it bigger.
My father’s a hardcore businessman, and during the time he’s grown this business, he never used to openly share information. But in the last five years, me, him and my brother said, “OK, let’s change our philosophy.” We want to attract the best technicians, and there are a lot of great techs in this area. So we give everybody a tour, and tell them about our campus, our new building and our goals. We figure the more open we are, the more people are going to know and talk about us. I probably give 10 tours a week, to everyone from customers to parts deliverers. My brother gives a lot of tours, too.
It’s not like the job was just handed down to me. I’ve come up with ideas that work, and ideas that don’t work. I’ve been working here since I was a teenager.
I was also a professional racer for about 10 years. I was so busy running around managing the body shop and also answering questions and working on the racing stuff. But I finally decided to sell my business, Gardella Racing. I said, “I’m ready to take that energy over to the collision business.” My family was like, “Thank God.” It was a huge weight off my shoulders, too.
Nowadays when I’m not working, I spend a lot of time with my wife and two daughters, making up for missed time for all those weekends I was gone traveling. My daughters are 2 and 4. We go to the beach a lot. That’s our favorite activity. I surf, and then together we make a lot of sand castles.
My wife plays a huge role in the business as well. She proofreads everything I write, like the fliers, website information and other materials. No matter how great a designer you have, there are always mistakes that are made.
I’ve got a really awesome wife. My brother’s wife is awesome, too; we’ve got a great family here. I’m not saying everything’s perfect. But it’s really nice to spend more time with the family.
And it’s a cool area we live in. There are no high-end Lamborghinis that come through our shop. But we have four seasons and live close to the beach. And our business is becoming what we hope it will be—a leader in our area.
We’re definitely heading in the right direction.