How They Did It
The Idea: Build a Foundation with OEM Certifications
When Tony Lake opened the Exclusive Auto Collision doors in Ramsey, N.J., 15 years ago, he wasn’t just entering a new profession—he was seeking to upend the traditional industry model.
At the time, he says very few collision repair shops had the time or funds for OEM certifications. An insurance appraiser for years, Lake recognized the potential appeal certifications could hold to insurers and the public, and decided to build a brand that stood out from the pack.
“I could see there weren’t a lot of guys driving toward the education side of fixing these sophisticated cars,” Lake says. “Nobody in New Jersey was taking advantage of those programs. So I saw it as a great opportunity for a business model.”
1. Build a Foundation
Back when OEM certifications were a new concept, there was no formal model around which Lake could build his business. Thus, he surveyed his limited options and made initial investments.
At the time, Lake says Mercedes and Audi were the only prominent OEMs pushing for certifications. He immediately invested in both.
With knowledge of OEM equipment and training costs, he could better navigate newly established certification programs from Volkswagen, Porsche and Cadillac. That understanding has continued through today with his certifications for Honda, Volvo, Acura and Hyundai.
2. Recognize the Value
To this day, there remains a resistance to OEM certifications from shop owners, Lake says.
Why? Well, as Lake’s initial $150,000 investment in a Mercedes certification signals, it requires some serious investment—which, 15 years ago, made ensuring profitability all the more crucial.
Knowing normal labor rates wouldn’t justify the hefty training fee, Lake implemented specialty rates that grew with damage severity. He rose rates even higher for luxury brands.
3. Sell the Value
And with such high rates, Mitchell concentrated his negotiations, advertising and leadership on selling his unique, high-end business model.
“I thought they would see this guy who fixes these high-end cars,” Lake says. “‘He has the equipment and training. That’s where we’ll have to send these types of cars to get them fixed properly.’”
Today, Lake’s $5 million business lives and breathes off its original idea. On luxury models, such as Maserati, Ferrari and Lamborghini, Lake’s labor rate is a minimum of $75 for basic repairs and $225 for heavy structural damage, which accounts for the shop’s $4,166 average repair order.
“When I started, I was trying to get this industry to wake up and see that the old way of doing business is not the way to do it anymore,” he says. “And I keep planning on doing that.”
SHOP STATS: Exclusive Auto Collision LOCATION: RAMSEY, N.J. Size: 10,000 square Staff Size: 13 Average monthly Car Count: 100 Annual Revenue: $5 million