The 2017 FenderBender Awards: Richard Romero
General Manager / Dan’s Paint and Body / Tucson, Ariz.
Richard Romero packed up his belongings, handed over his keys and grabbed his final paycheck as he walked out the door of the Tucson, Ariz., dealership.
Fifteen minutes later, he walked into Dan’s Paint and Body.
While that might seem like a normal job switch, this was quite the move for Romero, who, up to this point 10 years ago, had spent his entire career at dealerships. From sweeping floors at age 15, to becoming parts manager for a Mazda dealership at 19, to taking over as director of fixed operations at a Nissan dealership, Romero knew nothing about the independent side of collision repair.
But, then again, he did know Dan Hunsaker, the owner of the Tucson body shop. And the prospect of working for him made the career move easy for Romero.
“I felt like I worked for the godfather of body shops,” Romero says. “I knew that if I was going to try something different, he would give me the opportunity to fail, and have the knowledge to correct the ship if we went a little off course.”
In other words, as Romero says: “You’ve got to gamble.”
And that quote really does sum up what made Romero a stand-out choice for the 2017 FenderBender Award. From day one, his goal has been to shatter the traditional industry model and bring the lessons he learned from his years of dealership training into the independent side. Forget the adversarial relationship with insurance companies; who cares if dealerships are seen as the competition—both parties, in Romero’s eyes, could help Dan’s Paint and Body grow.
“Dan, like most body shop owners, remembers the good ole days. There were rules that everybody followed,” Romero says. “[Dan and I] were able to meet in the middle. My goal coming in was to increase the business, so I went out and really concentrated the first year on building relationships.”
Those relationships? Right off the bat, Romero wanted to mend the insurance partnerships Dan’s Paint and Body had lost, and establish deals with area dealerships that didn’t have collision repair centers. Those were two areas where Romero, with no background on the independent side, felt completely comfortable going—and, as the years have worn on, his ideas haven’t stopped.
“I’m not from this industry, and I have nothing to fall back on,” he says. “So why not try something new out? We’re a very progressive company and I think that’s why we’re succeeding.”
If you need proof of that success, look no further than the growth Dan’s Paint and Body has experienced over the past 10 years, increasing revenue from just south of $4 million to $6.2 million in 2016—and in 2017, the shop is on track to increase that by another $1 million.
And while Romero still remains the shop’s general manager, Hunsaker is also now a consultant, meaning Romero has run day-to-day operations for the past few years. So, that dramatic increase in revenue is largely thanks to the ideas he brought over from the fixed operations side, which culminated with a 19,000-square-foot satellite location that not only handles the business’s multiple dealership partnerships, but also performs aluminum repairs and houses one of the few Tesla-certified repair centers in the state.
But the progression has been a steady climb to the heights Dan’s Paint and Body has reached today. Taking lessons out of his own playbook crafted in the dealership world, Romero put a business that had no advertising budget in front of the community, partnering with marketing agents and communicating with the public through direct mail. He implemented smaller changes, like free car washes and customer service training, which gradually cemented the shop as a staple in the community. The goodwill created through customer service training began to bleed into every aspect of Dan’s.
Romero gave the same level of attention to insurance companies, which were an essential component of his day to day for years. Romero wanted to craft a shop culture where insurance companies weren’t adversaries, but business partners.
“We have two DRPs ... and we’re profitable with both,” he says. “It’s about seeing where they’re coming from and being as profitable as possible. It’s not personal. It’s just business.”
In his very first year as manager, Romero was able to double the shop’s business from State Farm—today, Dan’s receives $2.2 million from them alone.
And by utilizing his past contacts, Romero was able to build the shop’s dealership partnerships over the years, resulting in the additional facility that brings in $95,000 in sales per month. With OEM certifications in Tesla, Honda, Nissan and Chrysler, Dan’s Paint and Body is a standout partner in the community, bringing in all kinds of business it would have missed out on without Romero’s influence.
“We built those relationships, telling everyone, ‘If you call us, we’ll respond right away,’” Romero says. “It’s all about being top of mind. Other collision centers are only getting 10 percent of work they should be getting. You’ve got to gamble.”