In recent years, Tesla has become an ubiquitous presence in both the automotive industry and the media at large. With the launch of its more affordable Model 3, the prevalence of these electric vehicles is increasing. Four years ago, this wasn’t the case. But that didn’t stop Tom Kniesel, owner of the six-location Kniesel’s Collision in California from recognizing the business it would bring to his shop and going after a Tesla certification. Kniesel’s Rocklin location is Sacramento’s only Tesla-certified shop, which has helped differentiate the shop from its competition and bring in a growing customer base.
Tesla isn’t the MSO’s only certification. The family-owned-and-operated operation puts safe, quality repairs above all else, which means using the correct equipment and receiving the necessary training. Certifications are important for shops to compete, but not every certification is right for each shop. Kniesel and director of operations Lance Bartczak give a behind-the-scenes look at the decision-making process behind OEM certifications.
Why is investing in OEM certifications so important to Kniesels?
Tom Kniesel: Cars are getting more and more technical. You’ve got things like electric steering, anti-lock brakes and airbags that you didn’t have to worry about before. All of these advancements put the customer at risk if the vehicle is not repaired 100 percent. Since we opened in 1968, we’ve had a strong family background that’s more important to us than anything. Some of the vehicles and systems out there, there’s no way you’ll be able to repair it if you don’t have the necessary technical background. I’m not putting a family into a vehicle that’s not repaired right.
Lance Bartczak: Speaking from experience—I’ve worked for some other MSOs—Kniesel’s dedicates a lot of time and money on making sure its equipment is up to date and keeping their staff trained so it can keep its customers safe.
How do you decide what certifications or training you’ll go after?
LB: Tommy, Robert [Robert Kniesel, co-owner] and I will get together and decide what makes the most sense. Some of the certifications out there just don’t make sense for us. Some, you just pay money and they’ll send a plaque. We’re not interested in those. We’re interested in the ones that will actually provide us the knowledge that we need to make the correct repairs. Like Tesla for instance. They require hands-on training and are much more thorough. We’ve got a niche in family and customer service, so investing in Tesla and making a big investment made sense because it fit out business model.
TK: We make the decisions based on knowing what comes through the doors of our shop. Lamborghini or Ferrari for instance, we see maybe one per year so we won’t be spending a ton of money on equipment or training for this type of vehicle.
You mentioned Tesla. Why was this certification so important for you to go after?
TK: Tesla is very particular about their shops. They have a unique philosophy and don’t want huge MSOs working on their cars. This was one of our biggest investments that we made, but now we’ve got the market cornered in our area.
If Tesla is particular about the shops they select, how did you get through?
TK: This was four years back and back then there were only a couple of people that were in charge of Tesla’s repair processes. One of my vendors introduced me to one of those gentleman and right away, we both knew it would be a great fit. We had what they were looking for. Our commitment to quality repairs and my hands-on involvement were a perfect match.
What was the certification process like?
TK: I went through the three-week training. You weld for five days and then if you pass, you move along to the structural repair class. You have to pass both classes to move along to the mechanical repair class, which is about a week long. I fixed the first handful of Tesla cars that we saw. Tesla appreciated the personal contact with the owner that I provided. Once I was finished with training, I had a guy lined up right away that I sent through the course and then I sent the rest through. We have four guys certified at our Rockland facility. I would say 90 percent of the work that they do is on Teslas.
LB: It’s important to choose the right people. Those vehicles require someone who is detail oriented. It won’t be a good fit if you send someone that’s just looking to turn a bunch of hours.
You mentioned that certification for Tesla is one of the biggest investments that you’ve made. How did you decide that it would be worth the investment?
TK: The investment with Tesla is ongoing. The initial investment, if you started out with nothing—we already had some approved equipment—is in the $150,000–$200,000 range. Whenever they come out with new tools they’ll send them to you. For example, if they decide that you need two battery stands at your shop that cost $4,000 a piece, you’ll get a delivery with an $8,000 bill attached. It’s not a one-time payment. They want to make sure that you’re staying up to date. It’s a lot to swallow. If I didn’t think I would get enough cars, we wouldn’t have done it.
LB: It’s all about value. Is there value to us? To our customers? We’re looking for deals that will give our techs the training they need to provide our customers with the confidence that they need. Customers know a lot about their vehicles now. Information is everywhere. If we’re not providing them with the level of training that they think we should have, they’ll go somewhere else.
Have you seen an ROI yet?
TK: We’ve been certified for four years and the amount of work that we’ve seen for Tesla has been consistent. I would say on a daily basis we have about 10 vehicles coming or going. It’s been a really good, busy account. It’s a big investment up front but these are high-dollar repairs. You’re talking about $100,000 super cars here, which means that parts are going to cost more and the ARO will be higher. That’s something to think about, too. It would be a huge investment for a cheaper car.
LB: I would say that on an average car, we have an ARO of $2,400. A Tesla would be about double that.
TK: Right now, there aren’t enough shops to repair these cars, so we get a lot of work. A lot of shops that are certified are three months out scheduling repairs. I know Tesla is trying to get more shop certified but it’s a huge process.
What advice would you give to a shop owner that’s considering becoming Tesla certified?
LB: Like we mentioned before, there has to be value to the shop and to the customer. When we’re making decisions on a certification, we also make sure that we’ll see an ROI. We had the opportunity to be a part of the Audi program, but we decided to put it on hold. It was a $100,000 investment and right now, we only see a few cars per month because of the demographics in our area. We make the decision on certifications on a location by location basis. Before deciding, we ask ourselves if it’s worth it but we also look at whether or not our competitors have it. Tesla was so great because nobody else in our area had it.
How do you stay on top of the trends in the industry and how do those impact your training and certification decisions?
TK: I do a lot of networking. I’m a very good listener. I go to events like SEMA and listen to what people in the industry are saying. I’m very hands on, so it’s important to me that are shops are well equipped. We’re better equipped than any shop in Sacramento. Whenever something comes out as a requirement for a repair, chances are I already have that piece of equipment or tool because I pay attention to what’s out there. I don’t have to go out an order it.