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The Millennial Shop Owner’s Vision for Collision Repair

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The Millennial Shop Owner’s Vision for Collision Repair
Millennial shop owners detail the progressive strategies that will separate them from the pack in the new year.

STATS: FULL TILT AUTO BODY Location: Easthampton, Mass. Employees: 13 Average Monthly Car Count: 60 Annual Revenue: $1.9 million

Standing Out From the Crowd

by Noura Elmanssy, Melissa Steinken

 

One brother worked in a body shop as a painter at the age of 18; the other brother was a special education teacher.

Separately? Their careers were heading in wildly different directions.

Together? This dynamic duo now manages a $1.9 million shop, leading a staff of mostly millennials ranging from 28–53 years old.

Zac and Matt Ciaschini may not have known everything about the collision repair industry when they opened Full Tilt Auto Body in Easthampton, Mass., but what they did know was that a youthful, progressive vibe would make their shop stand out in the community.

And to stand out from the typical family shop, the two tapped into what they say many shops fail to utilize effectively: Facebook, of course.

With a majority of their marketing focused around Facebook and the local papers, the two brothers say they’ve found the key to building close relationships with the members of their community—which they believe separates them from the age-old traditions to which collision repair customers have grown accustomed.

 

A Refreshing Brand

“Your car, your choice.”

That’s how the saying goes at Full Tilt. Don’t let the insurance companies dictate who fixes your car, and don’t be afraid to ask questions—at the Ciaschinis’ shop, Matt and Zac want you, the customer, to have a say in the repair process. With the brothers’ brand, all ego is stripped away, and they want to reflect that you have control over your own vehicle.

When it came time for Zac (who founded the business in 2008 and was later joined by Matt in 2010) to choose a name for his shop, he spent a significant amount of time trying to find a name that immediately communicated the shop’s values.

So, instead of going with something ordinary like “Ciaschini Auto Body,” the two decided on Full Tilt. Clean, sharp and simple—a modern take for a modern shop that has aspirations that stray from the norm.

The logo was the first step in really creating their brand. The brothers began by recruiting a friend in advertising to help create a logo, eventually designing the now retro-themed “FT” design.

The Full Tilt logo is red on black, made to look like an inked design over black speckled paint. The brothers are now redesigning their website for an updated look on their already cohesive style.

But being young has given them another great advantage: the ability to personally connect with the much sought-after, much misunderstood younger demographic.

It’s that younger crowd that loves social media.

 

Facebook—the New Wave of Marketing

Capitalizing on Zac’s large friend group on Facebook, it was quite easy for the shop to get an initial following.

“The absolute biggest thing that has kind of catapulted us was using Facebook early on,” Matt says.

And that simple move got the brothers thinking: Instead of parents telling their kids where to get their car done, those kids can just find the shop on Facebook instead—a method they’ve seen become massively successful.

It was through Facebook that Matt and Zac were also able to boost their second largest marketing channel: local paper polls.

Two publications in the area conduct business polls that consist of hundreds of business categories. By simply asking their customers to vote for their shop, Full Tilt has won first place in the auto body category in both publications for the last five years.

But creating a customer base wasn’t the only reason the two wanted to utilize Facebook in particular—it was also a great avenue to prevent trolling.

Matt says most of the customers that leave online reviews of the business do it through Facebook. It’s much more effective, he says, because whoever is reading the reviews can click on the person’s name, go to their profile and see that they’re a real person, which he believes is more meaningful in winning people over.   

Instead of having a nameless and faceless review on Yelp or Google—that sometimes can denounce the business—now, they ask every customer to review them on Facebook because they feel it is much more genuine, Matt says.

 

Always Ahead

While keeping their marketing social media friendly and personal, the brothers feel investing in technology will only improve efficiency and the bottom line.

The team at Full Tilt relies heavily on an inter-shop email system as a way to communicate throughout the day and stay on top of work. The team starts an email thread for every RO, so all office staff and technicians can communicate seamlessly about every individual vehicle in the shop.

As part of the system, all staff members are required to carry smartphones. If they can’t afford one, the brothers create a personalized plan where they purchase the phone for the staff member and the value is repaid via a weekly stipend.

The smartphones are used for email and the CCC ONE app, a platform the brothers use for estimating, production management and accounting. The phones lend the capability to take photos of the vehicles throughout the process, which all go into the cloud seamlessly, Matt says. Tablets are also located throughout the shop.

But this system is nothing out of the ordinary—they were always ahead of the curve when it came to technology, Matt says. Back in 2012, the shop already took digital photos for their customers, using SD cards that had a Wi-Fi signal. The SD cards allowed the employees to take photos with a digital camera and wirelessly upload them into a folder on the computer so they wouldn’t have to constantly connect the camera.

On all their customer intake forms, the brothers ask customers whether they prefer to be texted, emailed or called—another way to ensure that they can accommodate the customer’s preference.

With connected cars around the corner, vehicles are on the verge of forming a more intimate relationship with drivers—including telling them where they should get their cars fixed, Matt says. That’s why, in the end, a focus on technology and a “your car, your choice” brand is what will set the Ciaschinis apart.

“If your shop isn’t staying on top of technology, you will fall behind,” Matt says.

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