Overcoming Physical Shop Limitations

June 1, 2011
Mr. B’s Paint & Body has remained a quaint, family-run, single-location operation for more than three decades—on purpose. The benefits: easier management, personalized service and a loyal customer base.

In the competitive world of collision repair, bigger is often thought to be better. Expanding beyond a single store is the goal of many shops, as multiple locations mean more customers and increased cash flow.

Raymond Benavidez, known around Albuquerque, N.M., as Mr. B, has taken a different approach. His business, Mr. B’s Paint & Body, which he co-owns with wife, Rosie, and son, Scott, is small and has stayed that way throughout its 33-year history. Its only significant growth was the addition of a 4,600-square-foot building next to its original 3,800-square-foot space five years ago. The facility has never grown beyond a single location and probably never will.

And it’s not because Mr. B’s hasn’t been successful. The shop sees about 35 cars a month—enough to keep its seven employees busy—and revenue has climbed steadily in recent years, hitting $1 million in 2010. Staying a one-location mom-and-pop shop is just a business philosophy, Raymond says. It simplifies management, allows the shop to pay closer attention to each customer, and has earned the center a loyal following.

“I would like for it to remain small and efficient because I’ve seen big shops and they just lose control over it,” Raymond says. “We expanded, we’re doing twice as much now, but I don’t think I want to get any bigger. We’d lose the personal touch.”

A Little Monster

Raymond envisioned a small shop from the beginning. When he launched his business back in 1978, he was a one-man operation.

“When I first started the business, I just wanted a little place for myself to work in, just some place where I could do my own thing,” he says. “I created a monster and before I knew it, it got out of hand and I couldn’t do it myself. So I started hiring people.”

He and Rosie were the core staff in those early years, but Scott and another son, Robert, who has since chosen another career path, joined the operation almost as soon as they were born. Scott says he started shaking paint cans when he was around four years old. As he grew older, he and his brother swept, cleaned and eventually started removing fenders, sanding and doing other body work.

Scott, 42, now oversees most of the shop’s management duties while his parents, who still open the store each morning, move into retirement mode. Scott oversaw the development of the new building, on the footprint of a former Chinese restaurant. He could have built a bigger new facility, but he shares his father’s stay-small mentality.

He said he didn’t want the headaches that can come from managing a large staff or keeping track of a high volume of vehicles.

“Our mindset when we said ‘keep it small’ is we’re going to do it right and do it faster,” Scott says. “I didn’t want to get bigger, I wanted to get better at what we’re doing.”

So far, the family has followed through with that plan, resulting in an annual revenue bump of $350,000 since the addition. Here’s the Benavidez recipe for big success in a small shop:

Building smart. When the Benavidez family was handed the keys to the restaurant next door, it was still fully equipped with appliances and furniture. It was clear that the building would have to be demolished and rebuilt to work as a body shop, and Scott used the opportunity to improve efficiencies.

In the old shop, three work bays were aligned front to back and the building only had two garage doors, so if an employee in the rear of the shop had to move a car, everyone had to clear out. The staff got pretty good at doing that over the years, but the practice ended after the move. The new shop has seven bays and four doors, so employees can move vehicles without disrupting each other.

The new facility also has bigger windows and radiant floor heat to keep employees comfortable and prevent things from blowing around. It has an inviting lobby with a clean customer bathroom, so customers don’t have to walk through the facility to the employee restroom as they used to. And, workers now have their own break room, eliminating the awkward tradition of eating on TV trays in the front office.

Modern management. Management systems aren’t just for multiple-shop operators, though Mr. B’s didn’t catch on to that until a few years ago, when Robert, who had a knack for keeping track of things, left the family business. Scott decided then that it was time to invest in a CCC ONE management system.

“We didn’t have a management system in the past. We kept everything on paper, not a computer screen,” Scott says. “I didn’t know what was going on with other jobs. Now we know where every car is, where it should be and where it’s going. It’s a big part of our business. We always thought we didn’t need it, but it’s been huge.”

Becoming savvier about business operations beyond the shop floor was another important part of the shop’s management agenda.

“We weren’t businessmen,” Scott says. “We were shop workers that came from the back.”

The family got to know computers and started dabbling in social media. They began examining customer zip codes to see where their base lived. They stepped up involvement in their local Automotive Service Association group and collaborated with other automotive businesses to drive traffic.

Personalized customer service. Sure, everyone says customer service is a priority, but the Benavidez family takes particular pride in ensuring every customer is taken care of and leaves happy.

Maintaining a high level of customer interaction was a main reason for staying small and that hasn’t changed. The quaint business gives off a friendly, approachable vibe that Scott says would be hard to replicate at a big-box shop. In addition to face and phone time with customers, the company is moving toward online repair updates, complete with photos.

The shop takes particularly good care of the ladies, an effort that started a few years ago after research revealed that about 70 percent of its customers were women. Now it’s standard practice to escort women to their vehicles and send them off with a goodie bag filled with lip balm, a water bottle with the company logo, a nail file and a compact mirror with the company logo.

“It’s not a lot, but when you give a lady a gift, they remember you forever,” says Scott, who noted that many of those women are now repeat customers.

“It’s not a lot, but when you give a lady a gift, they remember you forever.”
— Scott Benavidez

Mr. B’s will also pick up and deliver vehicles and it offers free rides to and from Albuquerque International Airport, three miles away. Customers can drop their cars off before a trip and pick them up when they return. The shop caters heavily to a nearby U.S. Air Force Base and also has a DRP relationship with a military insurer.

“We have the customer that brings in their car and we have the customers who are the insurance companies,” Scott says. “We have to take care of both customers.”

Marketing investment. Mr. B’s used to rely solely on regular customers and their referrals for business. That backfired when a large hospital across the street, which generated significant traffic, relocated.

“Back then we didn’t have to market as much as we do now,” Scott says. “It was almost too easy for us. When that closed down we had to get back into marketing.”

Now the shop spends $15,000 to $20,000 annually on marketing efforts, which include newspaper advertising banners and women-oriented efforts, such as the goodie bags and hosting mother-daughter workshops on basic auto repairs.

Efficient processes. Mr. B’s has taken a lean approach to shop operations.

A couple examples: Rather than scheduling everything on Monday and trying to get it out the door Friday, the shop now schedules continuously. The facility also started doing 100-percent teardowns to eliminate unseen problems and get repairs right and complete the first time.

Cycle time has decreased by roughly two days per car, making customers and insurance companies happier and employees less stressed at the end of each week.

The shop still utilizes the old space as well, using it for painting, priming and jam work, to avoid over-crowding the new space.

Industry involvement. Scott is the immediate past president of his ASA chapter and has been integral in bringing area repair shops together to discuss industry issues, says Jim Maddox, the region’s current ASA president and owner of mechanical shop Jim’s Automotive in Albuquerque.

Scott has improved camaraderie among body shops and other auto repair providers, building a strong support network, Maddox says.

“They use us and we use them and have for quite some time,” Maddox says. “They take care of the little details and hold the customer’s hand through the entire process. They’re very good at walking customers through the ordeal of dealing with insurance companies.”

Maddox says he used to recommend some larger, more well-known shops, but he thought quality suffered at those facilities as volume grew. He says Mr. B’s never lost its edge.

“This country itself was built on the little guy, the mom-and-pop places,” Maddox says. “Unfortunately the little guys are being swallowed up by the big guys.”

Enjoying Life

The Benavidez family isn’t afraid of big competition. They’ve proven that there’s still a place for the small family-run body shop.

Scott says he’s focused on making the business as efficient as possible, so it can essentially run itself and allow his parents to step away. He says he might make a couple new hires to help squeeze a few more vehicles through the shop, but expansion is not in his plans.

“We just want to enjoy life and make a good living at it,” he says. “Nobody was in this to get rich.”

Looking back on his three-decade career, Raymond says he’s happy with the way his little venture turned out.

“I have no regrets for what I’ve done,” he says. “I’ve had a good ride. I’m glad I did what I did.”

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