Eddie’s makes fast work in adopting the newest auto repair technologies

Jan. 1, 2020
Eddie’s Auto Body in East Haddam, Conn. is certainly fast on the pedal with a lean-styled learning curve that focuses on embracing the latest methods for doing things quicker and better.
They don’t use the word “lean,” but Eddie’s Auto Body in East Haddam, Conn. is certainly fast on the pedal with a lean-styled learning curve that focuses on embracing the latest methods for doing things quicker and better. The quest applies to all aspects of the business.

“We are always striving for constant improvement,” says Edward M. Lupinek, owner of the 8-bay, 3,300-square-foot facility that grosses $1 million per year.

“If you’re not growing, you’re dying,” he says. “If you’re not changing, you’re antiquating yourself. I believe there’s always room for improvement and growth.”

Due to be up and running by next year, the company is currently constructing an addition on the shop “to cater more to the needs of our customers.” It includes a new waiting room complete with amenities, an estimating bay with a lift, a wash bay/detail area, a parts room/prep area and more work space.

With phone calls pouring in from curious and

Edward M. Lupinek

intrigued shop owners from all over, Eddie’s has received significant industry recognition for last year’s unveiling of a new paint system “that could be the most productive, safest and energy-efficient booth in the world,” according to Lupinek.

Only two companies offer this technology, Symac from Italy and Canada’s Sunspot, he notes, explaining that the project involved modifying the existing cross-flow booth to a negative-pressure down-draft booth that utilizes cutting-edge medium-wave infrared technology.

“We can dry clear coat in 10 minutes and put it directly out in the rain with no consequences,” Lupinek says. Waterborne can be dried in 6 minutes with no air flow; primer dries in 6 to 8 minutes and can be sanded immediately.

“Having that technology in our shop has all but eliminated wait time,” he reports, “and we have doubled our staff since implementing them.”

The HT-200 units in the booth, which have two heads and two rails while occupying both walls, burned only 15.6 gallons of propane in the first four months of use.

“We would like very much to spread the word to body shops all over the world in hopes of making them aware that there are options to the high cost of running their booths,” says Lupinek. While other operations are spending $25 to $35 on the bake cycle, Eddie’s pays a mere 30 cents per cycle. “We have been receiving calls from all over the country expressing an interest in how this technology and design could work for them too.”

At present the shop is applying solvent-based
paints, but “we are ready with our paint booth to go forward with water if we choose to,” he continues. “We get excellent color matches with solvent, and with the use of the infrared drying units, can fully cure the coating in 10 minutes. We believe that waterborne is going to always be a choice to use or not, as opposed to being mandated as we once thought. If we make the change to water, with the infrared units we will be able to dry it in 6 minutes without air movement. How cool is that?”
Other equipment innovations include a bumper rack designed by Lupinek that attaches to an automatic garage door opener suspended from the ceiling. “In essence we’ve added an extra bay by utilizing the bumper rack. We also use induction heating to remove glass from cars.”

Much time is spent on planning to maximize an already-efficient repair process. Cars to be worked on Monday are dropped off Sunday night. “They are cleaned and arranged in the shop in a way that makes the repair process flow smoothly. Every night, the shop is re-arranged and cleaned for efficiency.”

A team effort
Lupinek’s wife Carol serves as office manager, and the couple takes pride in how they operate the business as a team. “We are together all the time and enjoy it immensely,” says Eddie. “We work hard together and play hard together. It is great to be on the same page as your partner –we motivate each other.”

That same attitude extends to the staff as well. “We appreciate their feedback and opinions,” he says. “Every one of my employees is unique in their own way and they are important to me; they are treated with respect and paid as fairly as possible.”

Word-of-mouth has proven to be the best recruitment technique. “Once we hire someone, they tend to stay around for years,” Lupinek reports. “We love our employees and take good care of them. We offer full benefits, even in a world that’s making it challenge to do so. We give our employees the respect they deserve and give them the freedom to work at their own pace without putting them under a microscope. We do not micro-manage.”

The shop maintains the necessary qualifications to repair numerous specialized nameplates, and the staff-centric policy carries forward to meeting ongoing education and training required to keep the operation humming. “If a class comes around that is important for our employees to attend, we will send them to it. We are pretty lenient and provide them the opportunity to advance at their own rate.”

In return, Eddie and Carol reap the benefits of a highly motivated, contented and professional workforce eager to please the clientele. “Customer service is what drives new customers to the door,” says Lupinek. “Our employees take pride in their work and know the importance of a happy customer.”

A consultant has been retained to increase Eddie’s Internet presence through an updated website – upon which the company already publicly posts its labor rates, search engine optimization and participation in Facebook.

“The way to attract new customers in today’s environment is to reach out to them via social media,” Lupinek says, citing the importance of the online augmentation efforts. “In addition, we believe that every day we increase our sales by having happy customers. People talk to people. We get many recommendations and referrals from happy customers. We are often surprised at how far a person will travel based on a referral from a friend.”

The company’s vehicles bear the Eddie’s name and logo, and advertising is placed on restaurant placemats, roadmaps and at the local theater and movie house. Ad space is also purchased in area newspapers, magazines and other publications. An ambitious and varied program of charitable donations is also in play, although Lupinek points out that “the biggest service I do for my community is what I do best – fix their cars. In that instance, I am working for them. Because we have so very little personal time, we contribute to our town and state the best way we can, and that’s by making monetary donations to their causes.”

Rocking the industry
Forthright communication combines with the shop’s efficiencies to ease the parts procurement process. “Whatever I can do to save time for my suppliers will save them money and allow them to profit,” he observes. “If their costs are lower, they can sell it to me lower, too. It’s a win-win situation.”

And the vendors are not delivering components produced by the aftermarket; it’s been six years since a non-OEM part has been affixed to a customer’s car. Issues with fit, form and function has solidified a reliance on components that come via the automakers’ factories. “My belief is that when you knowingly substitute a part of lesser quality, you are then cheating an unsuspecting customer. In that respect, you are committing fraud. I will not do that to my customers for the benefit of the insurance companies.”

Eddie’s participates in zero direct repair programs (DRPs), and has no desire to do so.

“When the programs first started, we had eight DRPs,” Lupinek recounts. “Then the insurance companies started pushing aftermarket parts. At that time I was forced to choose who my customer was going to be – the insurance company or the people. I chose to eliminate the DRPs so that I could maintain an honest relationship with my customers and continue telling the truth. If I don’t hold some sort of standard,” he asserts, “we would be repairing cars with duct tape and calling it industry acceptable.”

An arrangement with Consumer Reports magazine had the shop taking part in the publication’s damage analysis processes along with providing auto body repairs when needed for the nearby test facility. “We get to see a sampling of all the new stuff that is coming out from the OEs.” Lupinek also assisted in a review of the aftermarket parts segment.

“The idea to test was mine; they chose the cars and the tests,” he says, expressing admiration for the editors’ commitment to ethics and honesty. “They are very serious about their testing and reporting their true findings. Reporting the truth is their only goal,” says Lupinek. “The truth about the aftermarket parts rocked our industry.”

Reaching for excellence
A past-president of the Auto Body Association of Connecticut (ABAC), Lupinek enjoys networking with his industry colleagues in a constant outreach for excellence. “I learn from everyone and I try to understand other people’s point of view, even if I don’t agree with them. I try to get together as often as I can with other shop owners; we are always learning from each other.”

Eddie’s was established in 1956 after Lupinek’s father, Edward L. Lupinek, mustered out of the Army. The younger Eddie got a great start by growing up in the business, even to the point of waiting for his kindergarten bus at the facility. As time went on, he spent many years in the bays and attending schools and seminars on how to properly run a body shop.

“As our business grew we needed more space, and in 1985 we built a new shop and moved into it. In 1992 my father retired to Florida and I bought the business,” he reports. “We have had steady growth, and in the last six years since my wife has come into the business we have been consistently making improvements to how we do business.”

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