High-end customer-centric shop embraces nonstop training classes

Oct. 6, 2017
For Amber Alley, general manager at Barsotti’s Body & Fender, the road to achieving standout collision repair results has been made much smoother through her association with associations.

For Amber Alley, general manager at Barsotti’s Body & Fender, the road to achieving standout collision repair results has been made much smoother through her association with associations.

“There are a lot of amazing people in this industry; I wish everyone would get involved,” says Alley, the recently elected treasurer of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS).

At a Glance:
Barsotti’s Body and Fender Service
San Rafael, Calif.
No. of shops
Tom Price
Years in business
No. of employees
No. of DRPs
Square footage of shop
No. of bays
Average repair order
9-10 days
Average cycle time
Average vehicles per week
$8 million
Annual gross revenue
Spies Hecker
Paint Supplier
Frame machine used
CCC, Mitchell, Audatex
Estimating systems used

“It’s so positive for the industry. The networking and resources are beyond words,” according to Alley, who also belongs to the California Autobody Association (CAA). “It puts a new perspective on things” that can be applied to your business operations.

“Everyone should get involved, even if it’s just on the local level in your own communities,” she says. Staying on top of regulatory concerns can be especially useful. “Some people fall asleep when you talk about legislation, but it’s important,” she says. “There are a lot of people out there doing a lot of training. There’s really a place for everyone” depending on your particular interests, challenges and goals.

In conjunction with the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), Alley has been chairing the SCRS Career Center Committee as it unveils an additional online feature for the membership. “It’s like a job board,” she explains, matching owners with new hires and employees with new opportunities.

“We’re going to be rolling out some other new innovations,” says Alley, such career fairs and other events. “People need to know it’s there for this to work.”

Working for the customer

Based in San Rafael, Calif. – boasting a robust annual family median income of $96,660 compared to the nationwide level of $65,443 – Barsotti’s has been serving Marin County and the San Francisco Bay Area since 1947. The original name has been retained throughout several ownership changes. “At one point we were a dealer body shop, and now we’re independently owned,” she says, referring to a corporate structure headed by President Tom Price.

Two direct repair program (DRP) affiliations are maintained with a pair of smaller insurance carriers; additional DRPs are not being sought because of the shop’s policy of exclusively utilizing OEM parts. “The DRP model doesn’t fit into our business model,” says Alley. A focus on high-end vehicles tends to resist rapid cycle times and price-based parts purchasing. “A lot of the cars we repair are European, and parts sometimes take time” to arrive.

“Over here, experience is our most valuable asset. Combined with intensive and regular training, a state-of-the-art facility and the latest technology available, we provide the highest quality repair available.”

Customers “just want the same” components affixed to their prized vehicles, placing aftermarket parts outside of the desired standards. “That’s always been a key part of the business. We’re very quality-oriented,” Alley says. “We work for the customer, and that’s very clear here.”

Besides, she continues, “we’re starting to see more insurance companies going to ‘open shops,’” especially when you consider that Barsotti’s is the go-to collision repair destination for numerous dealerships throughout the region. Word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied customers are frequent.

“We get a lot of referral business. We have a very good reputation and we have a lot of attention to detail.”

Jaguar, Land Rover, Tesla, McLaren, Aston Martin, Volvo, Infiniti, Nissan, Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, Toyota, and Honda are among the officially approved nameplates repaired at the high-volume shop. “For us the certification is like building brand loyalty,” says Alley, emphasizing the importance of ongoing workforce education and a commitment to executing exquisitely flawless repair results.

“I don’t send technicians all over the country for training to have them come back and not want to do it right,” Alley insists, “and the customer feels that.”

A willingness to pursue continuous training is prerequisite for the entire staff, particularly new hires. “The first couple of years are grueling for them – lots of travel and lots of training. They can spend a lot of time out of the shop.”

Less-experienced staffers are paired with veteran personnel to ensure that all OEM-certification-based repair procedures are in full compliance. “We have a good mentoring program here,” says Alley. Assignments for additional education are based upon deciding that “this is the next person who’s ready for that step. We have in mind who that next person is going to be,” says Alley.

“We have a couple of techs who have been through most of the programs,” and they fulfill leadership roles on the shop floor for apprentices who are still on an upward training track. “A lot of our employees are cross-trained on different vehicles, so there is never a total breakdown if someone’s on vacation or someone leaves,” she notes. Opportunities for advancement are a constant within the company’s culture. “We have lots of employees who started here driving customers or cleaning the shop.”

When bringing new people on board “it’s really about the person. In the interview process I look for ‘attitude,’” which entails a genuinely friendly and helpful demeanor along with a desire to learn. Key takeaways from the questioning include: Are you a nice person? Can you work on our team?

“In our area every shop has their own way of doing things,” thus “experience” is less of a desired trait. A candidate who hints that he or she is all-knowing of repair procedures or set in their ways won’t make the cut. “You want someone who is humble and is willing to be a part of the team. The industry has changed so much and so fast that a lot of people have not adapted to it – but a lot of them have, and those are the ones we want.”

When negotiating with insurers, “If you’re about serving the customer you have to find a balance, and we navigate that quite well. They demand things from us, and we demand things from them. Our friends on the insurance side don’t want to pay for unneeded things either.”

Subpar parts don’t make the grade, nor does an insurer’s insistence on quickness versus quality. Adhering to certification standards is sacrosanct. Regarding particular models, for example, frequently “we’re the only ones who can purchase the paint, and it comes from Europe.”

Solidifying connections

“We work very well with the dealerships (for parts procurement), and our paint jobber is excellent,” says Alley, referring to Dunaway Paint Supply/Dunaway Auto Parts in Petaluma, Calf., in business since 1952 “They’ve been with us for over 15 years,” says Alley. “We pay our bills and they want to give us good service.”

Very little advertising is booked with mainstream media outlets; an attractive website and steady social media postings are paired with brochures, plus direct-to-dealer ads are placed to solidify referral connections.

With a motto of being “Environmentally Conscious for the Future,” the shop has a rigorous pro-nature plan that includes comprehensive water conservation efforts and a recycling program involving aluminum, metal, urethane bumpers, cardboard, filler dust, batteries, tires, oil, coolant, brake fluid, lacquer thinner, paint byproducts, toners and office paper. The detailing department embraces a complete line of biodegradable washes and cleaners.

Alley has been with Barsotti’s since 2003. Her accountant mother had a client who owned a collision repair business, and fresh out of high school at age 18 “I went to college at night and worked at that shop during the day. I learned a lot there and really enjoyed the industry – and I still do!”

Her then-employer operated “more of a DRP shop” than a high-end customer-centric enterprise, and Alley was eager to assume an enhanced management role. Meanwhile, as the Barsotti family was selling its business to Peter Sonnen, who opened an Audi/Volkswagen/Porsche repair facility, “I ended up choosing to come here” as a job opening beckoned.

Sonnen subsequently sold Barsotti’s to Tom Price, who actively sought a variety of intriguing high-end certifications – and he still does. “We’re actually working on a new certification right now,” Alley reports.

About the Author

James Guyette

James E. Guyette is a long-time contributing editor to Aftermarket Business World, ABRN and Motor Age magazines.

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