Photos by Michael Whealan
SHOP: Erie-LaSalle Body Shop LOCATION: Chicago OWNER: Bob Gottfred
SIZE: 8,000 square feet STAFF: 38 MONTHLY CAR COUNT: 250 ANNUAL REVENUE: $5 million
To say Erie-LaSalle Body Shop is steeped in history would be an understatement.
When owner Bob Gottfred reflects back on the business’ storied timeline, the fact that part of the shop’s brick building survived the Great Chicago Fire is overshadowed by the fact that his hard-working Norwegian stepfather, Ivan Goodmonson, quite possibly opened the first body shop in Illinois back in 1934.
Even more impressive is the shop’s output: 250 cars per month with just 4,000 square feet. For Gottfred’s family-run business, it’s not about the size of the shop, but how they use it.
1) There’s nothing more “Chicago” about Erie-LaSalle than the facility’s “old Chicago brick,” as Gottfred calls it. The building itself is believed to date back to the 1850s, and the green-and-yellow paint job has allowed it to stand out in a sea of red brick in downtown Chicago.
2) The shop’s small property doesn’t allow for much space in its fenced-in car lot, so Gottfred rents two auxiliary spots in parking lots one block away.
3) The official neon sign that represents Erie-LaSalle Body Shop dates back to 1957. The sign itself depicts a 1957 Chrysler and looks like a “1950s burger shop” logo. The green and yellow design gave birth to the shop’s official colors, and the marquee lettering allows the shop to brag about the lifetime warranty it offers to customers.
4) In this tight space, it almost seems implausible that 15 technicians function in the body shop to fix 250 cars per month. However, Gottfred has been able to extract as much work from his small body shop as possible by establishing a night shift. During the day, eight technicians perform body work, and at night, from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., seven technicians perform the lighter work and prep for the day shift.
5) Because the front office only comprises 4,000 square feet, Gottfred says organization has been key. A huge component of the organization of front office procedures has revolved around a detailed, color-coded folder system on the wall, which has allowed the shop to schedule with ease, easily manage important financial information, and track the shop’s 25 DRP relationships.
“So instead of grabbing keys, we have to give it more thought,” Gottfred says. “It’s all revolved around scheduling and trying to process cars faster, 100 percent teardowns, and no waiting for parts.”
6) In the paint shop, the staff works with four heated downdraft prep stations, where they can heat the primers and paint at the same time for side jobs. The shop also has one downdraft spray booth for the bigger hits and overhead jobs.
7) The East side of the building was constructed anywhere from 1850-1871 when the Great Chicago Fire occurred. The building’s south sidewalk is vaulted, meaning the basement—which is now used for storage—extends under it.
“The basement limestone can be traced to the 1850s and actually can be traced to where they were fabricated in the Joliet area of Illinois,” Gottfred says.
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