Automaker certifications and networking raise the bar for Hampden Auto Body
Englewood, Colo.—Mike Ross of Hampden Auto Body asserts that the collision repair industry needs standards. Ross and his younger brother, Adam, continue to actively seek out ways to maintain accuracy and consistency as they carry forward the family business their parents, Dan and Mary Ann Ross, started 30 years ago, albeit in a much different business climate.
To cope with advancements in vehicle technology, Ross said a key to success has been obtaining automaker certifications and networking with top-level shop owners in Repair Plan Network (RPN) Collision Technologies.
“Just a few years ago, only high-end manufacturers offered certifications,” Ross said. “We felt it would be best to try to get as many as we could.” Many require sponsorships from local dealerships, he said, pointing to his relationship with Mike Ward Infiniti for Infiniti collision certification. The shop also carries factory certification status with Nissan, Acura/Honda, General Motors, and Chrysler, he added.
“It’s an ongoing process to maintain certifications and have a level of experience with every employee,” he said.
The programs usually require the shop to have specific pieces of equipment and technicians to be adequately trained.
Infiniti’s program requires extensive equipment, training, and customer service, he said. Hampden Auto Body is an extension of Mike Ward Infiniti for collision customers, he said, adding that it’s vital they deliver the same level of customer service as the dealership. “Dealers don’t want to associate their name with just any shop.”
Consistent and efficient repairs separate the good independents from the competition, Ross said, adding that Mike Monaghan, network manager and director of RPN, and Hecker Heckendorf RPN president, have helped with exactly that.
Monaghan’s group of shops across the U.S. has implemented many European collision repair standards, Ross said. “Right now as a network, we’re trying to work on creating a standard,” he said. “Standards are not up to par across the industry. What we try to do is measure performance – KPIs – like cycle time and repair vs. replace.”
The shops also have access to proprietary equipment, Ross said.
“We’re trying to set a precedent in the U.S.,” he said, adding that it’s needed. Despite the prevalent use of high-tensile strength steels in today’s cars, there are many unqualified welders working on them as if it were mild steel, he said.
This continued practice of negligence will only lead to shabby repairs and eventual business closure, he warned. “The shops that are certified and using the manufacturer-recommended equipment will be there in the end.”
Ross’ technicians use two Car-O-Liner frame alignment machines in tandem with a Car-O-Tronic measuring system. The shop’s NitroTherm spray system helps with dry times and ionically bonds the paint to the sheet metal, he said, providing a closer factory finish.
The shop has been spraying PPG’s Nexa Autocolor solvent for quite some time, he said, supplied through Painter’s Supply in Englewood. “They’ve been a great partner to us all these years,” he said. In the near future, he said, he’d like to convert to waterborne paint.
When performing repairs, Ross said it’s their preference to try to be not too intrusive on the original structure of the vehicle.
“We’re able to repair more than we were before,” he said. “That’s much less intrusive and what the OEMs want.” The practice also keeps the cost of the job down, he said, noting that it also depends on the type of metal they’re working on.
Repairing vs. replacing a part is determined during the vehicle’s “discovery process” or blueprint, he said. OEM repair data is critical at this point, as is vehicle construction information obtained through RPN.
“The way the industry has shaped up in the last 10 years, there is more administrative burden than ever,” he said, noting that he employs five people in the shop’s office. DRP requirements for documentation are the main reason for additional office staff, he said.
Manning the helm is Ross’ cousin and general manager, Brian Tokle. “Without his help, this business would not run as smooth as it does,” he said, emphasizing his strength in estimating, customer service, and processes.
Although the shop juggles six DRPs, he said customer pay remains a good percentage of the overall work. Repeat business is a true mark of customer satisfaction, he said.
“Keeping up with training, having strong ideals, and putting a system in place that enables you to measure and improve, you can be in business a long time,” Ross said.