Body tech turns entrepreneur and flourishes with industry partner relationships
Northglenn, Colo.—Al Sturm still remembers the day the name for his shop, “A Good Shop” Auto Body & Paint, came to him while he was working as an independent insurance adjuster handing a customer a claims check.
“The first thing he asked me was, ‘Now what do I do?’ and I told him that he needed to find a good shop – that last part stuck, ‘a good shop’,” Sturm said. “That’s how I got the name.”
It’s now mounted on the top of two buildings: the 15,500-square-foot flagship facility in Northglenn, Colo., which Sturm started in 2013, and the second location in Commerce City which is approaching its two-year anniversary this October. Between the two shops the company averages 150 cars per month, with the Commerce City location taking on 50 of those. Sturm’s goal is to mount the name on “5 in 5” – five shops in five years.
“It’s a goal,” he said. “It keeps us focused and gives us something to shoot for.”
Sturm’s daughter, Carleigh Sturm, who has a Bachelor’s degree in business, is the company’s operations manager, Kevin Sturm, his son, is a painter and assists with parts management, and Jami Sturm, his wife, is the company’s chief financial officer. The shop employs a total of 26 people, some of whom have been with the company since its inception.
“I was a body tech for 20 years before becoming a business owner so I know how hard the work is and that has helped me retain my technicians,” Sturm said. “Phil Sanchez, one of my lead body men, has been with me since we opened. The manager at our Commerce City location, Johnny Fresquez, trained with us in Northglenn and he’s now running the Commerce City shop. Treat your employees right and they’ll stick with you.”
It may sound simple, but keeping people hired wasn’t necessarily a skill Sturm possessed early on in his career, saying, “Business managerial skills just don’t ‘sprout’ out of a body man – they’re learned. I’ve had to seek help.”
And he’s found it in partnerships, a main one being with his paint supplier, Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes, which recently set up his shops to spray its new Ultra 9k water-based paint.
“We recently got involved with Sherwin-Williams and the paint is exceptional, but the ‘Vision Groups’ have had a major impact,” Sturm said. “Bill Sanger, Sherwin-Williams sales rep, offered to fly me out to my first ‘Vision Group’ in Lake Tahoe and I learned so much.”
He said through the Sherwin-Williams Vision Groups he has also visited shops in Kansas and Chicago that have instituted lean processes – some of which Sturm will adopt at his two locations this fall.
“Part of instituting lean production means we’ll now do a complete teardown of every car as soon as it comes in. Any part that will be worked on or touched is dismantled so that we can prepare a complete estimate before beginning the repair,” Sturm said.
The business also started working with a company in Denver called Full Impact Technologies (FIT) – he met the owner, Hecky Heckendorf, at a Vision Group - which is helping with the administrative side of becoming lean, working to get the management and accounting systems at the shop streamlined and ensuring the staff is ready for the changes being implemented.
FIT is also assisting A Good Shop with attaining its Assured Performance Network certifications and I-CAR Gold recognition, both of which Sturm said the shop should achieve this fall.
“Most of my technicians are 30-year veterans who just need to renew their certifications. We’re committing to achieving I-CAR Gold recognition as a shop and FIT is assisting us understand necessary requirements where we may lack knowledge,” Sturm said.
A Good Shop is currently DRP partners with American Family - which he said is a great partner to work with - Acuity and Horacee-mann, but will further align with the OEs as a way forward. In line with that philosophy, the shop relies on an array of OE franchise dealerships for parts, citing the John Elway Group as a new relationship that has started off with ease and has been beneficial.
“John Elway pursued our business and offered us a great percentage discount right off the bat. The delivery times have been excellent and its sales reps are knowledgeable and willing to help,” Sturm said.
As the industry charges forward, A Good Shop has also partnered with local companies to assist with recalibrating ADAS sensors and has instituted post- and pre-scans at both of its facilities. The shop recently invested in a Mitchell scan tool to ensure it is up to date with requirements.
“We pre- and post-scan every car now,” Sturm said. “We’re getting compensated about 60 percent of the time, but I think, eventually, it will become an industry requirement. And for ADAS sensor recalibration that we’re not able to do in-house we use Dan Carnahan with Auto Safety,” Sturm said.
The company recently partnered with Body Shop Booster to design a photo estimating app for its shop which Sturm said has been increasing in popularity and bringing in a stream of revenue.
“For a lot of the smaller dents and dings, we can tell just from looking at a photo whether or not a customer needs to report a claim, which is where most of the power in photo estimating is,” Sturm said. “The customers’ photos come straight to us electronically and we can generate an estimate right away and begin immediately communicating with the customer about the next steps they need to take.”
As A Good Shop continues to grow, Sturm said he’ll look for expansion opportunities in Broomfield, Frederick, Brighton and Fort Lupton in the coming years.