Kelly Smith says there’s a general industry push toward bigger production shops that don’t require the finesse of craftsmen.From left, are GT’s technicians Jeff Santo and Jeff Kenville who communicate with techs in the other building using walkie-talkies.GT Car Shop technician Wayne Terpstra.Salina Brown (foreground) and Natalie Smith keep the front office humming.

GT Car Shop does it their way

The bottom line for GT Car Shop isn’t in numbers, it’s staying true to a craftsman’s quality and integrity

Denver—Kelly Smith is working to get his business, GT Car Shop, as self-sufficient as possible and, down the road, perhaps changing the ownership structure while maintaining an interest in the business.

“If anything were to happen to me, I want to know that this shop can keep going,” said Smith, whose youthful appearance defies his 57 years. Over the years, he’s changed his outlook from “just looking to sell” to giving staff an opportunity to take part and continue the business.

“We’re not on this planet for long and I feel it’s good to make a positive impact in your community, rather than taking the money and running — I don’t want that on my headstone. We want to be the shop that people believe in,” he said.

Smith recently returned from vacation and he gives credit to his team for continuing to work hard in his absence. “They step up to the plate, which leaves me so impressed.”

Front office staff Salina Brown and Natalie Smith focus largely on shop operations, while Smith concentrates on administrative and accounting duties and customer relations.

Smith doesn’t run his shop by focusing on numbers (annual revenue last year was more than $1.1 million; average monthly car count is 50), but rather on the integrity they put into their work. “I’m sure that’s against every rule in the book for running a business, but it pays off and it always has for 34 years,” he said.

GT’s three technicians — production manager Jeff Kenville, body tech Wayne Terpstra and painter Jeff Santo — each work in their own dedicated building


While it’s a small business, and though staff is spread out in separate buildings, Smith said its still quaint and there’s close interaction with each other. “It’s as if they each have their own shop and they can run it however they wish, so long as the end product meets our high expectations. It’s freedom while sharing a common goal. They could work at any other shop, but they want to work here.

“There’s a good harmony with my techs, and I encourage them to double and triple check their work, as well as each others’ to be sure we’re covering all the bases. We honor each opportunity to do the best we can do.”

Kenville started at the shop 14 years ago as a helper when he was 18 years old and was a “go-getter” from the beginning.

“He’s an integral part of our success and sets the tone,” Smith said. “He doesn’t have much tolerance for anything less than doing a job well done. Over the years, he might have chased some staff off, but I’m OK with that. Our shop’s character is to work together, work hard, provide exceptional work and try to have some fun, too.”

Santo joined the shop in the summer, bringing with him experience with a keen eye for detail and quality. “He’s a great communicator and we’re fortunate to have him. And Wayne is an amazing body tech, who takes on work that otherwise we might not be able to.”

He said there’s a general industry push toward bigger production shops that don’t require the finesse of craftsmen. “It’s become more of an assembly line with specific tasks, which usually amounts to assembly-line quality. We have a craftsmen mindset to complete work the way it should be done. With the move toward utility-grade productivity, there will always be a need for a shop like ours, which is why customers are referred to us and keep coming back. Our staff’s skills flourish here.”

GT has two DRPS, which Smith said he’s happy with, but he made a conscious decision to drop others.

“They’ve never accounted for more than 8 percent of my volume — now they’re about 5 percent — and I’d like to keep it that way. The insurance companies have enough control over our industry without giving them more. If I wanted to be bigger, then the shop could shoot for volume with more DRPs, but it’s our reputation with the general public that will sustain us and it’s what we have the most control over.”

Smith said he is concerned about insurance companies “manipulating our industry,” particularly how the focus has become more on reducing costs — which slows the repair process considerably — by cutting book labor times, materials and using inferior parts, and less on quality.

“We could get a car repaired in a third of the time without the insurance company process, which is held up in part by inferior parts and time spent searching for the cheapest parts.

“The more control of my business I give insurance companies, the riskier my business becomes.”

Parts & People

Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.