Highlands Auto Body maintains ‘mom-and-pop’ appeal in contemporary way
Littleton, Colo.—In an industry where large consolidators and MSOs have become commonplace, the father-son duo Gian and Mario Pieroni, who own Highlands Auto Body, are anything but. It’s a personal touch that many corporate shops lack today, said 27-year-old Gian Pieroni, who took over the family business in 2012.
“We’re very much a ‘hammer and dolly’ type shop,” the younger Pieroni said. While production shops focus on replacing versus repairing parts for speed, the Pieronis favor the latter – “especially for out-of-pocket jobs,” he said. That’s mainly because the shop does not participate in insurance companies’ DRP programs and has substantial customer pay work.
The younger Pieroni carries on the family tradition of frame and body repair, which began in Argentina with grandfather Atilio Pieroni. His father Mario, now semi-retired, still works alongside him, but has given him the reins to market and run the business. He said his mother Gaby offers support and will even drop off cookies at the shop from time to time.
Initially known as MJP Frame Specialists, which served the south metro Denver area since the late 1970s, Mario Pieroni said they changed the shop’s name to Highlands Auto Body 25 years ago to align with the then-burgeoning Highlands Ranch area.
Relying on reputation
Rather than rely on DRPs for work, the Pieronis rely on their longevity, reputation, and reviews on social media.
“You don’t need to get into bed with insurance companies to do well in this industry,” the younger Pieroni said.
Quality work speaks for itself, especially with social media reviews on Yelp, Google+, and BBB online reviews. Since there’s no way to pay your way out of a bad review, people really trust them, he said. The shop’s 4.5-star status on Google+ and 5-star status on Yelp are the main source of new business, along with its website that also features dozens of those customer reviews, he said.
If the customer drives to the shop for an estimate, and it’s a customer-pay job, he said more often than not he’s able to close the sale. It’s not often that the same person writing the estimate is the one painting the car, he said, adding that people like that.
Even insurance companies have caught on, he said. “Before, I was desperate to get on insurance lists, but now they send me a lot of work without DRP status.”
Additionally, other area shops send frame and body work to them, he said, which all totals up to about 12 to 14 cars a week — including frame straightening for restoration shops.
The small things add up
Doing things such as mobile estimates, e-mail estimates from photos, and being available on the weekends all ads up, Pieroni said. Taking on smaller customer-pay jobs that DRP shops might turn away, turns customers into fans, he said.
The company website frequently features promotions, he said, such as free towing and more.
There is a lifetime warranty extended on all work, he said, adding, “I’ll do budget work, but can only do it to a certain point since we still warranty it.”
If a customer requests aftermarket or recycled parts, he said, they’re typically sourced through LKQ of Colorado. For OEM, the Groove and Ralph Schomp dealerships are a go-to supplier, he added.
At capacity, expansion planned
The 30 percent growth that the shop’s experienced in the last years hasn’t come without repercussions, he said. “We have to grow. We’ve hit capacity for what we have in place.”
To alleviate the month-long backlog, Pieroni said he plans to expand the business by constructing another building on the one-acre lot to house three more bays and a new, second downdraft paint booth that accommodates waterborne paint. Paint supplier Sherwin-Williams is brokering the paint booth sale, he said. The shop also sprays PPG solvent, supplied through FinishMaster, formerly Painters Supply, he said.
The office will also be relocated to the building they own on the property that faces South Santa Fe Drive.
Pieroni estimates that he’ll soon be able to double his volume after the expansion. The added volume will require more personnel, he said, and he plans on hiring a few student interns from nearby Arapahoe Community College’s Collision Technology program.
“I can either hire industry pros or find somebody eager to learn and teach them the necessary skill set,” he said. Even though the students have a good foundation to work from, there are so many variables when it comes to painting, he said ‑ temperature, color, and application. “Adding two ounces of reducer can be the difference between a good job or a great job,” he said. Some of these things have to be learned on the job.