Long-time I-CAR instructor sees training as vital in helping his business succeed
San Jose, Calif.--For Doug Roach, running a collision repair business is much like teaching.
"Instead of students, we have employees. Instead of grades, they get financial incentives," said Roach, owner of Collision Repair Specialists, which marked its 20th anniversary this year. "You try to keep training them. And you still have projects they have to do in a timely manner and to an industry standard of craftsmanship."
The analogy is an appropriate one for Roach, a graduate of San Jose State who said he spent most of his 20s teaching auto mechanics and metal shop at Leigh High School in San Jose. Though he left teaching as a full-time profession in the early 1980s, he said he continues to spend time in front of students, having taught I-CAR classes for the past 24 years.
"In 1983, we were just starting to work on some unibody cars, and there were all these old wives' tales about what you could do and what you couldn't with unibodies compared to full-frames," Roach said of his initial interest in I-CAR. "All I wanted to do was find out the truth."
After attending Chief EZ-Liner training, he said he attended some of the first I-CAR classes offered in the area and within a year was teaching them himself when the local volunteer instructor was transferred out of the area.
He said his involvement with the training organization over the years has included teaching I-CAR courses at NACE, helping with the development of classes, and maintaining his own shop's I-CAR Gold Class status for more than 10 years. He said he also frequently receives phone calls from local shops and insurers with technical questions about what they're being told by someone else about repair techniques.
"I don't make judgments. I just tell them, 'Here's what it says in the I-CAR literature. Here's what the P-pages say. You guys fight it out. I'm not a referee,'" he said.
Although Roach said he regrets not buying real estate for his shop "back when it was affordable," his business is still in its original location, an 8,000-square-foot facility located toward the back of an industrial complex. The less-than-high-visibility location isn't a liability but rather something planned, he said.
"That's because I didn't want to just write estimates; I wanted to repair cars," he said.
Most of the shop's work comes through direct repair or other referrals, Roach said. The shop's 11 employees are trained and equipped to handle most aspects of repair, including plastic repair, wheel alignment, and air-conditioning system recharging, he said, adding that the shop has two Chief frame racks and a Velocity electronic measuring system.
The company's paint shop sprays DuPont refinish products and benefits from a new Spray-Tech booth installed about three years ago, Roach said.
"It's been a good booth, and the support has been good, too," he said. "The Spray-Tech rep really went above and beyond. We had a gas line problem because of how far we had to run the gas from the street. So finally the city cranked up the pressure, but the Spray-Tech rep really did a job through that. He stayed with it the whole way and pursued everybody."
When asked what he sees as key issues now facing the industry, Roach said the issues have really been the same for at least the last decade.
"One is keeping up with the constant change in technology, which requires new techniques and/or equipment and training," he said, adding that that's made his continued involvement with I-CAR one of his best decisions. "And the other is shrinking profit margins, caused by bureaucrats in both government and the insurance industry. It's like they say, 'We want you to swim and win the race, but here's some weight just to help you out.'"
Now in his mid-50s, at a time, as he put it, that "most people are enjoying grandkids or an RV," Roach said at least another decade of running his shop lies ahead. A primary reason: Five years ago, he and his wife adopted four Russian orphans.
"We'd had three kids of our own (now grown) and thought we were done," he said.
But after agreeing to house a 4-year-old and 10-year old, brothers who were in the United States for a couple of weeks, Roach said he and his wife, Debra, decided to adopt them.
"They were malnourished after being institutionalized in an orphanage in Siberia. Not a good place to be," he said. "And this was the day after Christmas, so what was I supposed to say, 'There's no room at the inn'?"
But they subsequently learned that the two boys had two sisters as well. Although Roach said his wife had been the one to push for the adoption initially, she was hesitant to take on the challenge of four children.
"But I said, 'We're already prepared to alter our lives; what's the difference?'" he said.
Within months, the Roaches traveled to Siberia and brought the children home. The Roaches spoke no Russian, the children no English. Now ranging in age from 8 to 18, the four are being home-schooled by their adoptive mother and "are thriving quite well," Roach said.
Although he said he feels good about the new life they have been able to offer the children, he shrugged off any praise.
"I'm not that great a guy who is always doing that sort of stuff, so I take zero credit," he said. "It isn't me; anybody could do this."
This from a shop owner in the process of setting up chairs in his shop in order to again give back to his industry by teaching yet another I-CAR course that evening.