Mile Hi Automotive adds Subaru to longstanding Saab specialization
Denver—What do Saab and Subaru vehicle owners have in common? A lot, says Jerry Danner, who owns and operates Mile Hi Automotive. Aside from a penchant for driving turbo-charged wagons and for enjoying the outdoors, these folks also own 2.9 dogs, he said with a smile during a recent visit with Parts & People.
“It’s always nice to specialize in a single car, rather than being a general practitioner,” Danner said. So when GM shed Saab from its U.S. lineup after the 2011 model year, he said he had to seriously consider how he would expand from the only brand that he and his father, Ken Danner, had worked on since 1969.
The end result was the addition of Subaru mechanical repair specialization in June, Danner said, and plans to offer used Subaru parts soon.
“We thrived a long time on a small ownership pool,” Danner said of Saab. Under a single roof, Danner has been providing collision and mechanical repair services for his customers, while selling used and new parts through his recycling operation, and also selling used cars. The business operated under the Mile Hi Body Shop moniker for decades, he said, but he changed it to Mile Hi Automotive last year.
“You get spoiled working on one make of car,” Danner said, admitting that “it was hard to transition.”
While pulling vehicle registration information, Danner said he did consider other makes. Ultimately, Subaru was the vehicle of choice, because of the sheer volume of registrations in Denver metro.
Within a five-mile radius of the shop, located near West Sixth Avenue and Kalamath Street, there are as many Subaru registrations as there are Saabs in the entire state of Colorado, said Mile Hi General Manager Ryan Kapple.
Through a combination of new signage on the 19,000-square-foot building that functions as a billboard for motorists traveling east along Sixth Avenue, a new website, a Facebook page, direct mail, and online listings, the word is getting out, Kapple said.
“We expected it would be a slow transition,” Kapple said. “There are a lot of good Subaru shops out there.” As for the body shop, he said Mile Hi has always performed a large amount of collision repair work on Subarus.
When Subaru collision customers are in the shop taking delivery of their car, they’re handed a direct-mail piece featuring the shop’s Subaru mechanical services, Kapple said, a natural way to capture new business.
In order to accurately diagnose and repair Subarus, Danner said the shop purchased a Subaru Select Monitor III (SSM) and a Subaru Diagnostic Interface (SDI). The laptop-based scan tool gives them the ability to perform any service a dealership can offer, he said, including programming and reflashing.
A struggle at the moment, Kapple said, is figuring out how to gain security access past certain interfaces in the car.
Parts suppliers have been able to accommodate the Subaru line, he said.
“Collision is an important part of the business,” Danner said. Even though it’s not as large as the mechanical repair operation, the 5,000-square-foot body shop is currently running at maximum capacity, under the watchful eye of Manager Joe Ambrosio.
Status as a major DRP for a large insurance carrier keeps the shop’s three bodymen constantly busy, Danner said. Like the mechanical business, the body shop works on all makes, he added.
“Painting a fender on a BMW is no different than a Saab,” Danner said. The shop sprays Akzo Nobel’s Sikkens, supplied through LKQ Corp. in Denver. “It’s expensive, but good,” he said of the paint.
To keep cycle times low, Kapple said they will pre-order new replacement parts before the collision-damaged vehicle arrives from major wholesaling dealerships in the area, including John Elway, Mike Shaw, and AutoNation.
Since Mile Hi has three distinct departments, which are usually operated as separate businesses by most, it’s a challenge to find a management system that works well, Kapple said.
“We basically take body shop sales and merge them into mechanical” by using the R.O. Writer system, Danner said.
The shop could have a separate management system for each department, Kapple said, but that would be too costly and redundant. A single profit-and-loss statement makes using one system possible, he added.
New, recycled, and remanufactured parts
Having parts available on site is a huge benefit, Danner said. “We try to take the high-turning parts out of the car – powertrain, window regulators, and turbos.”
The fact that the parts cannot be cataloged in a Hollander system, Kapple said, limits their ability to wholesale them effectively online through websites such as car-part.com, which automatically pull data from a yard’s inventory system to populate their sites.
A healthy inventory of rebuilt Saab cylinder heads is also in stock, Danner said. New mechanical parts are sourced mainly through WORLDPAC, NAPA, SSF, John Elway dealerships, and Western Automotive Warehouse Distributors (WAWD).
“If we can get the OE part, we prefer that,” Danner said, adding that in some cases, aftermarket brands are better, such as NAPA brake pads.