Anticipating industry trends and direction key to Sacramento shop’s success
Sacramento, Calif.—Shop owners Kerrie and Erik Kohler embrace cutting-edge tools, equipment and products at Duane’s Body & Paint to repair an average 40 cars weekly. While other shops were still using solvent-based paint 11 years ago, Duane’s was spraying waterborne paint, and while others were thinking of setting up their facility to repair aluminum vehicles, the Kohlers were already there.
By also making it a major priority, the shop has won three AutoCheX Premier Achiever Awards for its customer service, Kerrie Kohler said. “We won in 2010, 2013 and 2016, because we received customer reviews that were positive more than 90 percent of the time. Through AAA and sponsored by Mitchell, which is our management system, we survey every customer and the feedback we receive is invaluable.”
Kohler said that by making the customer experience a priority with her crew, it has paid off. “We focus on being different from a typical body shop, by stressing professionalism and maintaining a clean facility. We train our estimators how to explain every repair and keeping them in the loop during the process. We update the information every two days and and make sure the customer knows our progress via text, email or phone call if necessary. If we run into any delays, we let them know immediately. People know that issues can come up, but by keeping them informed they appreciate it.”
Duane’s was founded by Duane and Sharon Scott in 1976 in the back of a motorcycle repair shop until they bought a facility in 1981, Kohler said. “In 1996, Erik was hired to manage the business, and then we bought the company in 2003. Since then, we have grown significantly for two main reasons. First, we got five DRPs because prior to that the shop had none and was getting cars by strictly word of mouth. Secondly, we started focusing more on marketing, advertising and community outreach. The shop has grown from 14,000 square feet to 40,000 square feet and today we employ 24 people.”
Kohler said that gearing up to work on aluminum vehicles back in 2014 required a considerable investment in equipment and training, but it’s proven to be worth it.
“We have a decent amount of Ford F-150s here in Sacramento, so the $35,000 we spent to be aluminum capable has already paid for itself. Our technicians use a CMI MG/MAG welder from Car-O-Liner for both aluminum and high-strength steel, so it gets a lot of use. We worked with Precision for Collision in Roseville for our aluminum package, because they’re very knowledgeable and responsive to our needs.”
To repair plastic bumpers rather than replacing them has also proven to be a sage decision, Erik Kohler said. “We have one technician who is really good at using the Polyvance Nitro System welder, but all of them have been trained on the machine and can use it.”
To fill a need for good employees, Kerrie Kohler said that Duane’s reaches out to their local high school ROP programs and hires them to work during summers. “Our goal is to teach them our way of doing things, especially when it comes to our estimators. They come here with the basic knowledge and then we introduce them to our company’s culture. One of our general manager, Hector Jimenez, started here at age 17, working after school for two years until he graduated from Kennedy High School’s auto tech program. Now he’s 31 and an integral part of the team.”
Anticipating the mandated use of waterborne paint in California, Duane’s discarded their solvent paint back in 2005, she said. “We wanted to use it before it became a law in 2007, so that if we encountered issues with the waterborne, we’d be prepared. We use the PPG Envirobase waterborne product and are very pleased with the process and the finished product.”
Consolidation has come to the Sacramento area in a big way, but the Kohlers aren’t interested in joining a chain, Kohler said. “We enjoy doing our own thing and staying strong, even though there are fewer and fewer independent shops in this area. The larger chains have approached us, but we’re proud to be an independent family business.”
In their mid-forties, Erik and Kerrie aren’t considering retirement quite yet, Kohler said. “We’re currently trying to build our management team, so that we can step away a little bit and take a breath. We still love this business and get satisfaction from serving our customers and doing a quality job.”
In an industry that changes continually, Erik Kohler said that Duane’s can never rest. “We just got back from SEMA to see what’s out there and talk to all of the top manufacturers. We want to be able to work successfully on these newer cars, so staying current in every aspect of our business is crucial.”