Owner James Kim (left) at Kim’s Auto Body with and one of the shop’s original employees Duke Van, age 75. Kim had no industry experience when he took over his family business.Technician Franklin Landaverde is learning how to use all of the shop’s new equipment and tools, primarily through manufacturer training.

Baptism by fire — James Kim builds on father’s success as industry neophyte

Now a seasoned veteran, Kim acquires top equipment and embraces technology, setting Kim’s Auto Body up for future

Santa Clara, Calif.—James Kim, the owner of Kim’s Auto Body entered the collision repair industry unexpectedly when his late father found out he had cancer in 2005. Fresh out of college with a B.A. in International Studies from UC Irvine, Kim knew literally nothing about how to run a busy body shop, but he jumped in with both feet and hasn’t looked back since.

Taking over a 26-year-old shop was a real game changer for Kim, he said. “I was considering entering the Peace Corps and seeing the world, but life had other plans for me. I had to figure things out on my own just to survive, so I immersed myself in the business and got up to speed as fast as I could. I started asking my crew a lot of questions and read everything I could get my hands on. Back then, we were fixing three to four cars weekly and I was scrambling to get them done. My father had a lot of longtime clients, so it made it a little easier. But, admittedly, it was a scary time.”

Now, Kim, 36, is a confident owner with an acute eye on the future. His company’s motto is “Give Value. Solve Problems. Blow Minds.” A big part of Kim’s success and growth relates is because he’s not afraid to embrace new technology through training and by acquiring top-tier, high-end equipment, Kim said.

“Currently, we’re fixing 60-70 vehicles every month without any DRPs and our goal is to do about 120 cars every month within the next two years. To be ready when the time comes, we have been doing our research and identifying the types of tools we need to repair these new vehicles. Investing in our future is something we know we need to do and although it isn’t inexpensive, I’m confident that it will pay off and put us in a position for continued success.”

Roughly two years ago, Kim purchased a USI booth even though it was a significant expenditure. After his paint crew got accustomed to using all of its features, they began seeing its multiple benefits.

“People have described this Italian-made booth as a microwave oven for painting vehicles and I can agree,” he said. “The booth features a computerized system called an EPS that allows the painter to determine the correct time for painting a car, saving us time and energy during the entire process. We can paint one to two more vehicles every day with this amazing booth.”

Other pieces of equipment and tools integrated into his production include a Wedge Clamp System, Pro Spot welders, a Flatliner Dent Puller, Fronius Welder to name a few.

“If something can help us to do a better job, then we will take a close look at it,” Kim said. “We’re always looking at value and efficiency, because we want to be able to use the same tools for many years. The industry is going to change, but we can stay ahead of it if we invest in the right tools.”  

Kim is growing and making plans to expand without the benefit of insurance partnerships, he said, and he prefers it that way.

“We want to stay independent, so that we can dictate the quality of every repair and bring value to our customers. I would rather give the discount to the customer as opposed to giving it to their insurance company. Other shops discourage customer-pay jobs and want work that only comes through their DRPs, but I don’t want to operate that way.”

Although he is developing processes to handle the increased workload once it happens, Kim said he hopes to keep the “mom and pop” style of customer service while becoming a high production shop.

“I visited another shop one time that fixes 500 cars every month and I believe that the customer experience gets diluted as a result. Many of my father’s original customers still bring their cars here and I don’t ever want to reach the point where I can’t remember their names and faces anymore. We’re shooting for $3 million this year and it looks attainable, but I don’t want to sacrifice customer service to get there.”

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.