Investments equipment and certifications keeps 142-year-old shop ticking
Oakland, Calif.—It’s not all that uncommon to find a collision repair business that has reached its 25th anniversary in business. But there aren’t many that reached that milestone in 1902 and are still operating.
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At a glance:
• Founded: 1877
• Shop size: 15,000 square feet
• Employee count: 15
• Car count: About 100 per month
• Paint line: PPG Envirobase
• Estimating: CCC ONE and Mitchell International
• Management system: CCC
• Gold Class: For 12 years
• Memberships: California Autobody Association
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“I like to say we’re a modern shop that has been around forever,” said Ron Arth, of George V. Arth & Son, who operates the business his great-grandfather started – as a blacksmith shop – in 1877.
The business clearly has evolved with the times, first shifting from carriage work to putting wagon beds onto truck chassis as motorized vehicles developed.
“I asked my father how the company made it through The Great Depression, and he said for those who did have a car then, it was a source of pride,” Arth said. “So if you got a dent, you got it fixed, even though you didn’t have much money. It was a priority. People took care of the things they had.”
Decades later, the shop was among the first to bring in unibody frame equipment and computerized estimating. Today, George V. Arth & Son is equipped and certified for Ford aluminum repair, is installing LED lighting throughout the shop to meet Honda certification requirements, uses the asTech remote vehicle scanning system as well as a aftermarket scan tool from Matco, and is adding a second Hunter alignment rack.
“The new alignment rack will make us more efficient and allow us to do stability control calibrations here,” Arth said. “I don’t waste time sending two employees down and back to the alignment shop. We try to do alignments before a vehicle goes to the paint shop, so if we do need to order parts, they are here. That definitely improves our turnaround time.”
He said he believes in staying ahead of industry trends.
“With the Ford aluminum certification, I didn’t want to wait until I had to do it,” Arth said. “I have a fleet account that started out with 75 — and now has maybe 120 — Ford F-150 and F-250s. I didn’t want them coming to me and saying they were going to have to take those vehicles somewhere else. And we’ve been sent Ford trucks by other companies because they know we’re certified. So you can wait until you absolutely have to do something, but then you’re behind the eight ball.”
The shop is not immune to the challenge of finding qualified technicians. Arth said a three-week backlog of work is in part caused because he has been looking for another journeyman body technician “for forever.”
“It’s hard to find somebody with the quality that I feel comfortable working on these cars,” Arth said. “So I’ve definitely been shorthanded for a long time. That’s stressful on everybody. It’s hard enough when one guy goes on vacation, and this is like having someone gone on vacation for a few years.”
One solution he’s found: Bringing in auto body students from nearby College of Alameda.
“I basically hire them to work when they can,” Arth said. “I tell them, ‘You bring me your receipt for books and classes, plus your report card, and I’ll reimburse you. But if you drop a class or fail a class, you’re not getting reimbursed.’ It can be a little hit-and-miss, but you get a couple good ones that stick, and that makes it worth the investment.”
Arth said he also was able to hire an employee who had been a paint prepper at another shop for nine years.
“They never advanced him. The two painters there didn’t want to teach him anything,” Arth said. “So he’s working here and learning to spray, and he’s making more money. We try to continue to move the younger guys here up, to continue to develop them so they’re able to do more and more.”
He said there have been a number of companies that have been reliable partners for his business.
“We’ve been using PPG pretty much since we started using HVLP a long time ago,” Arth said. “They get our painters the specific training they need. Ned’s Auto Body Supply has always been good about helping keep us up to date on what’s new, what’s going on, showing us new tools or equipment. 3M also has been in here a number of times, helping get us set up with Festool dustless sanding in the body and paint departments. Those make a huge difference.”
The shop participates in a handful of direct repair programs, but with its long history, including more than 55 years at its current location, Arth said much of its business is repeat customers along with their friends and relatives.
“When we repainted the building, we added, ‘Since 1877’ to it, and someone from the Oakland Museum across the street came over thinking the painter had made a mistake and it should say, ‘1977,’” Arth said. “They were working on an exhibit on old businesses in Oakland, and they had no clue about us, but they ended up putting some of my great-grandfather’s tools in the exhibit.”
Does he foresee the company lasting another 140 years?
“Nobody can predict the whole future,” Arth said. “I tell everybody when the first car without a driver comes in for an estimate, then we may have to rethink things.”