Old school values lay foundation for new school vehicle repairs
Pleasanton, Calif.—Looking back fondly on 30 years in the collision repair industry, owner Jeff Gil is proud of what he and his family have achieved at Gil’s Body Works. As a former metal technician and painter, this second-generation operator has witnessed many changes since 1988, when he began the business, and although it’s tougher to make money now, it is also a better industry overall, he said.
“The cars are obviously more intricate, which presents us with a whole new set of challenges,” he said. “With new metals, cutting-edge equipment, processes and products, it’s a whole different game. We have to do things such as pre- and post- scans and follow the OE procedures to the letter on every car without exception.”
As a result, Gil strongly encourages all of his technicians to pursue as much training as they possibly can. “We are better at repairing these cars by embracing all of the intense training that has become so necessary for our techs,” he said. “A new vehicle comes out with new technology and we’re expected to know how to fix them.”
Gil, 56, started his career in collision repair at age 13 while attending school. At first, it was a chore, but after a while he began to enjoy the environment and respect what his late father Ralph achieved at his shop, Parkway Body Shop in Dublin, Calif.
“At first, working there was a form of punishment,” Gil said. “If I messed up in school, my parents would send me to the shop to sand cars or sweep the floors. Later, I took auto tech classes at high school and by the age of 18, I was a journeyman. All of my friends were working at fast food places, but I was doing something that I loved and making good money.”
With 11 employees operating out of a 10,000-square-foot facility, Gil repairs roughly 100 vehicles monthly and maintains three DRPs. One of his managers is his son Troy Gil and Jeff’s wife does the bookkeeping and assists in the front office. While other shops in the Bay Area have come and gone, Gil’s Body Works has excelled and metered growth is a big part of that, Gil said.
“My father told me that I better do a good job because this is a small town and you don’t want to have to avoid them at the grocery store. Be honest and always try to give them a little something free, because they’ll always remember it. In this business, you have to do all of the little things right if you want to please both the customers and the insurance companies.”
While other shops often scramble to get top technicians and retain them, Gil is able to keep his people on the team and feeling good about their jobs. “We appreciate them, because without our crew, we’d be lost,” he said. “One of my techs retired recently after being here for 25 years and another one has been here for two decades. On average, they’ve been here for 10-11 years, because we listen to them and enable them to contribute to our success. My head estimator, Matt McDermott, has been here for six years and has almost 40 years in the industry, so he’s definitely a prime example of the types of people we want here.”
With the larger chains opening up in the Bay Area on a regular basis, Gil can see new challenges that didn’t exist even 10 years ago, he said. “The Multiple Shop Operations (MSOs) are coming to town with insurance partnerships already in place. This means we have to stay at the top of their lists to avoid getting bumped. It’s all based on price and performance and things like cycle times, repair versus replace, carefully documenting every aspect of each repair and maintaining a CSI rating that has to exceed at least 90 percent. If you fail in any of these areas, the MSOs are right there waiting for that business.”
With multiple sources for repair work, Gil’s gets a variety through local dealerships and fleet accounts, he said. “We have three dealerships here in Pleasanton and that helps. They’re comfortable referring us, because we’ve proven ourselves over the years. We also work on vans and medium size trucks for the California Highway Patrol, local police and garbage company, to name a few. This way, we don’t have to rely solely on DRP work, which is nice.”