Investments in tooling and equipment is investment in proper repairs
Portland, Ore.—Kraig Weninger said two of the tools getting increased use at his business, Si’s Auto Body, is the company’s AllData subscription and a Snap-on scanner.
“Our goal is to go by the [vehicle] manufacturers’ recommendations,” Weninger said of the shop’s repair decisions. “With AllData, we can print off how something needs to be welded on the car, for example, and show the insurance company, because they often have 10 different ideas that aren’t correct.”
Those OEM procedures are also what’s led to the shop scanning most of the 10 vehicles it repairs in a typical week.
“We do a pre-scan when it first comes in to see what codes are on it,” Weninger said. “Then we re-scan it at the end.”
Some of the trouble diagnostic codes found in those scans the shop can handle, he said, while others require that the vehicle be sent to nearby dealership.
“We’re not mechanics and we’re not going to pretend to be,” Weninger said.
The shop currently employs six people, including two of Weninger’s children, Brenna and Jaired, who have joined the company in the last four years. Prior to that time, the shop had only a small office in the corner of its 5,000-square-foot facility, but Weninger was able to purchase a building and lot next door to add more office and parking space.
Until this fall, Brenna and Jaired oversaw the office, working with customers and insurers, while Weninger remained the shop’s painter. But Jaired said he wanted to learn more about production, so Weninger hired a painter, began working with Brenna in the shop office, and gave Jaired an opportunity to work as a technician.
“I put him under the wing of a really talented technician,” Weninger said. “He just felt he wanted to understand it all better, and feels it will help him work better with customers and adjusters having had some hands-on experience.”
Nearly all the other shop employees are technicians Weninger worked with earlier in his career before he bought the business in 2004. He said he’s worked to improve the benefits the company offers, including medical and dental insurance and, soon, a 401(k) retirement plan.
“I also make sure I know what the technicians say they need to do the best repair they can,” Weninger said. “I don’t want them to have money as an excuse. I tell them, ‘It takes what it takes. You can have anything you need to fix this car. You just need to tell me.’ Because without that, they can’t do their job and the best repair for the customer. So they tell us what they need, and we then work to get that accomplished and paid for.”
The shop’s equipment includes a Chief frame rack and laser measuring system, a Forward 2-post lift, and a GYS inverter spot welder purchased about seven years ago. As vehicle materials and structures continue to evolve, Weninger said his next purchase will be a Pro Spot welder.
“We’ve been a long-time PPG-user through Industrial Finishes, who are great to us,” Weninger said. “They’re going to help us finance the new spot welder.”
The company has relied largely on word-of-mouth marketing to expand over the years, finding the online reviews left by customers to be one of the best ways to attract new business. The shop participates in one insurance company direct repair program, but dropped out of another.
“We’re working for the customer,” Weninger said, “that’s the reason we took ourselves off the one program. Besides giving us tons of paperwork we had to do, at the end of the day it wasn’t good for our customers. When State Farm came to us a couple years back, they pretty much said, ‘Hey, our goal is just to do a good job.’ You don’t hear that often from insurance companies. They have some hoops we have to jump through, but so far it’s been a good relationship.
With a consistent multi-week backlog of work, Weninger said he’s become more discerning in what jobs he accepts and which he sends elsewhere.
“Unless it’s for a prior customer, we’ve tried to stay clear of the higher-end cars, the Mercedes and the Jaguars,” he said. “These cars are getting more and more complicated for any shop to do all types of repairs and to have all the special tools and equipment. So we probably pass on three cars a day.”
Now in his 50s, Weninger also said he’s shifted his own priorities recently, worrying less than he previously did about the company’s financials and taking more time off, changes made possible in part because of the “amazing help” he has since his son and daughter have joined the business.
“I think my wife gets a little jealous that I get to hang out with my kids all day,” he said. “When issues come up, I talk with Jaired and Brenna and we come to an agreement on how to handle it. I’m hoping one of them will continue this business on. Everybody always says sell, sell, sell. I don’t want to do that. I just hope one of them will be able to take it over when I retire.”