Kelly Whitlock says helping consumers whose vehicles are totaled helps build customer loyalty and word-of-mouth referrals.At age 73, William Whitlock still works every day as a technician as the shop he bought in the early 1990s.Painter Nick Hansen, who joined A Master Touch after moving to Portland from California, preps a Jeep Wrangler.Chris Hallberg, a technician at the shop for 20 years, installs a hood release cable on a Toyota 4Runner.Technician Brandon Wallace works on a bumper for a vehicle being repaired by the shop.

Portland shop builds customer loyalty, referrals and avoids DRPs

A Master & Touch Body & Paint markets ‘can-do’ attitude with insurer negotiating skills

Portland, Ore.—Kelly Whitlock believes that investing time in helping consumers whose vehicles that A Master & Touch Body & Paint doesn’t repair – because those vehicles are declared total losses – has been good for the business.

“That silver Camry out there has been a month-long battle with the insurance company,” Whitlock said, pointing to a car parked in front of the family’s shop. “I kept having her request that someone from the insurance company meet her here. We went over the whole car together, and that helped raise the value by more than $2,000 from what they were originally going to pay her. That’s something I will help anyone who has a total loss do. I put a tremendous amount of time into it, but look at our Google and Yelp reviews. They’re pretty good.”

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At a glance

• Shop size: 6,500 square feet
• Employee count: 6
• Paint line: PPG Envirobase
• Estimating: Audatex

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Whitlock knows that woman will return to the shop the next time she’s in an accident.

“And so will everyone she knows,” he said, noting that woman herself came to the shop based on word of mouth even though she lives 25 miles away.

That type of “marketing” – along with a limited amount of advertising on a Christian radio station – has kept business coming into A Master Touch without the need for insurer direct repair agreements. Whitlock’s father, William, bought the business in the early 1990s, and continues to work every day as a technician at the shop while his son handles the front office.

“He’s not the average 72 year old,” Whitlock said of his father. “He’s a phenomenal guy. He still does everything you would do as a tech in your 20s, 30s or 40s.”

 

Equipment investments

The shop’s equipment list includes an AFC Finishing Systems paint booth, a Chief frame rack and the Hein-Werner Apex measuring system.

“We were just discussing getting a new A/C machine, but I don’t know if we’re going to buy one, because the insurance companies still want to pay you 1.8 to evacuate and recharge,” Whitlock said. “The last few I’ve sent out to dealerships to have done have been more like $400. It’s a three or four hour process. The insurance companies won’t pay us that. So it may be easier just to send that work out.”

Whitlock tries to consider such calculations whenever making changes at the business.

“When insurance companies quit allowing us to mark up tow bills, we bought a tow truck so we can do all our own tows,” he said. “I had tried to talk my dad into getting a tow truck for years. Finally, we had enough money in the account, and I found a good deal on one, and I just went out and wrote a check for it.”

In addition to transporting vehicles to and from sublet vendors, the tow truck has helped the shop pull in business from further away, such as when a previous customer had an accident 60 miles away.

“We drove to Carson, Washington to pick it up,” Whitlock said. “It was a $500 tow bill for an hour-and-a-half to go do it. That’s pretty decent. We don’t try to be exorbitant, just get paid for what we do.”

Another tool Whitlock has used to help his negotiations with insurance companies is BillableGenie, an online database of claims data searchable by insurance company and estimate line item.

“When an insurance company says, ‘We don’t pay for that,’ it’s usually not true because they actually do,” he said. “I used this last week when an insurance company said they wouldn’t pay for pre- and post-repair scans. I pulled up the system and showed them the claim numbers users had submitted for which that insurance company did pay for those scans. She then said that was in a different part of the country, but I said they don’t fix the car any differently in Michigan than they do here.”

The shop uses both a Snap-on and AllData tools to conduct vehicle scans.

“Everything has become way more technical,” Whitlock said. “You have to be a full-fledged mechanic to do body work now. We have two different scanners just to be able to talk to vehicles. One of the main reasons we got the AllData scanner is that gives us access to all the automaker information. We’ve been looking at some of the estimating systems that has all that information in it, but I don’t want to lose the 20 years of our shop’s information in our current system’s database.”

A long-time PPG customer, the shop made the switch to PPG’s Envirobase waterborne line several years ago.

“We buy that and most everything from Bob’s Paint Land” in Vancouver, Wash., Whitlock said. “Their rep is really on top of things. If there’s an issue, he solves it. He figures out whatever it is and helps you out. And if there’s a new product, we hear about it. That’s the biggest complaint I had with suppliers. They don’t necessarily tell you when there’s something new out there. In the past, a factory rep might come in to show us something we’d want immediately, and only then we’d find out it had been out for two or three years and no one had told us. Bob’s keeps us better informed.”

On Whitlock’s current to-do list is stepping up the shop’s aluminum repair capabilities and continuing a long-standing effort to add another body technician.

“We’ve been trying to hire a body man for a while, but no one responds to the ad,” he said, noting the company recently hired a painter who relocated from Southern California. “They’re just not out 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.