‘It takes a village’
El Monte, Calif.—Peter Hong, second-generation owner of Fix Auto Downtown El Monte, said even though the shop has been a fixture in El Monte since his father, Pot Ka Hong, opened it 1984 in Los Angeles, partnering with Fix Auto in 2016 and investing in new equipment and technology has unquestionably made the bottom line better.
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At a Glance
• Shop size: 26,000 square feet
• Employees: 16
• Average RO: $4,500
• Gold Class: 4 years
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“It definitely took a village to get our shop from what it was before to what it is now,” Hong, a member of CAA Glendale chapter, said.
“Fix Auto Corporate has been invaluable by adding me into its network of experienced shop owners, providing marketing opportunities, and the addition of national DRP accounts.”
In the past year, the shop has focused a lot of its resources on adding and updating equipment across all areas, including a Celette Frame Bench, a second Car-O-Liner Bench Rack, a Pro Spot SP-5 for aluminum, steel, and silicon brazing, and upgraded its Pro Spot resistance welder from an i4 to an i4S.
It has also added factory scan tools for its most-used brands, and the shop’s OEM certifications, which include Toyota/Lexus, Honda/Acura, Nissan/Infiniti, Subaru, GM, BMW, and Tesla, plus calibration targets and AsTech and Mitchell/Bosch scan tools, for the remaining makes.
The shop purchases its paint and supplies from Peter Advincula at FinishMaster and Frank Francicus, their Akzo Nobel sales rep, and collision parts from various dealerships and directly from the manufacturer.
“We tried CollisionLink for a while but found that we got better prices going to the dealership,” he said. “We also buy from Overall Parts Solutions (OPS) and PartsTrader.”
Hong said he is also fortunate to have the support of the AkzoNobel Acoat Selected “Krytonite” group, which is a business development program for Sikkens brand customers that provides resources and training on how to improve day-to-day operations, consulting services, management training, financial benchmarking, coaching, and networking.
“We work very closely with Jeff Baker, from AkzoNobel, who has been invaluable and provides a breadth of knowledge on data analysis and the process of using data to help with workflow.”
Recently, the shop implemented Carbeat from AkzoNobel, which includes a 70-inch digital production board that displays and gathers pertinent workflow data in real time, and includes tech support, reports, quarterly coaching, and access to the Carbeat software.
“Although production boards are not new technology, it is the knowledge and education they provide on how to use and interpret the collected data that has made the most impact in identifying successes and failures,” said Hong, adding that his shop has grown more than 20 percent in the past two years.
“This is largely attributable to the addition of multiple DRPs, OEM certifications, and the shift of focus within our shop to the retention of returning customers.”
Average cycle time is 9.8 days, the shop has around 40 cars in process at any given time, and the average RO is $4,500, which Hong said isn’t so much because of the extent of the vehicle damage, but to other costs such as scanning, calibration, and one-time-use parts, which has resulted in more replacement than repair.
“First, we pull up the OEM repair procedures and, as a company policy, we pre- and post-scan every vehicle, and calibrate sensors that the manufactuer calls for, including the seats, because of safety, even if we don’t remove them. And the range of one-time-use parts can be dramatic, from the tiniest bolt to a frame rail.”
Calibration of occupant and radar sensors is also becoming more popular, he said. His shop has prepared for those trends by increasing education and training for the repair team, as well as doing due diligence in researching procedures on initialization and calibration before putting any vehicles into production.
“We tell our crew to do the repair like it is the family’s car,” Hong said, “which, to us, means repairing it to original factory condition, or manufacturers’ specifications, instead of just looking good.
If there’s pre-existing damage, we point it out to the customer and ask them if they want us to fix it since it’s already in the shop.”
Hong is a firm believer that there is always something new that can be learned and improved upon. Therefore, training and education is the best investment a shop can easily make.
“All of our technicians are I-CAR Platinum-recognized and some are also ASE-certified. Our shop also provides OEM certification training to individual technicians who would like to specialize in a specific vehicle make.”
As the vehicles evolve, shops also need to evolve with them, Hong said. As for new trends, he sees them not as something that are transient, but rather signals to the ever-changing and evolving industry.