Not just another pretty face
Reseda, Calif.— Audrey Coletta had just recently assumed ownership of her father’s shop 13 years ago when a man walked in for an estimate. She gave him a shop tour, explained the repair process, and let him know they were highly experienced and trained.
“About halfway through the tour, the guy looks at me, surprised, and says, ‘As a woman, you really do know what you’re talking about. I’m impressed.’ I wasn’t sure how to take it.
“Well,” I told him, “I have to know what I’m talking about. My business, customers and employees depend on it.”
Even though she grew up in the shop helping her father, R. Lee Brown, at Precision Auto Body, in Hollywood since 1960, earning the respect of her customers and employees was challenging when she took over the reins.
“Not only has being a woman in a male-dominated field been a challenge, so has being a second-generation owner,” Coletta said. “It takes a constant effort to prove you know what you’re talking about.
“My father has a name as a pioneer in the collision industry, especially in foreign repairs, so people in the industry weren’t sure of my role.”
Even though she has never repaired a car herself, Coletta knows and understands the repair process as well as the business side. Her first job was working in the shop’s office when she started high school: first as a receptionist, then as bookkeeper and then in billing. After college, she returned and handled all of the finances.
When she started to take on more of an ownership role, before her father retired, employees weren’t confident in her leadership abilities and it was apparent, she said, and it took time to demonstrate her capabilities and earn their respect. That was then, this is now
Those initial feelings of doubt soon faded, too, over time, and she has led Precision to make investments, expand and adhere to training regiments for its multiple OEM certifications.
“I’ve worked hard to prove my intentions, drive, and dedication to maintaining the success of the shop and we have several longtime employees who have been supportive.”
“We have done OEM-certified repair work from the beginning and have always focused on OEM repair procedures for high-end vehicles,” said Coletta, adding that they are a Mercedes-Benz Elite Aluminum repair facility — which requires their technicians to go to Texas twice a year for training — a Porsche Approved Collision Center, Audi Authorized Repair Facility, and BMW and Mini factory trained.
Five years ago, Precision built an aluminum room with two bays and in-ground lifts for low profile cars and continually trains its body technicians in aluminum repair.
“They have to be highly trained in order to do it properly,” she said. “We’ve also invested in a lot of equipment and tools to repair aluminum body and frame damage.”
The shop features a Chief EZ Liner, a Global Jig by Chief Super Rotax Bench, four Celette frame machines, several spot welders and special tools required by Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Audi, a Festool dry sander, introduced by her paint supplier, FinishMaster, and uses parts carts and mirror parts matching for its meticulous teardowns.
“The dry sander really saves time and our techs love it, and the parts carts ensure that nothing gets lost,” Coletta added.
The I-CAR Gold shop has 13 bays, 35 employees, I-CAR Gold and Platinum-recognized and ASE Master technicians, sprays PPG Envirobase, has a German Lutro spray booth, a bake booth converted to paint booth for parts, and a downdraft station with a lift.
“We use Mitchell UltraMate and CCC One Repair Workflow and we’ve streamlined our computer system to speed processes. And we installed LED lighting throughout the shop four years ago and solar panels in October to reduce our carbon footprint.”
All of the investments, plus strong dealership ties and referrals, and a large repeat customer base, resulted in a 16-percent increase in 2016 and it’s on track to finish 2017 9-percent higher. The average repair order is $5,400 and averages 123 cars a month, both of which are up. What’s next?
For 2018, Coletta said her growth strategy includes working more closely with dealerships, continuing to improve efficiency and customer satisfaction, getting more certifications, and leveraging its OEM certifications to increase profitability.
“We are also working hard to raise our labor rates to get ahead of the annual minimum wage increases in L.A., and participate in labor rate surveys continuously.
“And we always look for new ways to build our reputation.”