Island Fender is nestled between dealerships like its own island of repair. To one side is downtown Honolulu and to the other side is downtown Waikiki. Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW and Velocity dealerships are all located within mere blocks of each other along the way, says Van Takemoto, owner of Island Fender, located in Honolulu, Hawaii.
“We’re kind of out of place,” Takemoto says.
In fact, Island Fender is one of only a few independent body shops left in the entire town.
Takemoto was faced with an opportunity when he took over his family’s body shop in the early 1990s. While the independent body shop was one of a few among larger dealership businesses, he realized he could use it as an advantage to gain referral work. And to sweeten the deal, the dealerships did not have body shops attached to the businesses.
In 2011, Takemoto kicked off a period of gaining more certifications because he also wanted to get out from some of his direct repair program relationships, he says.
Today, the shop produces about $3 million in annual revenue with a staff of seven technicians and three office personnel.
Takemoto, along with Scott Biggs, CEO and founder of Assured Performance Network, outline the top mistakes that shop owners can make sure to circumvent when planning to become certified shops.
Mistake #1: Technicians not evaluated for skill sets
Takemoto says that if the certified technicians are doing the job of entry-level technicians, it is a time and money waster. Here’s why: If one-third of the technicians in the shop are certified for Mercedes-Benz and Audi, and the OEMs require training at a certain time, the shop loses on production when those technicians are out of town to become certified or recertified. Instead, shops should focus on having a variety of certified technicians because it could take years for the technicians to gain certification training.
That way, Takemoto says that the shop can will spend less on training and stop losing out on money if a technician is gone for a significant period of time.
At Island Fender, the technician structure centers around the goal of leveraging the cost of training. Certified technicians supervise non-certified technicians or lower-paid technicians.
Biggs says that a leader should take time to evaluate the skills of the current staff and to thoroughly analyze what skills are in the “inventory” before choosing certification programs that are the right fit for the shop.
Mistake # 2: Making short-term investments
In the past, shops would not research the specifications of each certification. Instead, the shops would end up buying the wrong tools and equipment, Biggs says. To avoid that, he recommends shop owners search and find the required equipment lists published by the OEs and Assured Performance Network.
Biggs says to be sure and ask your equipment sales organization to only offer you the equipment that meets the OEM certification requirements and double check before you commit to the purchase.
It’s simple to take time to look at the approved equipment, paint and tools lists, Takemoto says. The manufacturer sends the lists to the shop and Takemoto says he pays close attention to what equipment he already had that was listed.
He says equipment purchase planning can save a shop tens of thousands of dollars if the shop does not have to purchase a different “authorized brand” computerized plus welder or self-piercing rivet gun, or aluminum-sanding vacuum that does the same thing as one already in the shop.
While some OEM certifications do require a large investment, Takemoto says that if the investment is done right, tools and training can carry over to multiple certifications.
Takemoto invested roughly $300,000 to become a Mercedes-Benz certified shop but once the shop was certified through that OE, the team discovered all the equipment could be used to gain a Volkswagen certification.
Mistake #3: Not sending technicians to training
While the training is different for higher-end manufacturers, Biggs says that all technicians should go through I-CAR training.
In nearly all cases for the mass market auto manufacturers, I-CAR Gold Class Status is required for certification, he says. In 2019, the requirements for Gold-Class will increase to Pro Level 2 Professional Development. This helps ensure that the technician repairing the vehicle is properly trained.
Takemoto says having each technician trained through I-CAR has been beneficial to the shop as a whole. While he sent technicians to training even prior to gaining certifications, he tries to get all of his staff to a platinum level.
Takemoto says he was able to gain more than one certification, including Nissan, simply through qualifying with I-CAR training. The company will even send notifications to the owner when a technician needs to complete a class by a certain date.
Mistake #4: Forgetting to advertise
“When a shop becomes a certified provider, they are no longer just a body shop,” Biggs says.
Once the shop has gained the certification, the next step should be educating consumers about the benefits.
To spread the word the shop can focus on marketing initiatives, and promoting the certification on the shop’s social media pages and website, Biggs says. That can include posting physical signs, sending press releases to the local market, displaying collateral marketing flyers and brochures, websites complete with OEM logos, and even a consumer education program in the lobby with videos, commercials, and digital signage to play on your flat-screen monitor.
Various automakers also offer “on-demand marketing” that allows certified repair providers to send emails and mail to consumers to promote the fact they are a “certified” choice in their market, Biggs says.
While Takemoto does not spend too much of his shop’s resources on marketing, he does take time to form relationships with the nearby dealers to gain customer referrals.
Once a shop is certified, the owner should call the dealerships in the area, he says. Shop personnel need to speak to not just one person in the dealership, but in fact one person in every department, including sales, a principle leader, a general manager and a service manager.
Takemoto says the whole process only took five months.
And, he has seen that more customers are willing to pay the insurance short pay to get a certified collision repair.