Imperial Radiator was started in 1968 on Imperial Highway near Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) by Shillito's uncle Greg Kanos, who ran the shop until he passed away in the early eighties. At that point, it was either sell the family business or get serious, so Glen and Caroline Kanos, Shillito's parents, took over in 1984 and began to grow the small 5-employee radiator repair shop into a major player in the radiator business.
Although she knew little about radiators when she became the outside sales person at age 20, Shillito was destined to be a sales person. In 1984, the company moved to larger quarters in Inglewood, also near LAX, building a new clientele of airport accounts - Continental, UA, TWA all had radiators that needed repair and maintenance. There weren't many collision centers who could do the work, so business boomed and it wasn't long before Imperial Radiator outgrew its quarters once again.
The next move - to Hawthorne Boule-vard in Torrance - took the business to the next level. "We were growing like crazy," offered Shillito, as the staff multiplied to 18 people, then to today's 25 employees.
Glen and Caroline Kanos continue to be active in Imperial Radiator. "They still work here every day. Mom does the books," explained Shillito. "The business is successful because dad still orders all the product and dispatches the drivers. He is a 100% involved owner."
To the three of them, Imperial Radiator is their life. They trust each other. The teamwork developed between father and daughter gives Shillito the confidence to bring on new accounts, knowing that they will be well taken care of by her dad.
One reason for the success of Imperial Radiator is volume. Radiators are ordered by the pallate, necessitating the 18,000 sq. ft. warehouse located in Carson. Ordering in bulk allows the company to pass on discounts to its customers. For the most part, it is more cost effective today to replace radiators than to repair them, so the warehouse is overflowing with radiators, AC condensers, heaters and other AC parts.
Imperial Radiator no longer repairs vehicles. Selling parts is more cost effective. Hazardous waste, technicians and workers' comp issues have given way to drivers and conveyor belts.
Why are we so unique?
Superior customer service has solidified the reputation of Imperial Radiator. Shillito points out that family businesses are dying in the industry as franchising
takes over. There are not too many shops still owned by active family members, which makes Imperial Radiator so unique.
Shillito calls on customers regularly - and personally. The business is growing faster than ever - particularly through word of mouth referrals. The industry is hungry for quality and service. The staff is well-educated and thorough when dealing with clients on the phone, collecting every little detail to ensure that the customer receives the right part the first time.
Imperial Radiator has a wide variety of products to choose from. They offer original equipment and several brands of quality aftermarket parts. Offering a lifetime warranty on radiators and AC compressors accommodates the insurance companies, who encourage body shops to offer this guarantee.
"Our parts are good quality to begin with, so it is no hardship to offer such a guarantee," explained Shillito. "The insurance companies like us because we offer only good quality aftermarket parts."
Doug Hiller and Mike Baird, two loyal, long-time employees of Imperial Radiator, handle the orders. Hiller has experience as a technician, so he is knowledgeable about the parts he sells. He and Baird are equally qualified and are cross-trained to handle each others' accounts.
Eight trucks pick up and deliver parts throughout Orange County. If the customer is beyond driving distance, the company uses California Overnight. Parts will be delivered by 10:30 a.m. anywhere in the state of California when ordered by 4 p.m.
Managing the warehouse business alone, without the repair aspect, is very efficient. After determining the specifications of the needed part, the merchandise is pulled from inventory and shipped out. Every single product in the warehouse is inventoried and work flows smoothly.
A leap forward
About five years ago, the company made giant strides forward by cultivating business from the collision repair shops. Although confident about the dependability of her products, Shillito was still inexperienced about the day-to-day workings of the retail body shop. Under the mentorship of Rusty Rauls, FIX Auto, Anaheim, she learned the finer points of working with individual repair shops - providing service, fit and warranty. She visits all her accounts personally about every five weeks. Today, about 60% of the company's business is collision repair shops.
Rauls explained why he was so interested in helping Imperial Radiator succeed. "They have the best products I have found in the marketplace. They stand behind their product warranty or fit issue. No matter what happens, they stand behind their product - no questions asked. They will ship overnight - even out of the area.
"The customer support is very professional. There is always someone willing to help. And the prices are competitive."
Rauls coached Shillito on developing a discount cost structure that would be appealing to the collision industry and worked on her presentation to shop owners and managers. She does the same program with all the stores so the details are consistent. What is good for the Anaheim store is good for Ontario. The price quote, warranty and quality are exactly the same.
"Furthermore, Cindy herself does a superb job helping the body shops. She does not employ a hard sell approach, but genuinely wants to help the customer. We saw the chance to help her company and benefit FIX Auto as well," concluded Rauls.
Steve Morris, vice president of operations for the Holmes Body Shop's 8 locations, described his company's relationship with Imperial Radiator. "They are our preferred vendor for radiators and condensers We stay with them because the product they supply is almost identical to OEM components. We have very few fit problems and very few returns. Cindy educated us on the differences between typical aftermarket radiators and the quality product offered by Imperial Radiator.
"They are very efficient in getting parts delivered. And Cindy really cares about the business. She goes the extra mile to resolve any concern. I give her credit for the level of service her company provides and she is successful because she cares about the customer.
It isn't necessary to be a national franchise or own several facilities to benefit from purchasing parts from Imperial Radiator.
Tom Williamson, owner of Marina Auto Body, stated that he likes working with Imperial Radiator because it is a very professional operation. You order a product and that is what you get. In the world of aftermarket parts, getting top quality is imperative. That's what we put in our customer's car - exceptional service.
"Cindy and her father say what they are going to do and then they do it. They deliver good quality and good service that can't be beat."
Outside the shop
Shillito serves the California Autobody Association (CAA) as secretary of two chapters - South Coast and Orange County, and attends meetings each month. Imperial Radiator holds the honor of having been chosen Vendor of the Year by CAA.
She has been married for twenty years and has three children ranging from sixth grade to college.
1-310-542-8518 Outside CA