Friday, 31 August 2001 17:00

Fast-growing shop is becoming a household name - well, almost

Written by Autobody News staff

When Lee Gamboa recently went to pay by check at the supermarket, the clerk looked at his last name and asked if he were related to "the body shop." He replied that he was. The clerk looked at him and said sarcastically, "Yea, sure. You wish you were." Oh, the price of being a celebrity. 

In fact, Gamboa's Body & Frame could become a household name in the Sacramento area because the Gamboas really believe in advertising. "The advertising helps to ensure that the majority of work comes from customers who want their cars fixed at Gamboa's rather than from DRP assignments," said Lee Gamboa,son of founder Robert Gamboa. Lee believes that steady advertising on siix different radio stations is one reason that business is up over 50% from three years ago. "And a lot of referrals. We don't work on anything pre-90's, and we stay away from dealership and fleet work." 

30 years in the community

 

Robert (Bob) Gamboa, now 61, opened his shop in Sacramento 30 years ago after a Ford dealership closed the body shop operation that he had managed. One of Bob's helpers at the Ford body shop was a teenager, Rick Caron. Caron's grown up now and once again he works for Bob, but this time he has the title of vice-president, one he shares with Lee Gamboa.

 
Lee, age 41, wasn't at first ready to join the family business. "After graduating from Humboldt State I felt like I wanted to prove myself away from the family shop." He spent eight years away, ending up as service manager at a dealership before he returned to the family business six years ago.

Spoiling the techs

Bob Gamboa feels that his business has been able to grow largely because his employees are so loyal. "We spoil 'em," he said. Top techs earn upwards of $96,000 and all employees share a benefits package comparable to any dealership: medical, dental, 401K, paid vacations. "John Nabors, an estimator at the Rancho Cordova shop, was my first employee. He's been with me for 30 years, and there are lots of 10 year veterans," said Bob.

With 80 plus employees at three locations, producing consistent quality becomes an issue. "With this many people, you need to give a lot of direction," said Lee. "We're very procedure oriented and we have multiple layers of management in place. For example, we have a QC (quality control) person who checks each weld before it gets covered up. How many big shops do you know who do that?" he asked. Consistency is the goal

The goal is to ensure that everything is done the same way from one store to another. Lee says that this is particularly important when dealing with insurance adjusters. "We can't insist that a car be fixed a certain way at one store and then agree to do the same repair differently at another location. If you let that happen, then the adjusters start playing one Gamboa's store against another."

As an example, Gamboa's insists that clear coat go "up and over" on every quarter panel repair. "That's the way PPG (and all major paint companies) says it should be done. You can't break the clear in the middle of a panel. We want them to stand behind us on the guarantee. Some adjusters will say you don't have to clear coat the sail panel just to refinish the quarter panel. We tell them, 'if you won't pay to do it right, we can't offer the lifetime warranty.' And that message needs to be consistent at every store."

Joining PPG CertifiedFirstâ„¢ Network

Gamboa's has sprayed PPG for nine years and is now finalizing plans to become part of PPG's CertifiedFirst Network of collision repair centers. PPG recently kicked off a national consumer advertising program for the national network.

"Our PPG rep, Mark Juell, has been great. And we get excellent service from MAC's Distributing (Sacramento). They don't just sell us paint. They assist us in complying with air quality rules, work with us on tech training and have helped us implement better cost control measures. The people at MAC's are always willing to help us do whatever it takes to stay on the edge."

Managing the insurance work

Like most large operations, Gamboa's does much of its business through insurers' DRP programs. "We manage the business to keep the DRP work right around 40%. Any more than that and we'd be too dependent on the DRP programs," said Lee. "We work with the good programs, like Farmers, USAA, Mercury, State Farm. But we've blown other DRPs out of here. We severed our DRP contract with Allstate, although we're still happy to work with Allstate insureds and fix their vehicles the right way. But now we do it at $60 an hour instead of $52." Lee noted that it may now take longer to fix an Allstate insured's car if supplements are necessary, but the work can be done right and both he and the customer are happy.
 
Consumer oriented
 

Rick Caron and Lee Gamboa make it clear to their managers that "We work for the customer, not the insurance company." Estimators give every customer a form with a check-off box that asks if they want a copy of the Consumer's Bill of Rights. "Maybe 25% check the box," Lee said sadly. Gamboa's radio advertising also includes a message that consumers have the right to choose where their car or truck is fixed.

To protect consumers, the State of California's Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) recently began inspections of completed autobody repairs over $2,500. The inspections are done upon the consumer's request. "That's fine," said Lee, "but the problem with BAR is that not all of their inspectors realize that a collision estimate evolves. It's not like replacing a water pump." He said that because the estimate changes more often than not, there's a higher likelihood of errors creeping in than on a mechanical estimate. "They need to take that into consideration."

Gamboa's is very careful to comply with the BAR regulation that requires the customer to sign off on a tear down estimate. "We explain that the car has to be torn-down to assess the full extent of the damage, and once that's done it can't be reassembled." The customer also signs off on a charge of $120 if the vehicle is moved to another shop for repair after the tear-down.

Gamboa's invests heavily in training and equipping their technicians. All three shops are I-CAR Gold Class. To improve productivity, there is a Challenger lift in every body stall - "That lift can really save your back, which means less lost time due to injury," explained Lee.

Looking ahead
 
Despite achieving a sales level most owners would envy, 500 vehicles and $1 million a month in sales, the Gamboas still plan to expand. Bob Gamboa is presently planning an expansion of the 24-employee Roseville store. "Plus, I'd like to have a fourth location before I retire," said Bob.
 

 

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