Sunday, 30 September 2007 17:00

Franchisees offer personal service backed by nationwide resources

Written by Karyn Hendricks

Twenty-five year old company, 1-800 Radiator has found a winning strategy for providing radiators and other cooling parts to the autobody industry by franchising their business to local owners who have a vested interest in offering personal service to shops in their community.

The secret to the success of 1-800 Radiator is the company’s ability to combine national resources and centralized efficiency with the local convenience of having a well-stocked warehouse in the immediate vicinity. The fully integrated system is seamless from coast-to-coast – enabling owners to view inventory across the nation, and more importantly, in nearby areas. In the rare event that a warehouse does not have a particular part in stock, it can be located and secured for the customer in a short period of time.

From one small northern California distribution company started in the '80s by Mike Holcomb, 1-800 Radiator, now owned by Mike Rippey, has grown into a corporation with 210 locations across the United States. There are 40 warehouses in California, Nevada and Arizona alone.

Three years ago, Rippey realized that, although the company was very successful, the lasting relationship between corporate and the local customer was lacking. He began experimenting with the franchise system and found that territories with local owners picked up more customers..

At 1-800 Radiator, each owner goes above and beyond to provide the best possible products and service, particularly to customers in the autobody industry, all the while being backed by a large corporation that can offer coast-to-coast lifetime warranties on parts and labor, a massive late model parts inventory, and the economies of scale that go along with being the largest purchaser of OEM- produced aftermarket parts in terms of radiators and condensers. The company’s parts are listed in all major estimating systems, fully available to all repairers. It also produces a catalogue that is unlike any other in the industry.

Each owner has taken a different path to arrive at the destination of becoming a 1-800 Radiator franchisee.

Down in the valley

Take for example, Bobby Bans, owner of 1-800 Radiator of San Fernando Valley in California. In corporate finance for the past ten years with GM and Fleet Bank, he worked with hundreds of companies a year. But his desire was to have a business of his own. When he learned about 1-800 Radiator he began researching the industry which seemed to be going through a big change – from small mom-and-pop shops to big box warehouses. Bans saw 1-800 Radiator as the best of both worlds.

Bans stated, “I believe that change creates opportunity. I saw the glass as half full and jumped into the business with both feet two years ago. My association with 1-800 Radiator allows me to provide service others cannot. Along with quality OEM and OEM-like parts at good prices, instant access to those parts and the buying power of a large company, I am able to get to know the body shop owners, who have more confidence when I work with them owner to owner. I give them excellent service, excellent product and they get what they need right away.”


Straight from the source

For twenty-five years, Mike Allendorf worked at the headquarters of 1-800 Radiator. He was one of the company’s first employees. By the time he left, he was running the distribution center. The owners had confidence in him as he knew all the ins and outs of the business.

About a year ago, Allendorf received an offer he couldn’t refuse – to have his own warehouse in Concord,  right across the river from corporate.

“It has been a learning experience for the first year. This is a whole new ball game compared to running the distribution center. But I don’t regret it for a minute. I enjoy getting out and meeting people from a different side of the business.”

Warehouse by the bay

San Carlos, on the San Francisco peninsula, conveniently located near the SF airport, is the home of John Higashi’s 1-800 Radiator warehouse. About a year and a half ago, he was working with a broker to find a business in the local area  that would be consistent with his previous experience. While looking at another business, he found out that the Bay area territory he now covers was on the market.

nd what was that previous experience – a shipper of perishable food products. Higashi found many parallels between the two endeavors. “It’s all about timing,” he explained. “How fast you can get the product or part to the customer. Success has to do with understanding the customer’s needs and meeting them.

“If a customer has broken down or been in an accident, getting a new part promptly is as important as delivering fresh fruit or flowers before they spoil or wilt.”

Higashi continued: “With 1-800 Radiator we can actually offer more parts than physically can fit in our warehouse, because of the nationwide computer network. Also, it is our goal to answer each and every phone call with a live voice, not a taped message. We never want a customer to feel ignored – or give them the opportunity to shop elsewhere. Corporate maintains a call center as backup, so that we don’t ever miss a call.  This is a huge advantage we have over other companies.

“Moreover, 1-800 Radiator provides access to parts at price levels that I can’t do alone. My responsibility is to cultivate customer loyalty by getting to know my customers on a first name basis and giving the excellent service that goes along with that. I know how to talk with shops and can connect with the customer.”

Higashi works side-by-side with his wife Nancy, who he says is “worth her weight in gold.”.

Across state lines

In Sparks, Nevada, Jon and Donna King found their opportunity on the Internet. Looking for a business to acquire, they happened across 1-800 Radiator and began to pursue it. The 1-800 Radiator site itself has information on how to acquire a franchise and get started.

Jon King was a partner in a street rod shop for four years, so another aspect of the autobody business was not a big leap. After one year, the Kings say they are very pleased with their progress and the support they get from headquarters.

Said King, “On the local level, it is up to us to establish a flourishing business given the great resources we have behind us. Although we are newcomers to the industry here, we are successfully building a customer base. The best feedback we get is people returning to order from us again and again.

“We are really pleased with our decision to acquire the franchise, happy with our progress, and looking forward to future success.”

Betting on success

After working in telecommunications all over the world, Mike Dougherty wanted to build a business of his own that he could operate with his family. Three years ago he had  the opportunity to buy 1-800 Radiator, a company that was looking for smart business people who wanted to work with their families.

Business is very good at his warehouse in Las Vegas. Body shops that do insurance work have a large share of the cooling industry market here.

“I’ve started and run many businesses, but I have never seen the kind of support offered by 1-800 Radiator,” explained Dougherty. “If you are doing your job, the company will do everything they can to make you successful. We pride ourselves on knowing the body shop business. We are very active in the Nevada Collision Industry Association. We contribute to their efforts and help out at their functions.

“As a family operation, we are dedicated to being in Las Vegas for many years to come. We are developing long-term relationships and that is paying off. We are getting more of the market share each year.