Three of the Southern California locations are independently owned and operated by Gary Leger: a flagship shop in Poway and two smaller centers in San Diego and Lemon Grove. Autobody News spoke to John Resko, general manager, and Susan Cagney, operations manager, about the processes the company has found to be beneficial for both customers and employees.
Q: When did the company become part of Fix Auto and what are the advantages of having that relationship?
John: Gary Leger opened his first location in Poway five years ago. Three years later, he decided to become part of Fix Auto. There are two types of Fix Auto facilities—shops that have become full franchise members, and associate franchise members who are able to access some of the reporting but aren’t fully branded.
We’re still privately-owned; we don’t belong to Fix Auto. However, we have found that Fix Auto offers some of the oversight and reporting parameters that really aren’t cost-effective to have as an independent facility.
There is major market advertising as part of being a full member of the Fix organization and there is DRP relationship management that occurs from a corporate level as well. By being part of Fix, we have the benefit of both.
While we enjoy those corporate benefits, we also have the flexibility to set up the shops the way we want. We don’t have to run it up a corporate ladder or get permission from a regional manager or a VP. We can bring in our own magic and managerial expertise and make changes on the fly.
The Fix owners get together regularly and share best practices. It’s an open exchange of information in a non-competitive environment. We share our scars so we don’t have to get any new ones!
Q: How do the three locations work together?
John: We have the equipment and technology for doing major collision repairs in the larger Poway location, which is 36,000 square feet. While each of our three centers is equipped with a frame machine and up-to-date welders, some of the unique specialty equipment is housed in Poway. The other locations are about 8,000 to 9,000 square feet and when we get larger hits in those centers, it bogs them down.
We actually transfer them up to the Poway location where I have a team of technicians who absolutely love big hits that need major structural replacements; they specialize in them. They can get them out in a fraction of the time that it would traditionally take for those cars to be repaired.
Q: Does Fix Auto partner with any DRPs?
A: Yes, we are part of quite a few, including GEICO, USAA and State Farm. The benefits outweigh the detractors in my opinion. To have that volume of work coming in and the relationships with the insurance companies enables us to provide a quality product that’s safe, meets the insurer’s demands and still gives the customer the best experience overall.
There are going to be things that you give up when you deal with a DRP, but if you choose the DRPs correctly, they can be a very profitable enterprise. Working with DRPs, you are able to eliminate as many delays as possible and the surprises are very few because you know the parameters of every program.
Q: How does your own experience working at Farmers Insurance for 16 years offer insight on the collision repair industry?
John: It’s very beneficial. The body shops have traditionally operated as mom and pop organizations. The general trend now is for them to become more corporatized. Coming from a corporation myself, I’m used to the rules and metrics. I understand where the insurance companies are coming from when they want you to focus on something specific. I am familiar with the rationale behind it.
Brothers Aldo and Rene Aguayo have worked at Fix Auto Poway for the past two years and Rene’s sons, Rene Jr. and Donovan, now work at the shop as well. From left: Rene Jr., Rene, Donovan and Aldo.
Q: How do the shops help customers feel welcome?
John: Our front office staff is the key. Whether you win or lose customers, the majority of that happens in the first five to 15 seconds. When they step inside, the lobby has to be welcoming and the first person they meet has to have a smile.
You know that no customer is happy to be here the first time they come. Everyone is here because something bad has happened. There’s no point in furthering that experience of negativity. Our job is to turn that around. We have confidence that the product we give them at the end will make them extremely happy but we need to start it right at the beginning.
Gary, our owner, will walk in and ask, “Best place you’ve ever worked?” He wants to hear, “Yes, it’s the best place I’ve ever worked.” That’s important to him. It’s a business and there’s an end-game in every business, but Gary recognizes that employee morale is also extremely important and it’s a great long-term investment at a short-term cost to keep employees happy.
That really begins with our manager Susan Cagney, who has helped build a great culture for our entire organization. Communication is huge to her. You can’t have happy customers unless you have happy employees.
Q: Can you tell us about the employee culture at Fix Auto and how that sets you apart as a business?
John: The culture and the attitude are wonderful and everyone gets along. Occasionally, you have the brother-sister fights but that’s going to happen. Everyone has a bad day—it’s collision repair—but nobody brings it here.
We recognize everyone is here to earn a paycheck, that’s why you come to work. Unlike the vast majority of shops that I’ve been in, there is no real mercenary attitude. They take a tremendous amount of pride in where they work and the product they produce.
Susan: I have worked in several different body shops and I will honestly say that the family atmosphere that we have here is what sets us apart. We really do care about our employees. Gary, as the owner, is very involved with all of his employees. They just know that they are cared about.
It’s important to know your employees well enough to know when they seem off and to tackle that right away. We spend more time here than we do with our own families and we want people to want to come to work and be happy to come to work.
I think when you feel that you are cared about as an employee, you are going to put more care into your work. That’s going to show.
Q: In what ways does your production process help the shops run efficiently?
Susan: An integral part of the business is the production process used in the shops. That’s the crux of our whole organization. When the processes fail, it’s very easy to pinpoint exactly where it’s starting to fail.
This includes everything from beginning to end: when the car first comes in, how it gets checked in, how it then goes to the back and gets checked and then dispatched to technicians, and then to paint. There’s a whole quality control process that goes on throughout the repair. Everybody has their part and everybody does their part.
We’re developing the same system in all three locations. We have somebody for every task, from the guy who drives the car from the front to the back to the production manager who oversees the entire back. We all know what the process is so there isn’t any kind of glitch when somebody is out. Another guy can step in and take care of it so we don’t have any hiccup in our production. Everybody helps out wherever it is needed.
John Resko, general manager; and Susan Cagney, operations manager
Q: What other initiatives do you take to invest in your shops and the employees to ensure you are repairing cars to a high standard?
John: We have trainings constantly, whether it’s with I-CAR or Verifacts. We try to have our employees as well-trained as possible and we have multiple manufacturers certifications. It’s a priority for us to make a capital investment in equipment to ensure we can get those certifications. The advantages are two-fold. First, we know we are fixing the car correctly, pursuant to the manufacturer’s specifications, and secondly, it helps the customer gain a sense of confidence that the vehicle is being repaired correctly.
Susan: The main thing I tell customers is that it’s important you are safe and your car is repaired properly. We want you driving on the other side of the road from us in a safe, reliable vehicle. We are constantly keeping our technicians up-to-date with training and they are always willing and eager to learn about the newest technological advances.
Q: What are the plans for the future?
John: We opened the downtown San Diego location a year ago and the Lemon Grove shop opened six months ago. We also have two more shops on the horizon.
Susan: One of Gary’s goals is to make the shops uniform. He does his best to make sure the new ones are replicas of the Poway location on a smaller scale. We already know the process works, but at the same time we are always open to the ever changing needs of our field. That’s what makes our business successful.