Gary and Terry Cooper pose together in front of a 1968 Mercury Cougar in the Sonshine Auto Body parking lot.
The couple experimented with their first body shop in the Los Angeles area before moving up to Victorville in 1982 and opening Sonshine Auto Body two years later.
“My husband never made it to medical school, but we still had a great life. There has never been a dull moment,” said Terry. “Sometimes the Lord has things planned that you just could not imagine.”
Even though Gary didn’t get the chance to further his Bachelor’s in Biology, he was able to put it his knowledge and training to good use at the shop.
"When we first moved to Victorville things were different than today. Often times people came in from the accident scene and didn't want to go to a hospital," said Terry. " So my husband would render First Aid right at the shop."
Sonshine Auto Body, now in two locations, has been going strong for 30 years. The original building is 10,000 sq.ft. and is in old town Victorville. The second 30,000 sq ft facility is in the newer industrial/ comercial area of Victorville and features onsite alignment and mechanical.
“Because we have two locations, we’re technically an MSO, but we don’t think of ourselves that way,” added Terry.
Gary asked Terry to take over the shop in 2010, right in the middle of his 10 year battle with Dementia, which he lost last April.
Dementia wasn't the only health issue Gary dealt with. Terry added, "he was an outstanding man who built a significant business in spite of a major handicap, life long Epilepsy."
“The shop hadn’t been held to the high standards we had always required while Gary was first sick, so it was time to make changes and return to our previous standard,” said Terry.
She puts a strong emphasis on customer service, especially in a close-knit town like Victorville.
“It’s a unique place,” said Terry. “The personal touch is very important, so the businesses that take the time to form relationships with the customers tend to succeed.”
The waiting room at Sonshine Auto Body is designed to make people feel comfortable. Every morning, the staff bakes cookies in order to create a “homey” atmosphere.
“When people have had an accident, they need a lot of TLC,” said Terry. “It’s a bad experience!”
She realized early on that the majority of people getting their cars fixed weren't men; they were women.
“That’s why we have big comfy couches and pastel decor, with nice shag carpeting so young children can enjoy our toys on the floor.”
Don’t be fooled by the “girly” waiting room environment; Sonshine's certified technicians and state-of-the-art equipment ensure that the car is just as well cared for as the customer.
“We built our Jasmine Street location 18 years ago, and to this day, the Air Quality Management District uses it as a model for body shops,” said Terry.
Two of the shop’s technicians are Toyota factory certified, while another has 15 years experience working on aluminum and high-end cars.
“We have upgraded to Car-O-Liner fixture benches,” said Terry. “The technicians resist working on the old frame machines.”
Sonshine Auto Body has been Volkswagen certified, and will be approved by Assured Performance for all American OEMs, including Ford's aluminum F150 before January. Nissan and Infinity are also in the certification process. Terry said the shop will continue to seek certifications from other manufacturers throughout the year so that the shop can better serve their customers and the community at large.
“We have an aluminum clean room that is full equipped with all the required aluminum tools and repair equipment for the F-150 and other 2015 new 2015 cars.”
She also added, “we are the only certified Volkswagen shop between San Bernardino and Las Vegas."
Terry said the shop’s turnaround since 2010 would not be possible without her staff.
“They’re the greatest staff in the High Desert,” said Terry. “They’re like family.”
Despite Gary's Dementia, he came into work every day up until six weeks before he passed away.
“My staff rallied around him and helped make it possible,” said Terry. “I only hire people who will treat my family and the customers the way I want."
Terry has four managers who work as a team and actually run the shops as well as aid in the decision-making process. Each month she meets with them to discuss problems and they make recommendationsfor both sloutions and future changes.
“My husband had the entrepreneurial skills, and even though I always had my hands in the pie, I had never run a shop before. After all, I’m primarily a house wife." She added, "but I really enjoy the challenges and creativity of business now that I have experienced it. It's quite exciting. Most of all, it's about serving people and producing an excellent repair."