Parts & People Magazine is a publication focusing on the inside news in the automotive industry. To retrieve this insider news, they go directly to the source and speak to various business owners ranging from mechanical repair to body repair facilities.

In, their December 2013 issue the publishers spent a day in life at Amato’s Auto Body to see what it takes to be the #1 Voted Auto Body Shop in San Diego. Paul Amato (Owner & Founder) started Amato’s Auto Body 34 years ago, and has created a very successful system to create the best Auto Body platform. Read the following article courtesy of Part & People Magazine for more information:

San Diego—Visual cues play a key role in both the front office and production area of Amato’s Auto Body. A blue sticker on each vehicle’s windshield indicates when a vehicle is expected to be delivered; if that deadline is missed, a red sticker and a flag are attached to the car. Each job file is color-coded to indicate which front office team member is handling the job. Stars added to that file (and the corresponding vehicle) let everyone know that the customer is particularly demanding or challenging.

“So whoever is working on it knows that customer is going to be really picky,” shop owner Paul Amato said. “We do great work. But for those guys, it needs to be better than great. That works fabulously.”

The visual cues extend all the way down even to every piece of sandpaper in the shop. Each of the shop’s paint preppers has his own rolling cart of materials, which is filled on Monday morning with that prepper’s name on everything in the cart.

“So if I see a piece of sandpaper on the ground that’s still good, I know it belongs to this prepper,” Amato said.

Cues and systems are critical for a shop with 45 employees producing close to $7 million of annual sales out of a 15,000-square-foot facility. (Amato’s does have a second facility, used primarily to store vehicles, a quarter-mile away.) The company works two shifts on weekdays, with production employees starting as early as 4 a.m. or working as late as 10 p.m., and has weekend production hours as well.

The team concept that more and more shops are implementing as part of “lean” is something Amato said he has used for decades. The shop has four journeyman technicians with eight helpers. The helpers work on disassembly and reassembly, leaving the journeyman techs to focus on the more highly skilled tasks like pulling and welding.

Similarly in the paint shop, painters are primarily spraying in one of the shop’s three booths while others handle the prep, color match, and mixing tasks. Four of the five employees who start at 4 a.m. are buffers, polishing whatever was sprayed the previous day.

Amato’s does not participate in any insurer direct repair programs. The company boasts nearly a dozen automaker certifications, most recently adding Tesla, Jaguar, and Land Rover to that list. Those and dealer referrals account for much of Amato’s business, along with repeat customers developed over its 33-year history. The certifications do not come cheaply, Amato said, pointing to $15,000 rivet guns, a $40,000 Fronius welder, and three paint lines (BASF Glasurit, PPG, and the BMW paint line).

“We had to build a clean room just for aluminum work,” Amato said. “I probably spent about $100,000 on that. It’s five bays. If I knew then what I know now, I probably would have made it 10 bays. I’m working on more aluminum cars, especially the Teslas. People don’t know how to drive them because they are so different. That’s OK, because the design on the Teslas and the repairability are just wonderful.”

The certifications have been a good business decision, Amato said.

“It’s not inexpensive, but on the flip side, when a Tesla or Land Rover comes in it’s not $58 an hour; it’s $120 an hour, for body, paint, and mechanical,” Amato said.

Amato’s unique approach is also evident in the front office, which features a 1930s Art Deco movie theater theme. Three women in the front office handle claims based on the insurer involved, each specializing in one or more companies.

“My sister-in-law in Tennessee also works 15 to 20 hours a week for me,” Amato said. “She inputs insurer estimates into our Mitchell Repair Center system. We fax or email her those and she can sit at home, with no interruptions, and get them keyed in and back to us. She’s also a couple hours ahead of us, so by 8 a.m. when we start, she’s already had a couple hours to key in what we sent at the end of the previous day. It works so great and is such a time-saver.”

Work orders sent out to technicians in the shop are enlarged and printed on 11-inch x 20-inch paper so they’re easier to read, Amato said. If there are any supplements, the revised work order is printed on a different color of paper, so it’s clear which is the most up-to-date version of the work order.

But all the systems and equipment wouldn’t matter without the right people, Amato said. He speaks with great pride about the recent accomplishments of several employees, including Tony Giordano, a technician at the shop for 15 years who recently passed Land Rover and Jaguar certification testing in Wisconsin despite being deaf.

“There’s nothing this guy can’t do,” Amato said.

While he jokes that he wished he’d become a psychologist to better understand and communicate with his employees, being able to reward them clearly gives him a lot of satisfaction. “Last week with our 401K match and profit-sharing, we wrote a check for $170,000 for all my employees,” he said. “It’s giving back to the employees that I’m real proud of.”

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