The mechanical techs of Auto Tech & Body, from left, are Dave Holmes, co-owner Chuck Benhart, and 2009 TECH-NET/ASE Tech of the Year Rollin Hansen.
Collision repair often involves mechanical repair too. Body shops have traditionally addressed this need in one of two ways: by having the mechanical repair capabilities in-house or by sub-letting the repair work to shops in their local area. Often a body shop will partner with one repair shop for all their mechanical needs, and sometimes the two shops are close enough to share the same parking lot.
In the northern Illinois town of Roselle, Auto Tech & Body has combined both businesses in one shop. Chuck Benhart, the co-owner who operates the repair business, explained that co-owner Mick Stanaway had a body shop in the same town. In 1986, Stanaway told his life-long friend that he had to search for a new building. They decided to combine their resources, found an appropriate location and opened their shop together. Benhart described Auto Tech & Body as a “one-stop shop for 99 percent of what a customer needs.”
After 25 years, Benhart says they don’t need to advertise. “Most of our business comes from word-of-mouth and repeat customers. There is also a lot of insurance (paid) work for the body shop.” He said occasionally they do both body and mechanical work on the same car at the customer’s request, “but usually it’s because the car is here anyway for some kind of body work, and the customer will ask for maintenance or some other kind of work while it’s here.”
In addition to the two owners, the shop employs two full-time mechanical techs, two full-time body techs, a painter and a prep man. There’s an automotive glass shop right across the street, so they send all their glass work over there.
Benhart says over the years there have been times when one business carried the other, but generally they are both busy. While it’s worked out well for them, he would hesitate to start a combined shop today.
“Insurance companies dictate too much of what you can and can’t get paid for in the body shop. It’s hard to make a profit without itemizing every nut and bolt.” That said, if someone did want to combine both businesses, Benhart stressed the importance of technical knowledge in both areas. “You can’t come at this from just a business perspective.”
He said the two most important tools on his side of the shop are scan tools and an information system. “You don’t even open the hood without looking at the (information system) computer first. And of course you need scan tools to get the car started after the battery has been disconnected for body work.” Benhart said aftermarket scan tools satisfy most of his needs, which is why he makes the annual investment to keep them updated. He said dealing with the European imports “can be tough” with aftermarket scan tools, but somehow they manage. In fact, they manage well enough that one of their techs, Rollin Hansen, was selected as the 2009 TECH-NET/ASE Technician of the Year.
The success of Auto Tech & Body proves that it is possible to combine both businesses in one shop. It only takes all the same things needed to succeed in any other business; the right people, the right talent, and lots of hard work.