Immigrant couple leads thriving trio of collision repair shops

April 5, 2019
“Our story is the American Dream,” according to Andy Zamora, describing how his father José arrived in the U.S. from Costa Rica at age 26 with a middle school education, $12 in his pocket and an unwavering vision of succeeding in his new homeland – a dream that became a reality when he and his wife Cathy established their first Zamora’s Auto Body location.

“Our story is the American Dream,” according to Andy Zamora, describing how his father José arrived in the U.S. from Costa Rica at age 26 with a middle school education, $12 in his pocket and an unwavering vision of succeeding in his new homeland – a dream that became a reality when he and his wife Cathy established their first Zamora’s Auto Body location.

“Thirty-eight years later, our family business has flourished from 5 employees over 100,” Andy reports. Adherence to traditional values and morals -- and showing the utmost respect to customers and staffers alike -- has been a constant quality throughout.

At a Glance:
Zamora’s Auto Body
Rockville, Md.
Main location
Jose, Cathy, Eric & Andy Zamora
No. of shops
Years in business
No. of employees
No. of DRPs
Average repair order
7.5 days
Average cycle time
Average weekly volume
Combined vehicles per week
$13 million
Annual gross revenue
PPG Envirobase
Paint supplier
Frame machines
Estimating system

“Our employees are, and will continue to be, our No. 1 priority. Although we have expanded greatly over the years and have hired employees outside of our family, we all treat and view each other like we are family,” he says. “This way of thinking was instilled in the company” by José and Cathy’s direct examples, and it continues to this day as Andy and his brother Eric assume increased operational responsibilities.

“When we say we value our customers, we mean it and strive to show it. We wouldn’t be nearly as successful as we are as a company if it weren’t for our loyal customers,” Andy explains.

“We don’t advertise our business, so our reputation and growth rely solely on word-of-mouth from our customers. We acknowledge that accidents are an inconvenience for our customers to have, so we make it our goal to provide excellent service to better their overall experience,” he points out.

“Overall, communication is our shop’s biggest strength. It starts with all our staff maintaining excellent communication with one another; from the creation of a repair plan, throughout the repairs and with the customer, and it ends with keeping the customer updated through the entire process,” says Andy.

“Another strength of ours is the low turnover from our staff,” he elaborates. “We commit to our employees and they commit to the success” of the entire operation. “With long-time valued employees we have extremely highly skilled technicians in each department -- we have created a staff that believes in our culture.”

When interviewing a potential new hire, “We only ask for one thing: ‘Good Attitude,’” says Andy.

“We don’t expect them to have any experience because we like to build our own techs in each department.” Each of the departments is set up with A-B-C level technicians with every collision specialist receiving a helper. The helper works with A level tech until moving up to become a B tech, and then the A tech gets a new helper.

“Before soliciting new techs, we give the opportunity to current employees to grow from within. We find the most valuable thing we do to retain our employees is communication with our staff and conducting semi-annual reviews. We ask questions about their salary, the supervisors, changes they would like to make, future goals and how long they plan on staying with our company,” he reports. “This open-door policy with our staff creates loyalty from both sides.”

Uniforms, a 401(k) and health care insurance are provided, but “the most important thing we offer is a safe and familiar atmosphere.”

A partnership with the Frederick County Career & Technology Center has brought in several highly motivated student interns with the option of achieving full-time status upon graduation.

Building rapport

“We have very strong relationships with our insurance providers, mainly because they know we are an honest, friendly and high-quality shop,” according to Andy. “Although our insurance providers are technically ‘business partners,’ we treat them the same way we treat the rest of our employees; like family. We have mutual respect, and it’s shown through the way we’re able to work simultaneously alongside one another to provide the service that our mutual customers deserve,” he says.

“Maintaining strong relationships with our vendors is something that we pride ourselves in,” Andy adds. “These business relationships are successful because our vendors and us both work closely together by putting a lot of hard work and effort into maintaining strong communication, building rapport, creating trust and instilling respect in each other,” he explains.

“We have had most of our vendor relationships for several years, which adds to the rapport we’ve built. For example, 3M is a vendor that we have partnered with since 1981, and we expect to continue the relationship for many years to come. They offer constant support to our staff through on-site training, their technical support is superior, and they offer brand new top-of-the-line products that we stand behind.”

Andy goes on to emphasize that “the quality repairs and exceptional service is what markets Zamora’s to the public. We pride ourselves in our work and customers return, refer friends and family, and they advertise our quality on social media.”

The three shops get plenty of notice throughout Frederick and Montgomery Counties. “We continuously give back to the community that consists of customers and future customers.” Included in the efforts are charitable sponsorships, donations and a willingness to serve as drop-off sites for volunteer drives such as the United Way of Fredericks’ “Stuff the Bus” fundraiser and the Marine Corp.’s “Toys 4 Tots” campaign.

Cathy’s many hats

José was unable to read or write in English when he came ashore from Costa Rica at age 26. His collision repair career began at a small shop in Kensington, Md., supporting Cathy as she learned English in night school. In 1981 José was able to take out a loan and open his own Zamora’s Auto Body in Kensington, with Cathy serving as translator, secretary and the shop’s adjustor.

The Kensington location measured just 2,500 sq-ft. In 1989 the business moved to a 5,000 sq-ft building in Rockville, later reaching 16,000 sq-ft by buying an adjacent structure.

In 2005, a second custom-built state of the art shop was opened in Frederick, consisting of three buildings totaling 36,000 sq-ft. Earlier this year, a third Zamora’s shop of 9,600 sq-ft was inaugurated, also located in Frederick.

Andy has been working at the company for more than 25 years. “Like my brother I started washing cars, ordering parts, writing estimates and managing our customers,” he recounts. With Andy and Eric transitioning into senior management and ownership roles — joined by their wives, Sandra and Angie, with anticipation that a third generation will eventually join the business — the Zamoras are dedicated to carrying on the principles instilled in them by their parents.

Their father “was by far the biggest influence in relation to our business,” says Andy. “José leads by example; believes in morals, values and maintains a high level of ethics. He taught us how to be empathetic to our staff and customers,” he adds.

“My mother Cathy, who wore many hats, doesn’t get the recognition that she deserves. She is the true backbone to the family’s success,” Andy reveals. “Working together everyday as a family is not easy; she was our teacher, therapist, chef and nurturer.”

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