In Waipahu, HI, employees from Oka’s Autobody and their families recently met at the local bowling alley for the company’s summer time family fun event.
“We hope it helps bring our employees together in a setting other than work,” said Brandon Okahara, part owner of the body shop. “We often joke that we spend more time with these guys than our own families. You have to find that balance between working hard and still having family time outside.”
Brandon and his siblings, Marlo and Kyle, have a good understanding of what it takes to balance family and business while working together. Oka’s was established by their father Eddie, uncle Fred and uncle Henry Okahara in 1965. The brothers ran the business out of a small three-stall garage and eventually moved into a 7,000-square-foot location after building up their clientele. When Fred retired, Eddie decided to buy him out. Meanwhile, his three children, Marlo, Kyle and Brandon, began taking an active interest in running and expanding the family business.
After retiring three years ago, Eddie and his wife, Marlene, handed over the day-to-day operations of the shop to their children. Now, Marlo works as the office manager, Kyle is a repair planner, and Brandon spends his time as the lead estimator. Marlo’s husband, Carl, also takes an active role in the company, leading future development.
Together, the Okaharas have grown the family-run business, which now employs 25 and operates out of a 19,000-square-foot facility. Autobody News talked to the owners of Oka’s to learn more about the initiatives they have taken to help their shop stay successful as well as some of the challenges they have dealt with while running a facility in Hawaii.
Q: Operating a family business can be challenging. What steps have you taken to work together effectively?
A: Brandon: Like anything else, whether we are a family or not, I think there are always situations that are going to come up where there is a difference of opinion. That has to be expected. The benefit, of course, is knowing that the other parties involved genuinely have a vested interest in the company. We can trust the fact that the decisions being made are for the right reasons. In that sense, it’s great. There are not a lot of times that you can be in that situation where you have trust.
Our team is very structured in the way we run our business, and it has helped us accelerate our growth. We regularly sit down as a family and go over our mission and goals for the business. The industry is rapidly changing, so we need to stay in touch with one another and stay on top of what is going on. There are a lot of moving parts of running a body shop. Our meetings help keep us focused on our end goal. We are able to bounce ideas off one another and come to a consensus.
Q: What sets your body shop apart from others in Hawaii?
A: Marlo: I believe that what sets us apart from other shops on the island is our customer service.
Brandon: For us, the main focus is always our customers. Whether it’s a phone call, face-to-face interaction or delivering a vehicle, we always remember why we’re here---for our customers.
I always tell our employees that they need to remember this might be the first accident the customer has been in and it can be stressful. It’s emotionally and mentally draining to get into an accident, and what they are looking for is somebody to help them. Fixing a car is just part of that process. You have to be empathetic to what’s going on and treat everybody as an individual. Put yourself in their position. What would you want to happen and how would you want the experience to roll out?
Q: What methods have you found to be most beneficial to operate the business?
A: Brandon: Over the past couple of years, we have been going down the road of incorporating a lean and process-centered environment at the body shop. The way we process cars is by using a team concept. We have multiple body teams and the paint department operates as its own team as well.
With new technicians coming in, it’s next to impossible to be just one person and have a trainee with you all day long. It makes the job very difficult. At least this way, if the employees operate as a team, there are multiple levels of experience working together so they can accomplish more. It helps with communication and the newer techs’ growth can also be a little quicker because there are different people who can help train them in different aspects.
It has had its ups and downs of course, but the guys seem to like to work together as a team.