The Cimino brothers purchased Blue Hen Collision when the owner decided to sell in 1997 because the shop already had a great reputation for producing quality repairs and the location was not saturated with competing shops, which they experienced in the Philadelphia suburbs. Since acquiring the shop fourteen years ago, their revenue has increased by 250%.
Carl and Chuck note that customers in their market are very particular about their vehicles, but they are also very appreciative of quality repairs; therefore quality is essential to getting repeat business.
Carl lives in Pennsylvania, and Chuck lives in New Jersey, but they each make the long drive to Dover, DE, every day. They appreciate that their shop is in a great location without many competitors, but also because they love being in an area where the consumer knows and appreciates the difference between a poor and quality repair.
The Ciminos also own an auto body shop in Feasterville, PA. They previously owned as many as four shops, but they have sold two of them in recent years. Though their Feasterville shop requires additional resources to sustain itself, there is enough auto body work in Dover for Blue Hen Collision to focus solely on collision. In fact, customers are often willing to wait weeks to use the shop of their choice which sometimes creates a challenge for Blue Hen as they are forced to remind the customer that they have the option of using a competing shop in order to meet the cycle time guidelines imposed by their DRPs. Currently, the shop is anticipating the addition of an Enterprise Rent-A-Car outlet in another part of their building by the end of the year to make rentals more convenient for their customers.
Blue Hen Collision Express is a CCAR Greenlink Certified shop, and they recently converted to Dupont’s Cromax waterborne paints. The shop began preparing for the conversion in January 2011, and it took place in May 2011. The Ciminos made this conversion when it became mandated by the EPA and the State of Delaware. They note that some of Delaware’s standards are more restrictive than the EPA’s.
As part of these new regulations, regular filter type respirators have been replaced by full face hoods with grade “D” breathable air and CO monitors. An additional EPA requirement mandates that they take daily readings of the pressure on their paint booths and note filter replacement dates to comply with new regulations regarding the filters. The Ciminos well appreciate that low humidity and increased air movement in the booth decreases their dry-time for waterborne paints. Waterborne paint must also be treated as hazardous waste, so the shop must maintain waste receptacles for both waterborne paints and their solvent-based primers and clears.
Carl and Chuck say that the conversion was very labor-intensive and required a great deal of retraining. They are currently redirecting their resources as they adjust to the new system which is the first to affect the entire shop, unlike changes between solvent-based paint systems. So far, they have found that the color matching is more accurate, but unlike solvent-based products, the tints have a shelf life and must be maintained above 45 degrees Farenheit. That made it necessary to add heat to their mixing room, as well as a rider to their insurance policy to cover their paints in case a power outage causes the temperature to drop below 45 degrees. Since converting to waterborne, they have noticed better air quality in the painting area of the shop.
Blue Hen Collision Express repairs mostly late-model vehicles and Carl Cimino says “so far, with Dupont’s Cromax Waterborne system, we have only had a few minor color match problems. They are constantly updating their color tools to overcome these issues.”
Carl notes that there is a tougher business climate today. Because insurance companies control the flow of work, Carl says it’s necessary to participate in DRPs in order to produce revenues over $1,000,000. But due to relatively few body shops in the area and a great local reputation, insurance companies solicit Blue Hen Collision to participate in their DRPs, so they can concentrate on providing a quality repair in a timely manner, satisfying the expectations of the both the customer and the insurance companies.
As far as Chuck knows, Blue Hen Collision is the only shop in the area that pays employees hourly. Chuck also notes that there is a current shortage of technicians, making it difficult to locate new employees.
When asked his opinion about the current trends in the collision repair industry, Carl noted “Insurance pressure to keep repair costs down forces labor rates and materials allowances to stay stagnant while costs continue to escalate with no way to recoup. Good technicians are being paid the same money they were 10 years ago with very little chance of growth.” Carl also believes that, in the future, it will be difficult for many small shops to keep up with the training, technology and equipment costs necessary to meet new challenges concerning EPA governances and future vehicle designs.
Blue Hen Collision Express employs fifteen people, including a receptionist, bookkeeper, general manager, and estimator, in addition to 3 unibody and frame technicians, 2 repair technicians, 1 mechanic, 2 painters, 2 helpers and 1 detailer. They recently added an additional technician to try to increase sales and decrease their cycle times. The shop is located in a 9,700 square foot building. They are equipped with Car-Liner and Chief EZ-Liner frame benches, 2 Shark Electronic Measuring Systems, and a Clean Shop Downdraft prep station. For estimating, they use CCC One and Audatex systems. Both their Spraybake Downdraft and Accudraft Semi-Downdraft booths are equipped with Kayco AirJet Air Movement Systems to aid in force drying the new waterborne paint system. Before painting, they use a EuroVac system to vacuum their booths, and Carl estimates that this has eliminated 75–80% of their dirt problems.
Blue Hen Collision is I-CAR, ASE and DuPont certified. They participate in direct repair programs with State Farm, USAA, Safeco, Horace Mann and other insurance companies.
The shop sponsors several local little league teams. Their focus, however, remains on quality and providing customers with a positive experience by staying on top of the industry.
According to Carl, “the most important thing that we do is read and research everything we can. Any new product or procedure that we read about in Autobody News or one of the other trade publications, we investigate and try. Also, staying on top of the ‘art’ of estimating is crucial to our success.”
Chuck concurs that they like to be flexible and stay current with their training, maintaining consistency in their dealing with insurance companies and in their repair work.
Carl and Chuck Cimino have not attended NACE in several years because they saw a decrease in exhibits. Though they were interested in attending this year, they were too preoccupied with the waterborne conversion going on in the shop.
Blue Hen Collision Express
5825 W Denneys Road
Dover, DE 19904