New Jersey has seen a decrease from 1700 to around 1200 shops in the past four to five years. Mr. Mikhail believes this is due to the need for updated, high-priced equipment as well as the conversion to waterborne paint and changes in car designs. Combined with depressed labor rates and underpayment for materials, this will make it difficult for a lot of small to medium shops to stay in business.
Mr. Mikhail also notes that little new blood is coming into this trade. Most young people are going into other industries where they will be better compensated for their labor, leaving the auto body industry with an aging population. He believes insurance companies are driving this trend because they are looking to lower short-term costs without worrying about how this will affect the future of the industry.
Prestige Auto Body does not participate in any direct repair programs, and Mr. Mikhail has no plans to do so in the future either. He is very outspoken about his concerns with the way direct repair programs dictate the materials used and result in lower quality repairs. Prestige Auto Body works for the consumers, not the insurance companies, and their “number one concern is to restore cars to its pre-loss condition as close as humanly possible.”
In May 1979, Mikhail opened Prestige in Garwood. He had owned a franchised auto body shop for about eighteen months in Roselle in a difficult to locate area. The shop in Garwood was originally owned by a man who charged $300 for nearly every job, and when he left the area, leaving the bank with an unpaid $80,000 loan, the landlord bought the shop from the bank. Mikhail took the shop over from the landlord, cleaned the shop, replaced the old paint booth and added a frame machine. It took two years for people to really return to the shop since many consumers were afraid that the old owner was still in charge of the shop, leaving Sam with a struggle to rebuild his reputation.
In order to do so, he wrote a detailed estimate on every car even if he knew he would not get the job, explaining to the customer what needed to be done to get the job right. He refused to take any shortcuts and gave every car the same amount of care, regardless of age, model or value. Any customer problems were addressed promptly; “we always gave the customer more than they paid for.” Prestige now has an excellent reputation in the Garwood NJ community for superior repairs and customer service.
This Garwood, NJ shop uses Spies Hecker paints on a mixture of new and older model cars. Mikhail notes that many of the older cars end up being totaled, but if these same cars are sent to DRP shops, they will be repaired many times until the cost exceeds the car’s value, leaving customers with nothing more than junk. When asked whether he has any color matching problems with Spies Hecker, Sam Mikhail insists “there is no such thing as a problem in color match; if you try hard enough, you can match any color.”
Prestige Auto Body boasts a 11,000 square foot shop and six technicians. The shop is complete with two downdraft spray booths, two E-ZLiner frame machines, one Chief Goliath frame machine and two Genesis Electronic Measuring systems. Additionally, the shop utilizes two Pro-Spot welders, three mig welders, one Hunter wheel alignment machine, a stationary lift, a portable lift and a flatbed. This shop repairs between fifteen and twenty vehicles each month, and additional revenue comes from DV appraisals and offering an expert witness service for local attorneys and consumers. The shop also offers Diminished Value Assessments. The technicians and estimators at Prestige Auto Body are ASE Certified, and the shop is I-CAR Certified.
Besides his involvement with AASP/NJ, Sam Mikhail was also the first president of the Garwood Chamber of Commerce and is currently the treasurer. Prestige is also a member, as well as the founder, of the Goldcar Collision Repair Network. Out of concern for the environment, Prestige Auto Body is currently under contract to convert to solar power in the shop.
Prestige Auto Body
7 South Avenue
Garwood, NJ 07027