L to R: Vicki Schneps, CEO of Schneps Communications; Barry Crupi; and Natalie Duddridge, NY1 News
Autobody News talked to Barry Crupi about how he has built a successful business that puts customers first.
In Staten Island, New York, the owners of Barry’s Auto Body said they are always willing to go to bat for their customers. Barry Crupi and his sister Michele run the family-owned business, which was established in 1986 by Barry Crupi Sr. with two employees and a three-bay garage. Over the years, the collision repair shop has grown to include 20 employees and 16 repair bays.
Since Staten Island does not have a subway system, residents are very dependent on their vehicles. The Crupis said they take pride in educating customers about their rights so they can make informed decisions about repairing their vehicles. This began after Crupi uncovered that a large insurance company was shortchanging customers on repairs. Crupi went public with his claim and in 2009 the insurance company filed a complaint against him. Crupi and some of the employees were arrested but the case was ultimately dismissed. Since then, the team has revamped the award-winning shop, built a loyal customer following and more than doubled their business.
Autobody News talked to Barry Crupi about how he has built a successful business that puts customers first.
Q: How did you get started in the collision repair business?
A: My sister Michele and I both grew up on Staten Island and have been in the industry since we were children. I started out by sweeping floors in the shop when I was 10 years old. I would spend about an hour or two when I wasn’t attending a full day of school. In exchange, my dad gave me five dollars to go across the street and play video games at Jimmy’s pizzeria.
Q: Can you tell us about the situation that happened in 2009 in regard to the alleged insurance fraud and arrests?
A: I remember this experience like it was yesterday. My father, sister and one of our employees, Sal, all thought this would ruin us. They were terrified. I wasn’t though. I knew the charges were ridiculous. I knew they didn’t have a case against us because I run an honest business. Before this point, we were actually part of many direct repair programs (DRPs). We found ourselves fighting on a daily basis with many of these insurance companies as to how to repair a customer’s vehicle.
Barry’s Auto Body in Staten Island, New York, was established in 1986.
As other shops in this industry know, going against the grain of the insurance industry is like wrestling with an 800-pound Gorilla. I feel that all they care about is cheaper aftermarket/counterfeit parts that sometimes void the manufacturer's warranty. The more I advocated on behalf of my customers, the more these companies fought me. It seemed they weren’t passing on their savings to the customers, nor were they paying their registered shops to repair the vehicles properly.
We felt they were putting pressure on us to cut corners and I was determined to let my customers know about it. I started speaking up more and standing up for my customers’ rights even louder. They fought me tooth and nail. Then a certain insurer started making complaints to the state about allegations that simply were not true and the state arrested us.
In court, I remember the judge criticizing the assistant district attorney for even making the arrest. The judge eventually just dismissed the cases against us personally. They spent hundreds of man-hours with no conviction against any one of us. We fought it to the end.
I learned a lot from this experience. I learned that it’s up to me to know the laws for our shop and customers. I have spent a countless number of sessions with lawyers studying insurance regulations and business practices law. This way, I am sure that I know my rights and the rights of my customers. We actually have a law firm we work with on a regular basis to help us and our customers stand up for ourselves. We have even spoken to former judges to find out what they thought about this situation.
As far as the outcome, I thought customers would be afraid to use my shop again after the arrest. It actually had the opposite effect. I had customers who I haven’t seen for years coming by to make sure we were OK. Some customers even saw the article in the paper and remembered they needed their cars repaired. Today, the size of our business has more than doubled since 2009.
Q: Since that incident occurred, how have you taken steps to build a successful business and help customers deal with insurance companies?
A: I realized it was time to stop playing by the insurance industry’s set of rules and start playing by our own rules. They do not run our shop. We do. We started by reinventing our entire shop and including even more state-of-the-art equipment than before. We began doing our own wheel alignments on our John Beam V3400 with an in-ground American-made lift. We updated all our frame equipment and bought an additional downdraft booth.
Most importantly though we invested in training for our employees so they could better service customers. We even opened up holes in the front of our building walls and put large windows everywhere. We wanted more transparency so people could see us working on their automobiles to help build trust. We also started getting more involved in our community at this point and adopted a ‘green’ philosophy. I believe we are the only shop on Staten Island that uses environmentally-friendly products in our daily operations.
It was during this time that we stopped listening to insurance companies in regard to what aftermarket counterfeit parts they wanted to put on the vehicles we were repairing. Instead, we educated ourselves on OEM procedures and became advocates for our customers. We even find ourselves from time to time educating other shops in our area on proper repair procedures and where to find OEM position statements to see what parts should not be used on cars they are repairing. We reinvested in the shop—renovating it and bringing in high-tech equipment that would save us time and money so we could pass the savings on to our customers.
David Velasquez is one of 20 employees.
Thankfully, our customers stayed with us and know that when they bring their vehicle to Barry's Auto Body they will receive the best quality repair work and a written lifetime warranty to back it up. It’s one that we stand behind proudly. We do whatever we can to educate our customers about their rights and recently my sister and I were both recognized with awards for our service to the Staten Island community. It was an honor for both of us.
Q: Congratulations on your recent award “The King of Staten Island.” What was your reaction when you found out you received it and what do you attribute your success to?
A: I was actually taken back by the name: “The King of Staten Island.” I thought it was hysterical and my ego definitely loved it for a quick minute. I am so grateful to the Star Alliance Organization for giving me this award. They are awesome people! Every single one of their employees was an absolute pleasure to deal with. I don’t actually know why they picked me. My company is a member of many different organizations such as the Freemasons, Kiwanis, YMCA and the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce so I guess that had something to do with it.
Q: What sets your shop apart from others in the industry?
A: What sets us apart from other shops in our industry is simple. We are willing to go to bat for our customers. That’s really everything to us. We care about our customers so we do what’s right for them. I believe every other major shop in our market area has at least one kind of direct repair referral program set up with certain insurance companies, so I feel they are basically working for the insurance company not the owner of the vehicle. We do the opposite.
We have no obligation to any insurance company; however, we accept all insurance companies. Our only one obligation is to put our customer first. Many customers get into an accident and the first person they speak to is a tow truck driver who may be steering work to his auto body shop. Then the second person he/she speaks to is from the insurance company where the representative recommends another shop.
People come in very confused sometimes. Thank God most New Yorkers aren’t that gullible though. Most of my previous customers already have learned it is always better to come to us first before they call their insurance companies. It’s like walking into court without a lawyer. Most people wouldn’t do it. Usually smart and savvy customers know it’s better for the collision repair facility to report their claim.
The most important thing we do is help educate our customers as to their rights so they can make informed decisions. We also make sure we do our best to give every customer who walks through our door an outstanding experience so they brag about us to other people. That’s what we want—raving fans. Today, satisfied customers are not enough. They will not always be loyal. We make sure that our customers are ecstatic when they will leave so they will be loyal for years to come.
Q: How do you use social media, videos and blogs to help your business and what is your advice to other shops?
A: Don’t try to do it yourself. Hire a public relations company you can trust. You will most likely be spending a lot of time with these people so hire someone you will be comfortable with. This also must be a marathon outlook because you cannot go into social media, blogs and videos thinking you will be able to put up a few posts and leave it. You must be ready to go after this for years and years to come.
Our whole public relations theme is about making people remember our name. We also do our best to give back to our community and others through these campaigns. Supporting local charities is important to us and we have implemented semi-annual giveaways. Getting involved in your community and local charities helps build real lifelong, vital relationships.
We even have videos on our YouTube channel that show people exactly how we do certain jobs. Videos of the owner and staff are very powerful and actually are a great way for people to get to know your shop. People on average have accidents about once every seven years. You want them remembering your name if they get into an accident. Online reviews, blogs, and a Facebook page are also great ways we show off our company. They help people become more comfortable with us before coming in.
Q: After this experience and revamping your shop, what message would you share with other shops?
A: I would say that most people in this industry are good people. Most body shop owners honestly do want to repair their customers’ vehicles properly. What ends up happening through the years is people lose sight of what’s important after they have insurance company after insurance company telling them how to run their business. As shop owners, we tend to feel like we are David against Goliath.
I say to all the shop owners reading this: Do what is in your heart. You do not need an insurance company DRP to keep your shop going. You do need customers though. Do what is right for your customers and stop being scared of the insurance companies. Doing the right thing by your customers will pay tenfold in the long run. Your customers may be hesitant at first that you’re not part of a DRP program. However, through the years you will be able to better service them and people will notice. Your customers will respect you more. Most importantly, you will respect yourself more. We believe in honesty, integrity and perseverance in everything we do. No exceptions.
For more information about Barry's Auto Body, visit www.barrysautobody.com; email email@example.com; or call 718-948-8585.