Erie LaSalle Body Shop was established in Chicago, Illinois, in 1934.
In 1934, Ivan Goodmonson established Erie LaSalle Body Shop in Chicago, Illinois.
As the son of farmers in Minnesota, he decided to come to the big city of Chicago to pursue a career in aviation. After hopping a freight train, he arrived looking for employment and began working on cars. It wasn’t long before he became well known as a good car mechanic. “In those days, they tuned cars by ear,” said Bob Gottfred, Goodmonson’s stepson and the current owner of Erie LaSalle Body Shop. “He had a very good ear and did a good job.”
When Goodmonson decided to open a collision repair shop, he had three stalls in the back alley of a building. Eventually, he bought the building from the landlord and continued to expand his business. Erie LaSalle currently operates two locations in downtown Chicago and the Little Village neighborhood on the south side Chicago. Autobody News talked to Bob Gottfred about the growing family business, which he said is the longest continuously-owned auto body repair service of its kind in Chicago and Illinois.
Q: Congratulations on being named one of the best body shops in the Chicago, Illinois, area by Expertise.com. What do you attribute your success to?
A: Continuing education for our employees is number one. We focus on factory training and the OEM certifications we qualify for. We constantly are sending people to classes covering production, management and estimating. We try not to miss a seminar that we think is helpful to our employees.
It is also very important to find the right fit of employees who get along with each other and are not too thin-skinned so they can all work together as a team. My sons, Jay and Jim, are great general managers of our stores. They promote a team concept among our 30 technicians and a family-type of atmosphere. We’ve done this all as a team and I love coming to work every day. My sons and I feel that if we offer employees the best in equipment and training, we expect the best from them.
Our mission is to minimize any disruption in our customers’ lives due to their automobile accidents. The goal is to perform quality, state-of-the-art repairs to both our Chicago and suburban customers while providing intelligent, professional service. We really do respect our customers and our employees, in the same manner. There are virtually no limits in which we will go to satisfy and exceed our customers’ expectations. For example, we offer complimentary shuttle service, free vehicle pick up and delivery, extended and weekend hours for convenience and a lifetime warranty.
We reinvest our profits in the necessary training and equipment in order to provide our customers the very finest repairs in the most timely manner. We feel this will ensure our continued growth and perpetuity of our business and continued service to our community.
Owner Bob Gottfred said they utilize the most advanced technology available to guarantee the highest quality repair.
Q: How have you incorporated state-of-technology in your business?
A: Our company uses computerized estimating and production processing, digital imaging, and the latest spray paint technology to ensure a high-quality final product. We believe in utilizing the most advanced technology available to guarantee the highest quality repair.
When we attended the NACE trade show in 2015, we were interested in learning about gas catalytic drying and the lean processing system. We learned about a company called Symach. We happened to have a completely empty 12,000-square-foot warehouse that was used as an old truck repair place. I thought the company’s technology was interesting and I went to Italy to learn more.
I liked the way it ran and we signed a deal at the beginning of January 2016. Since then, Symach has installed the sophisticated computerized equipment. The process is very streamlined. In a variable world of auto collision, it’s pretty cool the way we can run a job through and maximize productivity.
Q: Can you tell us about the shop’s “Express Repair Process?”
A: Express repair is a mindset. It’s more of a lean processing system than it is the machinery and equipment. The express repairs we have been doing involve pre-ordering parts, pre-painting them and getting them all ready so the customer can come in and wait for a repair. Now with our new technology, we don’t have to pre-paint them and can turn around cars in one to two days where it would normally take three or four.
Marco Melone and Stephanie Martinez, customer service representatives (CSRs) at Erie LaSalle Body Shop.
Q: After being in operation for 83 years, how have some of the changes in the industry impacted your body shop and what will it take to be successful in the future?
A: I’ve been in the business for over 40 years and I’ve seen the transition from having old, standard cars with big chrome bumpers to the sleek unibody cars of today. Technology is changing exponentially in vehicles and going forward, that is what is going to take us to the next level.
I believe it’s going to take an investment in training and proper scan tools to ensure that customers are put on the road safely with no codes coming up in the car that could perhaps put them in a dangerous situation. It’s also going to take training for our technicians to properly repair vehicles and educating our customers so they fully understand what it takes to fix a car today. It’s not as cut and dry as it used to be. If you get a bump in your rear bumper, technically the OEMs say you are supposed to pre-scan and post-scan the vehicle to make sure all codes are clear. Those are things that haven’t been done in the past and right now there are only a handful of shops doing it.
Q: How has it been helpful for your business to get involved in associations both in the community and professionally?
A: I do very little advertising outside of networking and associations. I actually went to a networking event last night. You meet great people and great leaders in the community. It’s nice to talk to people, get to know them and engage with them. I can hear their stories and they’ll hear mine.
We belong to many professional associations including Assured Performance Network, Automotive Service Association (ASA), Inner Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair (I-CAR), Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS), the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF) and local state associations such as the Association of Automotive Service Professionals of Illinois (AASPI).
We have been part of Mike Anderson’s MSO business council group with Axalta for the last several years and attend conferences across the United States with best-of-class shops.
In addition, we are members of civic associations including several Chamber of Commerce organizations, and the River North Business Association that named us Business of the Year.
When you serve your community well, people learn about it. Not only will they respect you, but they will think of you. The idea is when someone has a mishap with their car I want them to think of me first.