Thursday, 31 August 2006 10:00

Small town shop has big city mind set

Written by Janet Chaney

Black Mountain Body Shop sits in the foothills of its namesake Black Mountain in Cave Creek, Arizona. In 1982 when this shop opened for business in a one-room building, the gold mines of Black Mountain had been closed for less than a decade. 

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The southwestern style of Black Mountain Body Shop blends perfectly into the ambiance of rural Cave Creek, Arizona.
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This successful team has worked together since Black Mountain Body Shop was established. From left to right, painter, Dave Dias; owner Howard Blackburn and collision technicians, Lee Miracle and Charles Dunn.

In 1999, Howard Blackburn was managing a dealership body shop in Phoenix and heard through the grapevine that there was a shop for sale - up north. Blackburn drove north, about 30 miles to Cave Creek. "I sat across the street from this shop for hours," remembers Blackburn. The day of his initial visit, he bought the shop.

By the time he had taken ownership, the shop had grown from its one-room humble beginnings to a full-blown collision repair facility - 8,000 sq. ft. under roof. Collision repair and and collision refinish are housed in separate buildings.

Two collision technicians and one refinish technician move a lot of work through this shop. The collision techs have back-to-back stalls with a permanent lift for each technician on one side. They use Kar Grabber and Hook frame and measuring equipment. Air-conditioning and four-wheel alignments are sublet to a neighboring mechanical shop a few miles away.

The refinish technician has his own building for prep work and sprays in a Binx cross draft booth. Black Mountain is spraying Sherwin-Williams and owner Blackburn and painter Dave Dias are pleased with the product.

Years of experience adds up

Collision technicians, Charles Dunn and Lee Miracle and painter Dias have been with Blackburn since he opened Black Mountain Body Shop. Miracle has been fixing cars at Black Mountain Body Shop for 18 years - it is his home. Including Blackburn and the three journeyman technicians, there is over 110 years of solid collision repair experience in this shop.

Blackburn feels he has an advantage with his crew. "These guys produce the work of five people." He would know that, having been in this industry since 1965. After service in the Air Force, Blackburn went to work as a painter's helper for a friend in Detroit. The rest - as they say - is history. He touched many aspects of this trade, including working for Allstate Insurance. Around 1970 as an Allstate adjuster he helped the company set up their first Field Inspection Station (FIS) in Detroit, which was the genesis of Allstate's direct repair program.

Blackburn's automotive career continued in Arizona. He managed body shops, both independent and dealer. He has also been a licensed Arizona insurance adjuster until recently.

When he moved to Arizona in 1980, Blackburn met wife, Patricia, a Phoenix native, on a blind date. Patricia Blackburn is the Medical Records Librarian at the Adobe Mountain Juvenile Detention Center in Deer Valley, Arizona. Though not in the business, she shares Howard's passion for hot rods and Harleys, both of which can be found in their garage at home.

Big city education

The office of Black Mountain Body Shop looks like you are walking into an office in downtown Chicago. Blackburn has all the I-CAR plaques and a multitude of industry educational awards. All estimates at Black Mountain Body Shop are written on Mitchell. Work orders are organized on a revolving rack on his desk. One small portion of one side of the rack is for the 'limbo' files - Purgatory - as Blackburn puts it.{mospagebreak}

The mix of work in this shop is unique as well. He always has a few high-end customer restorations in the shop. "I tell the customer that their car may take

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Black Mountain Body Shop owner Howard Blackburn leans against the hitching post -- generally reserved for horses -- in front of the Wagon Wheel Coffee Shop located in his parking lot.
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Black Mountain Body Shop's roll bed sits in front of the shop with scenic Black Mountain itself looming in the background.

more than a year to complete," says Blackburn. "The restoration work does not get in the way of the insurance work. With this crew, it is a perfect mix, they can fill in on the restoration work between insurance jobs."


At this point in time, Blackburn is not on any insurance direct repair programs. "We work with all insurance companies," he points out, "I think DRPs are good for some and not good for others. I work hard at being competitive and doing quality work for my customers."

His philosophy is unique in today's market. "This is like going fishing. You catch a fish or two - you don't need to catch all the fish." This attitude works well for Black Mountain Body Shop.

"Business is good. If it gets any better we will have to expand," states Blackburn. "This is the first summer we have not had a summer slow down. Cave Creek used to be a ghost town in the summer - all the new development is changing that."

Black Mountain's crew has been working together, well, since the beginning. Blackburn gives them a lot of credit for the shop's success. He may see things differently than other shop owners or managers. His many years of experience have shown him that technicians are controlling the quality. "If I fill my shop with inexpensive work, then how can I expect the technicians to control their quality. You cannot manage quality - it has to come from the technicians themselves. We do the work properly. It is not cheap, but it doesn't have to be expensive either. And our goal is to try to do it right the first time."

Cave Creek is a fast growing neighbor of North Scottsdale. The once sleepy little gold mining town is full of exclusive horse properties, restaurants, bars, and one collision repair facility - Black Mountain Body Shop. Blackburn gets his business from the community. "We have a good reputation," smiles Blackburn. "We get repeat business and our customers send their friends and family to us. The bottom line is service.

"If you don't do quality work in Cave Creek, everybody in the coffee shop will know the next morning," Blackburn laughs.

Janet Chaney has been in many facets of the collision industry. She is serving the best interest of her clients through Cave Creek Business Development. She can be reached at janet_chaney@earthlink.net.