G&C Autobody Seizes Opportunity to Expand in Northern California

G&C Autobody Seizes Opportunity to Expand in Northern California

While many body shops in the country are battening down their hatches financially, operating with skeleton crews and going into survivor mode, Gene Crozat, the multiple location owner of G&C AutoBody in Marin and Sonoma counties, CA, is buying land, building new facilities, and signing up more DRPs. Crozat is aggressively looking to gain more of the market, while exploring further expansion opportunities in areas where he sees potential for growth and profitability.

With six body shops, another one in construction and a large mechanical repair shop, G&C AutoBody is Northern California’s largest collision repair chain north of the Golden Gate Bridge. G&C has been family-owned and operated since 1972, and has become synonymous with quality repairs and exceptional service, according to G&C’s Director of Public Relations Peter Bizaca.

The company did $20 million in 2010, up from 2009; employs 65 people and fixes more than 500 cars monthly, Bizaca reported.

A good example of Crozat’s “expand rather than contract” approach can be illustrated by its newest location in the small town of Windsor, CA. Crozat bought the land at a recession sale price and has built the 15,000 square-foot facility from the ground up at an enormous overall savings, he said.

Some body shop owners considered him insane for building new shops in a recession without any relief in sight, but the 50-year industry veteran knows that timing is everything.

“Some see a recession as a time to sit back, but I see it as an opportunity instead of an obstacle,” Crozat reasons. “You can sit around all day long, frightened and paralyzed by this tough economy, or you can use it to your advantage, and that’s what we’ve done. In 1999, we also went through a recession, and I opened new shops during that time as well.”

While many body shops have experienced substantial downturns since 2008, G&C’s volume is up and growing. In the last two years, their business is up 23%, while the national average in collision repair is down 30% across the board, Crozat said. After doing extensive market research, Crozat’s team determined that Windsor was a prime situation for their newest location.

“There are 26,000 people in Windsor and it will double in size within the next decade. We discovered that the entire town had just one body shop and many of our Santa Rosa customers were coming from Windsor. So, it was an ideal situation—a growing area with a need and prime real estate available at a good price.”

Simply finding good locations for new shops isn’t the only way to succeed, Crozat says. By embracing the communities in which he operates, G&C is able to capture a lion’s share of the available business in each region.

While the business environment is waning across the board, Crozat and his team are looking at the positives rather than the negative reports we hear almost every day in the media.

“Other body shops out there are cutting costs and laying people off, so we’re asking ourselves, who is going to fix all these cars? Just because the economy is sluggish doesn’t mean drivers are going to suddenly avoid getting into accidents.”

The prices of real estate, construction, labor and even advertising are at all-time lows, Crozat has realized. “We’re saving 35–40% across the board over what it would have cost us to do the same thing four years ago. Interest rates are way down and the construction bids were extremely tight, because contractors are hungrier than ever.”

Timing is everything in any industry, but even more so in collision, Crozat said. “The best time to buy a boat is in January, not in June. Tight times are the perfect time to buy and build. It behooves us to take a chance during a down economy, because I know that if I can build a world-class shop in a prime location where the business environment is healthy, it’s an easy decision.”

Part of the G&C plan involves getting onboard with each community they open a new shop in, for several reasons, Bizaca explained.

“We are involved in a wide range of community groups in every city in which we operate, because we don’t just want to be a business that takes money from the residents without giving something back. We want to be part of the fabric of the community rather than a just a company doing business there.”

To that end, G&C is already involved with several community organizations, local schools, and planning to sponsor Little Leagues teams in Windsor, even though they’ve only been open since December, Bizaca said.

“We’ve already been out to the schools talking to the students and we invited the band at Windsor Middle School to play at our grand opening,” Bizaca said. “Seventy children and their teachers, as well as many of their parents came to the event attended by more than 400 Windsor residents. We’re also working closely with the Rotary Clubs, the Chamber of Commerce and doing other forms of community outreach.

“Don’t just work in the town, be part of the town,” Crozat advocates. “It’s just a philosophy. Everyone looks at life from a different paradigm, but I’ve always thought that if we don’t do it, then who will? It’s good for us business-wise obviously, but it also gives our industry as a whole a better name.”

“Get the best buying power in the marketplace and pass it on to the consumers and to the insurance companies as well. If you do whatever everyone else is doing, you’ll just be another one of them. And that’s why I have always gotten the best equipment, top technicians and the best products I can find. You can’t do today’s work with yesterday’s tools.”

Building top-quality facilities also helps G&C to get DRPs and retain them over the long run, Crozat argues.

“People say they don’t like DRPs, but they represent 90% of the work. Why wouldn’t you cater to these insurance companies that are trying to get the best prices they can, in order to keep their rates down? We have two full-time in-house reps who work full-time dealing with the insurance companies and their agents, because DRPs are a big part of our business. I learned many years ago—don’t fight the direction of the DRPs. Instead, provide them with the best deal in the marketplace, by providing the best service, the best cycle times and the best image you can establish. That’s why we have cycle times that average six days, while the national average is 14 days.”

Gene Crozat has always maintained that if any other body shop owners want to visit his facilities to see what he’s doing and glean information from his business model, he’s anxious and pleased to help them in any way he can.

“People don’t believe it when I say it, but there have never been secrets or closed doors around here. I won’t be in this business forever and if I can make the industry better overall, it will benefit my children and my grandchildren down the road. Give me a call and I’ll do everything and anything I can to help you. I’ve done it many times before and that will never change.”

Call Santa Rosa shop: 707-525-3520.

Ed Attanasio

Ed Attanasio is an automotive journalist and Autobody News columnist based in San Francisco.

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