Grateful Body Shop Owner Ready to Give Back

Grateful Body Shop Owner Ready to Give Back

Jose Esquivel, the owner of Midwest Auto Body in Melrose, IL, entered the collision repair industry at the top--as an owner.

Without any experience except for working on his friends' vehicles, Esquivel had to learn the intricacies of the body shop world fast. He was 24 and exiting the furniture business to enter an industry where he knew the odds were stacked against him. Instead of being scared or letting naysayers dissuade him from pursuing his dream, Esquivel took on all of the challenges headfirst and with a smile.

The timing was not ideal to open a shop, especially when you are a rookie in a competitive market, Esquivel explained. "We opened in 2007, and then here comes the recession. Some people thought I was bold, but I think others figured I was just crazy! Many small shops like us do not make it through their first year, so it was a little frightening to be honest. But by working hard and becoming better every day, we made it through that rocky period."

Now 33, Esquivel looks back and credits a supportive family for his success. "My father came into the business that first year and he was a great help," he explained. "But he didn't share my passion for this business, so he stepped away and is now semi-retired. When we first opened, my entire staff consisted of family members. I had my father and my two brothers-in-law, Juan and Fernando, working here. Now Juan and Fernando work for other shops and they are I-CAR Platinum, so it has turned out to be a good career for both of them. Most everything they know was taught to them here and I am proud of them both."

Working exclusively with family offered Esquivel many advantages in those early years. "There were some weeks where I could not make payroll, I have to admit it," Esquivel said. "But because they were family, it was not as if they were going to quit or come knocking at my door. They trusted me, and of course, I felt the same, so having them working here gave me many benefits. It just made everything a lot easier, and now we are doing very well, so payroll is never an issue."

Today, Midwest Auto Body employs six collision professionals, including George, another brother-in-law who runs the shop's front office. With a 5,000-square-foot shop and another 3,000 for storage, they maintain one DRP and rely heavily on their reputation for honesty, quality and a family environment. "We are roughly 70% non-DRP and we're repairing 50-55 cars every month," Esquivel explained. "By not being totally dependent on the insurance companies, we built this business on referrals. We also have done some community service and we plan on doing a lot more in that regard."

One downside of not working with multiple DRPs is steering, something that Esquivel has said is a constant burr in his side. "We encounter it all the time," he said. "They're all doing it, but some are more obvious than others. A customer will bring a car here and everything is going along fine, until they call their insurance company. Then, someone comes here and tows or drives the vehicle away."

By handling this common scenario adroitly, Esquivel is able to retain most of his non-DRP customers and vanquish the evil steering specialists. "I tell the customers their rights and let them know that we're honest and want to do a quality job on their vehicle," he said. "I tell them that our repairs are always guaranteed and we will give them a warranty for the vehicle, for as long as they own it. Once they can see that we're more into doing a good job than making a lot of money, they relax and the car usually stays right here."

How was a 24-year-old able to learn the collision industry without any previous training? "I went to every class I could--I-CAR, the classes sponsored by the paint companies and anything else I could find," Esquivel said. "I had to learn every aspect of this business, because we had a small crew and we all had to multi-task to succeed. We were all learning on the job, but we never compromised any repairs and that is why we're still here and flourishing now, I believe."

To learn more about collision repair from a different perspective, Esquivel worked part-time for another body shop until Midwest Auto Body was up and turning a profit. "Yes, those were long days and I was basically married to this business for the first three years," he said. "I would work at the other shop from 4:30 am to noon and then I would run right over to my shop. I would work there until the work was done, which meant until around midnight, in most cases."

Esquivel has always had a goal to help his community in the village of Melrose Park, a suburb of Chicago. He mentored and trained 30 young people at his shop to introduce them to collision repair a few years ago. "We started a mentoring apprenticeship program where the kids came here to the shop to learn the basics," Esquivel said. "It was part of a program at my church where they help troubled youth, and out of the 30, one is a tech and three others work in some capacity in the automotive field."

To take his philanthropic efforts even further, Esquivel is planning to fix up his shop's loaner and give it to a deserving member of the community. It is something he has been wanting to do for quite some time, he said. "Giving back is good for the soul and helps me to sleep well at night. My parents showed me that helping people is more important than all the money in the world. Now that we're doing well and the cars keep coming in, this is the right time for us to step up and do the right thing."

Ed Attanasio

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

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