Industry Veteran Talks Candidly About Life as an MSO

Industry Veteran Talks Candidly About Life as an MSO

Frank Quadrato has 35 years of experience in the collision repair industry in northern California. He credits much of what he learned about the industry to what took place at Contra Costa College, where he graduated from in 1986.

After working for several independent shops to learn every facet of the industry, Quadrato was hired by Cook's Collision 18 years ago, and today, his title at the MSO is Industry Relations. We recently sat down with Quadrato to ask him questions about many of the hottest topics out there in the industry right now.

Q: How do you train new technicians and estimators at Cook's Collision?

A: We have our own program and a gentleman who has been working for us for almost 30 years. His name is Dennis Cobb and he is one of the most knowledgeable people I know in this industry. We have our own estimating class and we're always looking to schools like UTI or Contra Costa College for people. Alternatively, maybe some of these candidates went to school somewhere else, but they have a background with cars. They might not necessarily even be mechanically inclined, but if they're willing to learn and they like cars, we will interview those kids, and if they think they have some talent, we will put them through our six-week estimating class. Part of the curriculum involves shadowing, where our students and new hires will watch a few of our veteran techs how they do repairs and they shadow an estimator once a week. After the six week course, we put them into a shop and they work with a journeyman estimator. That’s how we’re helping to generate technicians and estimators ourselves. You have to grow them and train them yourself, because that way, you know that they're fixing cars your way.

Q: As a graduate of the collision repair school at Contra Costa College, you know the value of education and training in this industry, because you're one of the school's real success stories. Tell us about that and your journey.

A: Definitely. Contra Costa College has an excellent program, and their former director, Peter Lock, really led the way there for decades before semi-retiring a year ago. Today in this job, I am active at Contra Costa College, and each quarter, I will sit in on classes there and talk to the kids. With some of the students in their second year that have some knowledge about how to R & I (remove and install) a car, we can bring them into one of our shops and have them work with the other techs to learn their way of fixing cars. As far as estimators, the whole trade is now based on customer service. If you have a customer-oriented individual with some computer skills, that person can probably be a good estimator. You can teach them how to write an estimate, but they need some basic skills in order to succeed. Not everyone is suited for each role in a body shop, so finding the right people for the right job is essential.

Q: Have you been able to retain people over the long term and how do you do it?

A: We lose people, we absolutely do. It's the nature of the business right now, so we have to deal with it. This is obviously a touchy subject and all I can say is we do whatever we can to retain our people. In some cases, it's not all about the money. By empowering some of our younger techs and estimators, we've had some real success there. They’ve got so much room to grow and when they get in there, they see the opportunity. They’re just busy growing, so they’re not out there looking for another job or getting a job offer because they’re still growing and anxious to learn. So we give them that opportunity and it really pays off. You look at some of these kids making $14 an hour and they may say, "I can get a job making more somewhere else." Well, you might, but guess what? In about a year, you’re going to be stuck at $14 an hour in some other job without real opportunity to advance. But as a tech, you can be making $50,000 to $60,000 annually in a few years if you're good. You’ll never get that at another job. So to keep your people, you’ve got to have an internal system to promote and teach them skills and help them to grow. We have people that were answering a phone maybe five or six years ago and now they are running a shop, because we gave them responsibility and they proved themselves at every level. If you're an employee at Cook's Collision, we are going to do whatever we can to help you in your career.

Q: You worked your way up at Cook's Collision too, correct?

A: Absolutely. When I started for the company 18 years ago, I never thought we would be where we are today. First, I was a manager for Cook's Collision and I ran their Pine Street location in Sacramento. A year later, I became an area manager, handling several stores. We had four stores at the time and now we have 37. I worked for a few independent shops before that, where I had some good mentors who helped me. I've worked in pretty much every capacity in this industry. I was a body man, a painter, an estimator, a parts guy, I cleaned cars--did it all. I’ve done every job, and that helps me to manage people, because I've been there. Now, in Industry Relations, I work with our DRPs. I am the single contact person for all of our insurance relationships and it's a role I really enjoy. I work closely with all of the insurance companies, our vendors and the dealerships that we have relationships with. I'm what you might call a "relations guy" because everything I do is based on establishing and maintaining relationships.

Q: What is your feeling about the difference between OE and aftermarket or used parts?

A: I don't really have an opinion on that. We need to perform quality repairs based on the car manufacturers' specifications, and that dictates the way we fix them. In the end, it all comes down to doing a good job for the customer, and that's our main priority. If any part isn't 100% safe and correct for that particular vehicle, we won't install it. It's just that simple. I have never met anyone in this industry that said they wanted to make subpar repairs, and that includes all of the insurers as well.

Q: What are the biggest changes you've seen since you entered the industry more than 30 years ago?

A: Without a doubt, it has to be the technology. Also, transparency is a big thing. This industry has been better and better when it comes to understanding customer service and providing a better experience for the consumer. And the parts industry has changed a lot, too, with so many options now for body shops to choose from. Aluminum, the newer vehicles and the new repair techniques that come with them--those are also big changes, and the future will be bringing many more. It is an exciting industry right now and that's why I love being in it!

Ed Attanasio

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

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