Shop Strategies: Collision Facility Owner Sees Value in Supporting Customers, Employees, Community

Akiki & Sons in Massachusetts is a second-generation business that succeeds by treating everyone like family.

Elias Akiki, left, with his parents, Mounir, sitting, and Laura, right, who founded Akiki & Sons Inc. in 1986.

As a young boy, Elias Akiki helped his father, Mounir, repair vehicles in their home garage in Massachusetts. The Akiki family had migrated to the U.S. from Lebanon in 1972 and Mounir worked at different facilities during the day and repaired cars at their residence in the evening. In 1986, he and his wife, Laura, founded Akiki & Sons Inc. in the Hyde Park area of Massachusetts.

Elias continued to help at the family body shop after school and during summer vacations. When he was 12, Elias asked the mechanical shop owner next door if he could purchase the business. Elias was told he would let him know when they were ready.

“Eventually, that time did come,” recalled Elias.

When he was 19, Elias purchased the family business, and two years later, in 2000, he bought the shop next store and named it Akiki Auto Repair. Elias also set up a towing company that has grown into a significant presence in Boston, with about 7,000 moves a month. As the three businesses grew, Elias relocated to a larger location in Hyde Park. This includes the 20,000-square-foot collision repair facility and 10,000-square-foot mechanical shop. They currently have 100 employees, 20 of whom work in the collision business.

Autobody News talked to Elias about the importance of supporting customers, employees and the community, as well as becoming OEM-certified.

What sets your business apart from others in the industry?

Our commitment to customers whom we consider friends, our community, and the people who work within the walls here -- our employees -- whom I consider family.

Many employees have worked at the shop for more than 20 years and I’m very happy with everyone here. I don't have a lot of turnover. If somebody decides to leave, it’s usually a mutual understanding. It's never disgruntled; it’s just somebody going in another direction.

We want our coworkers to develop as human beings and grow, not just within our company. If that road makes them grow and they end up outside these walls, we're fine with that as long as they’ve experienced personal growth.

How have you supported that growth through training?

We pay for all training our employees want to attend to help advance their career. As an I-CAR Gold Class facility, our technicians take I-CAR classes. We also arrange training for employees to keep up with their skills, such as welding. In addition, we receive training through our OEM certifications.

As far as personal growth, we have a partnership with Collision Advice and Discover Leadership where we send our management and leadership team, as well as our service writers and those who interact with customers. We also have an in-house program for employees to develop their personal and professional growth.

Many of Akiki & Sons’ employees have worked at the collision repair facility for more than 20 years.

Employees know that I'm committed to them and their growth while working together to achieve our mission of providing a world-class service and product. At the same time, I want our team to take it to another level and get paid for the work we do without putting in 10 hours of overtime. A good quality of life is important.

Many in the industry don’t want to bother training anyone because they feel the person will leave. They might and they might not. You need to put your best foot forward and think of the goodwill of the industry.

Why is it essential to be OEM-certified?

We are OEM-certified in every brand we can be -- Acura, Ford, Chevrolet, FCA, Honda/Acura, Hyundai, Infiniti, Kia, Nissan, Rivian and Subaru. We are working to become certified with auto manufacturers that require invitations or sponsorships.

It’s essential to be OEM-certified to demonstrate that the business is dedicated to the ultimate standard of repair. Consumers know that our facility repairs vehicles according to the manufacturers’ procedures.

I explain to customers that other shops may not repair vehicles to the certified standard. We let them know that we are the only people in this entire process of repairing vehicles that work solely for them. We tell them that “You are our boss. You give us the instruction on what to do.” You can never explain that enough to customers.

Many people are always thinking about doing what is right. I tell my team to do what is right for the customer.

What is your strategy when hiring new employees?

I have developed relationships with the vocational schools in our area and I reach out to the school liaisons, as well as local leaders and politicians. They will introduce me to potential candidates because of my activity in the community. When you're involved, you are going to meet local politicians who have connections with vocational schools, night programs and adult retraining programs, which helps bring in new people for internships.

How do you and your team support the community?

We support the community in many ways and make sure we are present and accountable.

If the community needs help, we step up and take care of it, whether it’s street cleaning, litter pickup, tow truck service or a road race. We sponsor every event we are asked to sponsor. We’re boots-on-the-ground and very present. I believe it's important for the community to know that we feel it’s our community, too, and we’re helping to create a better place for everyone.

I take pride in being accessible. I'm vice president of the Hyde Park Main Street Association, which supports the area in many ways. We’ve remodeled about 20 abandoned homes in the neighborhood and rented them to families. I'm also a member of the Hyde Park Board of Trade. By improving the surroundings, my neighbors are healthier and happier, which gives more prestige to the area.

A lot of shop owners think that they're visiting the community where they work but need to realize they are improving their circumstances when they improve their surroundings. It’s not just a $100 donation. It’s a way of life.

I’ve been active in the Alliance of Automotive Service Providers (AASP)-Massachusetts for about four years and encourage colleagues to join and help support the industry. We have a lobbyist who is helping us increase reimbursement rates. When association members were picketing at the statehouse in 2021, I took coworkers with 60 of our towing trucks and wrecked cars. Although the law wasn’t changed, our labor rates have increased over the last couple of years, probably more than they’ve gone up in 30 years.

It makes a difference getting together and speaking up 100%. You may not get everything you ask for, but people take notice.

We are also members of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS). The national organization has a lot of information that helps the industry. We reach out to them to learn about their offerings, such as the health care and 401K plans.

For the past year, I’ve taught the appraisal class in the evenings at the local vocational school for those who want to become a Massachusetts licensed appraiser. Two students in the class are now working with me and two people in the auto body program next door have joined my company.

By putting in that time, I was able to hire four employees. That might not have happened, but you need to be willing to do the work and give back to the industry that has given so much.

What is your advice to shop owners about getting involved in the industry?

I’ve noticed that some people feel it’s someone else’s job. I used to be one of those people until I realized that if everyone keeps thinking that, then no one will do it. In the generation before me, someone carried the torch. It's a tiring, thankless job but we must pass the torch continually. Everyone needs to carry a little bit so that the load isn't that much and we are making progress, even if it’s slowly.

Stacey Phillips Ronak

Stacey Phillips Ronak is an award-winning writer for the automotive industry and a regular columnist for Autobody News based in Southern California.

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