Shop Strategies: How Hawaii Ensures Makes Customer Satisfaction and Keeps Up With Industry Changes

MS Auto is an I-CAR Gold Class shop and is currently certified by Chrysler, FCA, Hyundai, Kia, INFINITI and Nissan.

In Hilo, HI, Manuel Soares III and his family have built a reputation for excellent customer service at their collision repair facility, MS Auto Inc

Established more than 53 years ago, the family business repairs all makes and models and works as a team to bring cars back to their pre-accident condition. 

In 1970, Manuel III’s father, Manuel Jr., began doing small repairs out of his home garage. His son, known as Jr., grew up helping his dad, handing him wrenches, sanding filler and cleaning up trash.

Over the years, they moved five times and are now located on Kukila Street in Hilo, where they focus on collision repairs and custom work. Their 26 employees include Jr.’s wife, Tracey Soares, and their daughter, Macey---both of whom are production managers---as well as their son, Manuel IV, who works in the body and paint department. Macey and Manual IV are both in training and transitioning to take over the company.

Pictured, left to right, are Scot Takemoto, owner of Island Concepts, with Jr., Tracey, Macey and Manuel IV.

Autobody News talked to Jr. about some of the challenges operating on an island and how they stay up to date with the latest vehicle technology.

How do you ensure customer satisfaction at MS Auto? 

We are passionate about what we do and work hard to ensure customer satisfaction every day. Presentation is everything. You need to be optimistic when dealing with clients, and they need to have that warm and fuzzy feeling and know that you're willing to engage and move things along. If you're nostalgic and slow, they may anticipate that you will do the repairs the same way. However, if you have good energy, they will likely feel the job will get done on time. I’m out in front all the time, helping to write claims, meet customers and run the business. 

I try to pre-schedule clients and provide repair expectations and cycle times. Letting them know what to expect with the repair up front and any challenges we might encounter is imperative. We want to be transparent. Sometimes, staff can forget, but that’s human nature. We review the status of the vehicles with the team each day and maintain a spreadsheet.

When we deliver cars, we let customers know they will be asked to provide a review. If they need anything corrected prior to that, we are more than happy to help. We have about 1,200 online reviews through and I read new reviews every night. Depending on what they say, the next day I might call to follow up or thank them. By doing that, they become customers for life and tell friends and family about the great service they received. 

Left to right are Matthew Medeiros, estimator, Ann Pacyao, CSR, Derek Tanaka, estimator, Kiani Kamakea, CSR, and Chad Kunitake, estimator.

As a business owner, I’m the caretaker of the company. I value our customer relationships and feel it’s important to be personable with everyone. 

What are some challenges operating on an island?

We want to deliver cars on time but not compromise quality, especially with the adversities we deal with on an island. Ensuring we have supplies can be challenging because we ship them in from Honolulu. Sometimes, we can’t get products so we resource what we can or surplus products.  

Before the pandemic, we inventoried parts even though it was costly. I’m glad I had that foresight because it carried us through. I prioritize maintaining good relationships with my vendors and I find they put stock away for me. Currently, we’re doing pretty well with parts. 

I have very high expectations and tend to work with like-minded people. We are one of the biggest buyers on the island, so when we need something a little faster, I speak up and they find someone who matches our performance level. 

What other industry resources have you used? 

We have been members of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) for many years. They have great resources, databases and programs for collision repairers. 

Randy Soares, left, is an A-tech, brother of Manuel II and second employee of the company. Tyler Betts, right, is an A-tech.

I’ve also had great mentors who have become friends, like Toby Chess, who is awesome, and my accountant, Paul Tsukiji. I was also close to industry veteran March Taylor; I felt we had a lot of things in common. 

How do you stay up to date with new vehicle technology?

I’ve worked on cars almost every day since I was about 12 years old and have been involved in every aspect of the company. I try to stay ahead of the curve and keep up with the latest information and training by talking to other shop owners and OEMs. 

I also reach out to dealerships to learn the latest information about new vehicles. With the technology being introduced on cars, I’m finding that today’s customers spend more time researching them before making a purchase and often they know more than the salesman. I try to learn as much as possible so I’m prepared when a car comes into the shop. 

What is the importance of accessing OEM repair procedures and obtaining OEM certifications?

Accessing OEM repair data is priceless. We want to make sure that cars are repaired to their pre-accident condition. Although they can never be exactly like they were pre-accident, we want to give people the sound mind they are getting a repair done the way the OEM requires it. We also want to protect the auto manufacturers’ brand and ensure customers are safe for the life of the vehicle. To do a quality repair, we have put an emphasis on obtaining OEM certifications. We are currently certified by Chrysler, FCA, Hyundai, Kia, INFINITI and Nissan.

How are you handling calibrations and the new procedures needed?

We do everything in-house. First, we pre-scan the vehicle and later, do an in-progress scan. I do road tests on the vehicle’s functionalities; then, we'll deliver the car to the dealership to do the calibration. When it comes back from the dealership, we conduct a post-scan and operations test to make sure it has a final clean bill of health before releasing it to the customer. We also provide documentation of what was done during the repair.

When we take vehicles to the dealership, we need to stay on top of what is being done. Open communication is very important to let them know what functionalities need to be checked and what we expect. We also ask them to call us if they find certain procedures that need to be done above and beyond what we can authorize. Otherwise, they might deliver the product back beforehand. 

With an increase in the number of EVs and vehicles with ADAS features, what is the importance of training?

It’s imperative. Where else will you get the knowledge to repair cars correctly? Customers want accuracy when we fix their vehicles, so we need to continually train and keep up with the changes taking place in the industry as cars evolve.

Left to right are David Alatan, A-tech, Jacy Furuto, B-tech, and Joshua Moses, C-tech.

I started I-CAR training in 1985 and have I-CAR Platinum recognition. The shop became I-CAR Gold Class in 2016. We have been doing a lot of training with I-CAR and I’ve found that it is a great resource.

We have good relationships with dealers and vendors and train with them. We also do a variety of training in-house, as well as online every month and are ASE-certified.

Training in Hawaii is challenging but we make it happen. I'll spend whatever we need to.

How do you find and hire technicians?

I never solicit other people's staff or go out and hunt them down. The industry is in very deep need of good technicians, and the only way to be successful is to build your own team.

We’re finding new employees who aren’t part of the industry and training them to be technicians. We have a lot of young staff and I can tell pretty quickly if they are interested. If they are intrigued, we start investing in their training. 

Left to right are Ka’ohu Gouveia, parts, Rayden Jones, prepper/buffer, and Hana Miller, detailer.

What is the importance of building a culture?

Building a culture is critical. Once we think alike, we can address and see things with the same eye and adapt. 

Today's kids are often defined by what they do in recreation rather than what they do as a vocation. We’re trying to teach the younger generation that this isn’t a job; it’s a career. We teach them to be diligent and responsible and invest in themselves. We want them to be proud of what they do and feel they work in a respectable job that puts families in safe vehicles. 

The new generation is used to instant gratification. We want them to understand that they can’t spend 15 minutes on YouTube or Google to learn this job. They need to put time into it and have patience. 

Part of our culture is also about building a team. We work closely and operate as one.

For employees to be the best they can be, we train them in their deficiencies, find what they are most skilled at and encourage them to work in that area. 

What tips can you share about being successful in running a multi-generational family business?

Being a family business in our industry takes a different breed of people and a lot of families fail. Growing up, there were some days I wanted to throw in the towel and it was very frustrating. I was pushing a lot of training and building more technicians because I knew that would be needed in the future and saw the potential for the business to grow. 

At the same time, my dad was happy with how things were and didn’t feel a change was needed. I learned from those experiences, so I’m open with my kids and share what my dad didn’t with me. That might mean putting the difficulties or insecurities on the table so we can work well together. 

I always say I’m never the best because I push harder every day. That way, I never stop trying.

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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