San Francisco Body Shop Draws Hybrid-Owners with Niche Expertise

San Francisco Body Shop Draws Hybrid-Owners with Niche Expertise

Giannini’s Auto Body in San Francisco’s Bay Area has learned that being green can lead to further green down the road, but that’s not the only reason why they do it.

By setting a high standard for doing anything and everything they can to prevent degrading the environment, body shops like Giannini’s are winning recognition and remaining busy year-round. They were an early adopter of waterborne, they run their shop using practices that are ultra-green and they’ve found a niche in fixing hybrids in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Hybrids are more popular in San Francisco than in most parts of the country.  “Toyota’s Priuses are very popular in the city and we’re seeing more of them coming through these doors all the time. Hybrids are definitely becoming a bigger part of our overall business and we’re gaining a solid reputation for working on them,” Manager Joe Mason told Autobody News.

“We see it in our bottom line. We’ve seen a significant improvement in business and we’re working on more hybrids than ever. We run a green, clean operation. People feel better bringing their car here, because our shop is immaculate and they appreciate it the fact that we’re trying to run a green operation.”

“Two things hybrid owners are obviously very conscious about—running a clean company and using earth-friendly methods.  At first, we were getting a few here and there and now hybrids make up 25% of our revenue. They’re part of our daily life now and we’re very comfortable and confident to be working on them.”

Giannini’s operates out of a 10,000-square-foot facility, employs eight people and repairs an average of 40 cars monthly. The company does approximately $1.4 million per year in business and the shop is growing at a steady rate.

In 2008, Giannini’s began fixing hybrids, and pretty soon the referrals began to pour in, Mason said. “We have two large, very well-known hybrid mechanical repair shops here in San Francisco—Luscious Garage and Pat’s Garage. They’re leaders in the hybrid movement in the Bay Area and they’ve been a great referral source for us.”

These hybrid specialists have made themselves available to Giannini’s for advice and assistance when needed, Mason said. “It’s very important that we’ve been able to call these people when we need information and they’re responsive and helpful—it’s refreshing. The hybrid circle is very connected around here and the people who work on these cars are a tight-knit group. They’re not super-competitive and they focus on the bigger picture. It’s not all about the money all the time.”

Learning the issues surrounding working on hybrid vehicles involves primarily safety precautions and processes that include safely handling high-voltage in wiring and connections, Mason explained. “It’s a simple rule—disconnect their electrical system and don’t re-connect until the car is re-assembled. Safety is number one, because if you’re not very aware of it, that’s when accidents can occur. We stress it with our techs every day, so they’ll never forget. By drilling it into their heads, it becomes second nature.”

PG& E has played a role in assisting Giannini’s movement to complete greenness by taking advantage of the utility’s rebate program, Mason said. “They gave us $100 per fixture for qualifying interior high bay linear fluorescent fixtures. With potential savings of $140 per year in energy costs when replacing a 400 Watt standard metal halide light, a fixture like this can pay for itself in two years. So it just makes sense for a lot of reasons.

The new, more environmentally responsible lights provide a better working environment as well, according to Mason. “We’re getting a more consistent light with better distribution with these high bay lights. The lights we have now also turn on faster and they’re much brighter. Our techs can see better now and that’s a big plus.”

Taking a green approach can also help his techs to be more productive and efficient, Giannini said. “We’re always looking for more ways to be greener overall and changing our lights helps the entire crew.  If it’s something and it’s within our budget, we’ll do whatever we can to achieve it.”

One of those enhancements involved the installation of a vacuum system that eliminates dust throughout the shop, Mason said. “We have eliminated 95% of all the dust on the floor and in the air with this new vacuum system. It doesn’t go down the drain and it doesn’t go in our employees’ lungs, so it was a no-brainer. We recycle the filters and keep them out of the landfill. These types of changes are easy to make, because they pay off in so many ways.”

Being green is an advantage, but in the end, quality customer service still reigns, Giannini said. “There’s nothing more important than providing a great customer experience every single time. We get great reviews on Yelp and a ton of referrals, because we’ll always go the extra mile for everyone we work with. We learned long ago that being fair and honest is the key. We want people to come here again and again without hesitation, because long-term customers will be your backbone.”

Was there a large initial investment needed before jumping into the hybrids pool? “It was basically all about the training,” Mason said. “We put all of our people through the I-CAR classes. They cost $108 per class and all of us took four classes. There wasn’t any significant investment in equipment, so it was a very easy process. We were fully trained within a short time and the hybrids started coming quickly, so we hit the ground running.”

Giannini’s embarked on the journey to using waterborne paint well before most shops even thought about it, Mason said. “It was a huge step and a smart move. Many shops waited right up until they were forced to switch, but we did it more than two years prior to the regulations kicked in. We saw the value in waterborne and we gravitated toward it as soon as we can. It was an easy transition. We dropped the solvent and started using waterborne the same day.”

What does the future hold for Giannini’s? “We’re focused on hybrids now that we’ve created a niche here,” Giannini said.” Our goal is to get to 80 cars per month, which we mean that we’d have to add a second shift. At that point, we might be able to consider moving to a larger new facility. We’re riding a green wave right now, and as long as we’ll never forget the most important thing—customer service—we’ll be producing quality work consistently and keeping our car counts where we want them to be. Being green isn’t expensive, because it pays off in the long run.”

Giannini’s Auto Body
625 Mariposa Street
San Francisco, California 94107
(415) 864-2644

Ed Attanasio

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

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