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Car Crafters is an ABRN 2011 Top Shop

TopShops_ABRN.jpgCar Crafters: Street signSome of the journeys repairers take in building a Top Shop are a bit more unique than most. Take the path Jim Guthrie cut to found Car Crafters in Albuquerque, N.M., nearly three decades ago.

Guthrie's repair career actually dates back three decades ago when he was attending dental school, where fixing molars didn't seem nearly as appealing as repairing cars. Guthrie's parents gave him an ultimatum – focus on school or get out. The choice was an easy one. Guthrie got an apartment and on January 3, 1982, signed the lease on a 1,500-square-foot shop. Several locations and some years later, he now runs an ever-expanding 50,000-square-foot business that generates more than $11 million annually.

So how does a twenty-something go from struggling small-shop owner to mega-shop magnate? According to Guthrie, you fail miserably a number of times; learn from your mistakes and bounce back more determined than ever to make your business work. Guthrie describes his early transformative years to building a race car.

CarCraftersSidebar1.jpg"You try your best setup. You take the car to the racetrack. See what it does, then fix it again and keep making changes. If you do something to make the car worse, take another direction," says Guthrie. "I've applied that logic to a business and 29 years later, here we are."

Of course, building a business the size of Car Crafters takes a little more than moxie. As his business grew, Guthrie realized he needed specific business tools to manage it. Specifically, he needed numbers and other data to measure every part of his business.

"That which can be measured can be improved," he says.

That led, 10 years ago, to Guthrie building a "discovery" bay in his shop where employees could more accurately write estimates. Guthrie and a business partner then built a software program around his discovery process since no such tool was available at the time.

He notes, "I wanted to look at real-time data and measure and compare it. I needed a way to take a quick analytical view of my business."

As it turned out, many other shop owners did as well. Their interest led Guthrie down a path he never expected – suddenly he was in the software business selling a Web-based management system. He spent the next several years traveling across the country selling his product. He was doing far more than sales work, however. Guthrie was learning about the industry from every conceivable vantage point, examining shop operations "from California vs. Washington, D.C., vs. Florida."

Car Crafters: StaffGuthrie says at each stop, he picked up a golden nugget of knowledge. "If you do enough you end up with a bag of gold," he says.

Guthrie said he ultimately sold the software to Mitchell where it is now marketed as "RepairCenter." Guthrie refers to the product as Car Crafters' "gift to the industry." When he retuned to Car Crafters he did so with a far better grasp of the industry, and his shop now repairs 126 vehicles a week.

That's an incredible accomplishment considering the shop's location. Guthrie notes that he's essentially on an island in the desert. Albuquerque is so isolated that it's impossible to have parts delivered the same day. All of the repair parts have to be sent overnight and typically take one to two days to arrive, which puts incredible pressure on the shop to avoid supplements. Writing near-perfect estimates is a must.

Making matters even more difficult, Car Crafters has partnered with a number of direct repair programs (DRPs) and takes in plenty of cash customers, each of which requires a different operating model, according to Guthrie.

His solution has been to use all the knowledge he's acquired to build a lean operation capable of handling all of these models.

Guthrie said that Car Crafters was at the forefront of the lean revolution and was among the first shops to go through PPG's Greenbelt training.

Going lean has cut the shop's cycle times so much that Guthrie is faced with another challenge – maintaining a steady flow of customers.

Car Crafters: Kayla and Kevin (the marketing team) get the door for you. As Kaci and Dolores wait to assist you.Working with a number of DRPs is a part of Guthrie's solution, as is investing heavily in marketing. Car Crafters has for several years invested in a powerful branding campaign that utilizes radio, television, transit and print ads.

More recently Car Crafters has taken a strong run at building a significant social media presence. The shop's youthful marketing team (each team member is a year away from completing a college degree) works daily to lay the groundwork for a strong following on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Daily updates on Facebook and Twitter are designed to keep the shop connected with customers while YouTube videos are intended to provide an entertaining welcome mat for a wide audience.

Community involvement also plays a key part in attracting customers. Car Crafters hosts charity car shows, sponsors sports teams, collects money for breast cancer research and each month asks employees to work together on a community project.

Customers keep pouring in, so Guthrie is expanding his shop to mechanical work. He's also eying the future and believes his next move could be adding locations. He'll make that decision when the time is right.

And so the journey continues.


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