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Benner’s Auto Body carries on tradition with a century’s worth of cutting-edge repairs

Wednesday, February 6, 2019 - 09:00
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Horsepower was still being compared to four-legged beasts of burden and motorists donned goggles, hats and trench coats when Benner’s Auto Body first opened for business in 1910.

As you might expect from a shop that’s been around for more than a century, the operation has a long history of embracing the latest vehicle innovations – and implementing the most up-to-date repair technologies for keeping them on the road.

At a glance:
Benner's Auto Body
Cranford, N.J.
Joseph O'Neill Jr.
No. of shops
Years in business
No. of employees
No. of DRPs
Square footage of shop
20 body & mechanical;
8 paint & detail

No. of bays
Avg. repair order
4 days
Avg. cycle time
Vehicles per week
Avg. weekly volume
$6.5 million-plus
Annual gross revenue
BASF 90 Line Waterborne
Paint supplier
Car-O-Liner; Celette
Frame machines used
CCC One, Audatex, ALLDATA
Estimating systems used

This storied tradition lives on with the enterprise’s modern-day owner, Joseph O’Neill Jr., who at age 32 has recently reached yet another milestone in achieving Tesla’s OEM repair certification.

“We’ve been official since the beginning of 2018,” says O’Neill, known to all as Joe. “We’ve always tried to stay ahead of the curve,” and the prospect of working on Tesla’s aluminum body components and electrical propulsion systems “fascinated me as an owner” when the EVs were introduced into the car parc.

Already certified by Ford for the F-150 and its aluminum content, O’Neill went ahead and bought the equipment needed to conduct Tesla repairs prior to meeting the OEM’s rigorous training standards. “I just had a really good feeling about it,” he explains. “We liked the young brand and we liked that we were working directly with Tesla,” referring to the relative youthfulness of the respective staffs and a mutual cultural fit among them.

“A lot of the training we had previously done with I-CAR” along with instruction obtained through shop-equipment manufacturers. The technicians were able to further enhance their education through Tesla’s online training programs. “We were on the second wave of Telsa-certified shops,” Joe recounts, which meant that the virtual training aspect was now available without the crew having to travel across the country to the automaker’s in-house instructional facility in California.

“They were selling hundreds of Teslas” in the region surrounding the shop’s Cranford, N.J. location, “and we knew that would be good for us” regarding a consistent flow of customers.

“In three to five years from now you’re going to see a lot of that technology on other cars,” O’Neill observes, which positions the full-service shop for ongoing future revenues.

“We have always been on the forefront of technology in the auto body business,” he says. “My father was one of the first shops in New Jersey to have downdraft spray booths, frame machines and computerized estimating. I carried on the tradition with being one of the first shops in New Jersey to go waterborne and be aluminum certified.”

Leveraging a customer-centric marketing mantra known as The Benner’s Difference, “Our drive to be technically better than everyone else – to be trained in all model vehicles we service and to use the best quality products and tools to achieve superior results. We try and give our insurance partners and customers the feel of dealing with a small business with the size and expertise of a big MSO.”

SOPs and certifications

Mastering the most recent OEM certification requirements is a continuing process, as is tapping into the knowledge of industry experts such as consultant (and ABRN contributor) Steven Feltovich and taking advantage of the expertise provided by the shop’s lineup of vendors.

3M representative Jim Garripoli has been a particularly valuable mentor. “He was pivotal in helping me learn the business and setting up SOPs for every department,” according to O’Neill. “When I wanted to overhaul the detail department 3M brought in Dan Yaworski from Meguiar’s to demo how to use all their products effectively and efficiently.” 3M equipment and products are in regular use, with the processes augmented by readily available instruction.

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