It was in August of 2005 when the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States roared through the Big Easy, bringing death, destruction and seemingly insurmountable hardships to so many, including the owners and staff of Fradella’s Collision Centers. Not only was the business able to rally and recover, but in the ensuing decade owners David Fradella, Mike Fradella and Al Waller have expanded the operation to encompass three thriving locations throughout the New Orleans area.
“Our community was ground zero for Hurricane Katrina,” reports Waller, vice president and general manager, referring to the company’s original shop in Chalmette, La. The storm and its immediate aftermath claimed nearly 300 lives in the town. Pre-Katrina there were 26,000 dwellings in Chalmette; all but 200 flooded and 68,000 residents were displaced, amounting to 100 percent of Fradella’s customer base and all of its employees.
“The fact that we were affected by this disaster is not newsworthy.
|At A Glance|
|Fradella's Collision Centers|
|Name of shop|
|Greater New Orleans area|
|David and Mike Fradella, Al Waller|
|No. of shops|
|Years in business|
|No. of employees|
|No. of DRPs|
|Square footage of shops|
|Average cycle time|
|Average repair order|
|Average vehicles per week|
|Average weekly volume|
|Annual gross at main location|
|Annual gross at all locations combined|
|KJ, Car-O-Liner, Body-Loc|
|Frame machines used|
|Estimating systems used|
There are thousands just like us,” Waller points out. “The way we reacted and our families and employees reacted – that is something special. We could have given up, and at times the outlook seemed hopeless and we wanted to give up, but we didn’t. With our families and a great team we fought through the adversity of Hurricane Katrina to survive and prosper.”
As the Chalmette location sat in ruin, a mechanical repair industry colleague in Metairie, La. let them know that a neighboring shop-oriented structure was unoccupied and available. “It had 18 inches of water and the roof needed some repairs, but it had utilities and we were desperate for that,” he recounts, adding that a shower stall was a most-welcome amenity while a barbeque pit provided cooking facilities. The break room was repurposed as a bunkhouse and others camped out in a parking-lot trailer. Work alternated between getting the shop going and repairing everyone’s respective homes.
Displaced staffers shared rides in from Texas as rebuilding progressed. Then Hurricane Rita arrived, resulting in a re-evacuation of all the equipment and a disheartening start-over of the renovation process.
“It was amazing what everyone was willing to do,” says Waller, who still marvels at the challenging and ultimately fortuitous chain of events. “We can truly look back on that time and only see the good in people and how our team came together. Every time someone asks me about how Hurricane Katrina affected me, I always say, ‘I feel blessed.’”
The shop owners did whatever they could to take care of employees who returned and made sure the benefit packages never lapsed.
“There is nothing more important than making sure that we as a company take care of the people we work with,” says Waller. “We understand that people really want to know three things from their employer: Do you like me? Do you care about me? Can I trust you? We focus on making sure we live up to their expectations.”
Those same attitudes of excellence and good will are also applied to serving the customers. “People reach out to us because they need help. Many of them have never been in this situation before,” Waller explains.
“We let every customer know that we are not going to disappear after they pick up their vehicle. When we deliver a vehicle we stress to the customer that we have quality checked the vehicle, but if they are concerned about anything after they get back on the road call us immediately. We want to check it for them, even if they aren’t sure if it is related to the repairs – no questions asked,” he elaborates. “We want them to feel 100 percent comfortable with putting themselves and their families back in their vehicle and back on the road. If they don’t, we haven’t done our job.”