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From unibody to aluminum, family business is at home with innovations

Thursday, August 6, 2015 - 07:00
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In keeping with a long-standing tradition of embracing the most up-to-date wrinkles in automotive repair technologies, Suburban Collision has again moved to the forefront by establishing an innovative aluminum production facility. The third-generation family business is steadily obtaining OEM certifications for serving a specialized market that shows solid signs of ongoing growth.

“Body shops basically work for the insurance company,” says owner Angelo Papotto Jr. “With aluminum, I work for the manufacturer. For the first time ever, we are getting control of the repair process.”

Based in North Olmsted, Ohio, Angelo’s three locations grossed $9.54 million in 2014, with expectations of reaching $11 million this year.

Suburban is among a limited amount of repairers certified by Tesla, and the ambitious enterprise additionally holds aluminum certifications from Jaguar, Land Rover, Ford F-150 and Mercedes, and is currently in the final audit process with Porsche.

“We are always in the process of evaluating other OE programs to see if they fit within our future strategy – this includes Volkswagen, Audi and others,” reports Candace Papotto, Angelo’s daughter who serves as managing director. Another daughter, Lauren, is also involved with the operation.

Aluminum-bodied vehicles have pulled up to the bays atop flatbed trucks from as far away as Maine, Massachusetts and Virginia.

“We recognized the trend early and began our first OE certification in aluminum almost 10 years ago in conjunction with Jaguar. We took a slow and steady approach, researching programs and making sure they fit in with our strategy and with our other programs before initiating a new application,” Candace recounts.

“For instance, on the heels of Jaguar we were approached by another program that we didn’t feel was a good fit at the time, and we passed based on the duplication of equipment required and what we felt was a cost factor that would decrease in the future along with demand. We’re seeing this happen now, as other programs have allowed for shared equipment in certain cases,” she explains.

“The key was to recognize the trend early, just as with introduction of unibody repairs many years earlier, and take a slow and measured approach to the programs, selecting the best ones for our facilities,” says Candace. “We also maintain a strong business in our non-aluminum segment in order to fund the investment in the future. It’s a balance we’ve always felt was the key to success in innovation and profitability.”

Shop owners interested in moving forward with automaker certifications are advised to consider a series of factors when weighing your decisions.

“Each shop must look at their current work mix along with their strategy for the future in deciding whether or not to pursue an OEM program,” according to Candace. “We would encourage shops to be prepared not only for the upfront cost, but for the continuing costs of education and loss of technicians for the training periods. Most of the OEM programs require travel – we’ve sent technicians to San Jose, Calif.; Atlanta; and Wisconsin, to name a few.”

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