If there were a common theme running through this year's selection of Top Shops, it would be "expect the unexpected." For the first time, the majority of winners came from the Atlantic seaboard instead of the West Coast and Arizona. Nearly half of the winners are dealer shops. Of those, Gullo Ford Collision Center carries the theme of "different is better" one step further by being the most unusual of the dealer shops selected.
The Conroe, Texas-based shop has been separating itself from the service repair herd for a decade by minding the details others too often ignore and by creating an identity that is unique both within the market and inside its own company.
IMAGES / GULLO FORD COLLISION CENTER
One of the more striking parts of this identity is the fact that Gullo's actually has several collision repair shops at its collection of dealerships. Unlike other MSOs which generally strive for uniformity across locations, the business grants a certain level of autonomy to each shop. The shop at the Ford dealership entered the contest independently of the other locations.
The shop also is a bit unusual in that it is a relatively young business, being founded in 1998, yet its roots run nearly five decades deep in the automotive industry. Dealership owner Tony Gullo Sr. has owned collision centers since 1972 and was a part of the original Toyota Certified program.
Shop manager Billy Coleman joined Gullo in 1998 and brings with him more than 38 years of experience as a body and paint technician and in dealership management. He's qualified to work on Ferraris and has experience performing complete antique restorations. Coleman also serves on Ford's Advisory Council on Collision Repair where he stays informed about industry regulations, trends and practices.
Despite its long-standing ties to the service industry, the shop uses a very nontraditional approach to bringing on employees. Fully 25 percent of the shop's technicians had no automotive experience before being hired.
Chris Mastache preps a Saleen rear bumper. Bumper work and other small, fast-track jobs account for about 40 percent of the shop's business.
"We first look for good workers," Coleman, who points to one technician who had previously worked at a furniture warehouse, says. "He was a hard worker, and we liked his personality," Coleman says. "By hiring this way, we can bring along our employees our way and have them trained in-house."