In the mid-1980s, Gil Grieve was an experienced auto body repair technician looking for job. But instead of finding a new gig, he bought a Concours Body Shop.
Grieve had a job at another body repair facility, but the job went away when the owner passed away. Out of work, he ended up at General Motors School in California where he met Jim Horner, owner of Concours Body Shop, which was then located at Sunshine Lane in Reno. Horner had grown tired of the industry and was looking to sell the business. After some consideration, Grieve snatched the opportunity.
Since then, Grieve has navigated the company through relocations and expansions, challenges of balancing technical expertise and business management, dealing with difficulties of the recent recession and the cutthroat nature of the industry.
“After I purchased it, I was very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time,” Grieve said. “Jim Horner had a good client base and I had just worked for a guy named Ed Wilson, who also owned a body shop. I had a good following that I brought to Concours.”
Within six months, Grieve added to his one-man operation by hiring a painter and a technician.
As business boomed, Concours outgrew its tiny original location and Grieve moved to a new facility on Telegraph Street in 1989. After that, he moved the business next door and eventually expanded it to its current 40,000-square-foot facility on the corner of Mill and Telegraph streets.
Although his business grew because of his expertise in fixing damaged vehicles, Grieve said he had struggles managing the financial side of the business — something that may have forced him to close or sell the property. But a stroke of luck in the early 1990s saw a business consultant come through his doors on a cold call and insisted that he could help Grieve get the firm’s finances in order. After some gnashing of teeth, Grieve decided he needed the consultant’s help. And it worked.
At its peak, Grieve had 56 employees and saw yearly gross revenues of $7 million. When the recession hit in 2008, Grieve said he had to lay off 20 members of his workforce within a month’s time.
Revenue also fell to about $4 million a year and Grieve said the company hasn’t been able to break the $5 million mark since the recession first hit; however, he said if the company’s projections hold true, the business will surpass that this year. But Grieve insists the company has come out stronger than it was before.
He now employs 46 people at the shop.
“That was a tough deal, but I wasn’t the only one,” Grieve said of the downturn. “We readjusted and became better and survived it all. Will we ever see business like we did prior to 2008? I don’t think so. Business has changed.”
Business has changed in part because of the recession along with the rapid changes in technology and a revamped insurance industry, which forced shops like Concours to adjust.
Grieve said many body shops failed because they were too conscious of catering to the insurance companies rather than satisfying the consumer.
The recession also hurt because Grieve indicated that when people, say, got into accidents and filed claims with their insurance carriers, often times those people would just pocket the money and not get their cars fixed. Or even get the cars fixed at a serviceable level.
“It’s an industry that’s very subjective,” Grieve said. “I do the quality consumer projects.”
To help assist customers, Concours introduced a lift rack inside the shop where a consumer can inspect damage at the same time an insurance adjuster does, so they both know exactly what needs to be fixed and how much it will cost. This is beneficial as Grieve says, sometimes because of a rubber car body. The damage may seem small but there may be other underlying parts damaged.
He came up with the lift rack idea around 2007 but didn’t get it implemented until recently. A woman brought her car that had been in an accident. An initial estimate had damages adding up to around $2,500, but when the car was taken apart, Grieve and his staff found there was an additional $4,000-$5,000 worth of damages.
“If I had that lift back then, I could have pulled the car up and showed her that $2,500 job was really $7,000,” Grieve said. “There is nothing worse than the lack of confidence from (the consumer) to me on the amount of damages that I missed. That was the day I said something has got to change.”
Grieve said dealing with insurance companies sometimes is difficult because some want policyholders’ vehicles fixed a lower costs, but he indicated quality repairs are expensive. Add to the fact it is a high overhead industry, and Grieve needs to keep the lights on.
Through it all, Grieve still loves his work and beams with pride that the business has lasted 30 years while many auto body shops have come and gone over time.