The economic recession is threatening not only the big carmakers in Detroit, but many other aspects of the automotive business.
In eastern Dallas, Quality Colors Collision and Pro Shop is struggling. Normally, the shop does about $1.3 million in business a year, but October and November have been disastrous, says manager Mike Tavares. Even if business picks up in December, the shop might take in only $800,000 for 2008.
Quality Colors has thrived for three decades. It sits in a triangle bounded by the busy thoroughfares of Jupiter and Garland roads. As they angle away, the shop widens into a vast, two-story cinder-block and sheet-metal garage. Back in 1974, as a student at nearby Bryan Adams High School, owner Rodney Davidson discovered in shop class that he had a knack for auto body work. He grabbed his diploma and never looked back.
"We pride ourselves [on] doing quality repair. We're not a big volume shop. We don't want to be a big volume shop," Davidson says. "We want to have a reputation of being the quality shop in the area, and I think we've accomplished that."
Turning a crushed car into a work of art takes craftsmen. Highly skilled laborers "just don't come out of vocational school, they don't come off the street," Tavares says. "These guys have years of experience and tens of thousands of dollars in tools."
Workers Share The Pain
Davidson employs nine people: body techs, painters, a make-ready guy, the office manager. Most of them are paid a flat rate, plus commission. If there's not a healthy volume of cars moving through the shop, Davidson isn't the only one who takes a hit in the paycheck. In a shop this size, everyone feels the pain.
Tavares says customers are scaling back. They're saying, "'Let's fix this car — not 100 percent, but make it something I'm not going to be embarrassed driving,'" he says.
"Any time there's a recession, it plays a huge factor in our business."
Another factor is insurance. Quality Colors can pull your car's crushed sheet metal off the tires and make it look decent. But if you're paying for it yourself because you can't afford to have your insurance rates go up, you're like a sick patient without health insurance. Tavares and his crew will help you — but, as with the hospital, they can't stay in business this way.
Quality Colors faces competitive pressure from chains whose multiple locations enable them to cut pricing deals with insurance companies. Davidson doesn't have that kind of muscle. "We're completely independent," he says.
On The Road To Ruin?
One problem — the surge in gas prices — has eased. "When gas starts getting above $3, our business definitely slows down," Tavares says. "People are not driving as aggressively. We have Jupiter Road right here. We can see how people drive every day."
Now that the price of gas in Dallas is back under $2, drivers are speeding up again, which is good news for Quality Colors. With the price drop, Tavares says, "We started hearing tires squealing and engines revving, and you couldn't tell what color the cars were, they were driving down Jupiter so fast."
Unlike General Motors, Chrysler or Ford, Quality Colors is not on the brink of bankruptcy, but it's hurting. Davidson says if the economy begins a comeback next year, the shop will be OK. Otherwise, Quality Colors itself may become a wreck.