A Legacy Preserved: Growing up in family business gave California owner tools he needed to put customers first

Steven Welsh, center, with Bryan’s late mom, Kris, left, and Bryan at an Artistic Collision open house in 2010.

Summers, working in his father’s shop, created many happy memories for Bryan Welsh, owner of Artistic Collision in Cordova, Calif. They also helped him carve out a career in the automotive collision repair business.
Welsh’s father, Steven, started the business, Artistic Auto Works in 1980 as a restoration shop, focusing primarily on “tri-five” Chevys. In those years, the shop was a single-man operation, so Bryan helped out during summer vacations from school. As the years passed, his father realized that restoration work was not going to pay the bills, so he began building it into a more-substantial operation.

“I have assisted him with running the business for the past 23 years,” Bryan says, “and helped complete the transition from a restoration shop to a collision repair facility. Sadly, my father passed away unexpectedly this past January, leaving me with sole responsibility for carrying on the business.”

After two decades of experience, Bryan was prepared for his new role. And because the two of them had a good working relationship, Bryan had picked up what typically makes shops successful: forging good relationships and providing quality repairs with exceptional customer service.
“We treat our customers the way we would wish to be treated,” he says. “Tolerance, compassion and patience are some of the most important things I’ve learned. And these virtues don’t just apply to customers and employees, but certainly should carry over into dealing with family, friends and the public.”

He also developed perspective on the need for a healthy degree of work-life balance, how to separate family from business when appropriate. Bryan notes that although he and his father usually saw eye-to-eye on most things, they did have occasional disagreements. But those situations offered him another opportunity to learn how to conduct himself as an owner.

Bryan Welsh, center, with, from left, Bennie Romano, Victor Beck, Rick Hall, Nicole Scott, Craig Coston and Chris Calderon.

“We made it a habit to keep work at work,” he says. “If we were at a family get-together, we seldom discussed business. With my father gone now, though, I no longer have him to bounce ideas off of or go to for advice about a problem in the shop. Many times, I find myself asking myself, ‘What would dad do?’”

Not surprising, since current conditions in the industry have many shop owners scratching their heads. The need to adapt quickly in today’s fluid business environment requires more than just repairing customers’ vehicles. It requires a keen understanding of what’s happening in the marketplace – locally and globally.

Like many automotive repair shop owners these days, Bryan expresses concern about the consolidation of repair facilities. The large, multi-shop operators (MSOs), corporate owned and managed repair facilities, are buying a large number of single-owner shops, as well as small, multi-shop businesses, to compete for customers against the remaining small-shop operators.

“One by one,” he says. “I see ‘mom- and-pop’ shops similar to ours swallowed up by the big consolidators. I feel that it creates a marketplace where it’s difficult for a single-owner operated facility to survive.”

Still, he believes he knows the secret for leveling the playing field.

“A single operation such as ours must ensure that it can deliver better customer service than its competitors and make sure that it caters to its customers. Another thing we have done is catering to the local dealerships and fleet companies. If you can take care of them, their customers and employees, you will ensure yourself a steady flow of work.”

Rick Hall working in the paint room.

But if there was one thing he could change about the industry, it would be how it deals with insurance companies. “We’re at the insurance carrier’s mercy,” he says. “We rely heavily on them to direct repairs our way, but we succumb to their demands and concessions. We allow them to dictate repair methods and parts’ usage, which at times are not always in the best interests of the repair.

“I do make it clear to my customers, though, that we are repairing their vehicle for them, not the insurance company, and we will always push to ensure that everything is completed to their satisfaction and in their best interests.”

Like most of his peers in the industry, he sees the biggest challenge now – and in the future – as the continued advancements in vehicle construction and technology. “We’re making sure our technicians are properly trained in this ever-changing industry and ensuring that we have the necessary equipment to make proper repairs.”

Still, his philosophy for a successful shop comes down to taking care of his customers. “The best thing about working in the automotive industry is the ability to take a customer’s unfortunate experience, involving an auto loss, and making them whole again, providing them with a great repair experience. The worst thing is not being able meet their expectations. But I’ve found that if you can correct a dissatisfied customer’s concerns and make them happy, you’ve probably gained a customer for life.

That’s why his plans for the future include “growing the business that my father started. I love knowing that our business continues to thrive and carry on, even after his untimely passing.”

Shop Stats

NAME OF SHOP: Artistic Collision Center Inc.
LOCATION(S): Rancho Cordova, Calif.
Square footage of business: 15,000
WEBSITE: artisticcollision.com
“We joined ASA to stay up to date on industry trends via the AutoInc. magazine and to take advantage of exclusive ASA membership benefits.”