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Playing with the big boys

Fleet accounts pump business into Diversified Body & Paint’s new 50,000-square-foot facility as the shop bucks the coronavirus crisis and seeks to hire more techs

Commerce City, Colo.—Family-owned Diversified Body & Paint Shop tackles big rigs, large municipal vehicles and RVs in its new 50,000-square-foot facility on 10 acres in Commerce City, Colo., a proverbial stone’s throw from Denver.

“We were able to design exactly what we wanted and needed,” said Vice President Danny Wolfe, of the family-run business that includes his father, owner Steve Wolfe, brother, Estimator Brandon Wolfe, and his mother, Office Manager Lori Wolfe. “The new building celebrates the hard work of our employees and shows appreciation for all of our customers.”

Vice President Danny Wolfe (left), of the family-run business that includes his father, owner Steve Wolfe (right), brother, Estimator Brandon Wolfe, and his mother, Office Manager Lori Wolfe.
Fire trucks and ambulances are big departments for us, especially right now. It’s critical that we can turn those vehicles around quickly,” says Danny Wolfe.

He added that in 2019, Diversified became the largest independent commercial shop in the U.S. for Axalta in terms of square footage and paint used.

The shop’s previous location, on three acres in a 38,000-square-foot building, had stymied growth as business expanded. Now it has 35 bays and that churn out repairs seven days a week with three shifts in order to keep in step with the demands of its numerous fleet customers. Wolfe estimates that commercial trucks account for 60 percent of Diversified’s customer base, while RVs, buses, and emergency vehicles balance the remainder.

“Fire trucks and ambulances are big departments for us, especially right now. It’s critical that we can turn those vehicles around quickly.”

Various association memberships help drive business into bays, he said, including Colorado Motor Carriers Association, FleetPros, Rocky Mountain Fleet Managers Association, Colorado Fire Mechanics Association, and the Good Sams Club for RVs. It also attends regional RV tradeshows, but word of mouth and outside sales face-to-face meetings brings in the lion’s share of work. “We knock on doors and build relationships the old-fashioned way.”

Wolfe’s father is also on the board of directors for the HD Repair Forum, which is a good resource for tech training, in addition to Axalta’s 20 Group and 3M, Wolfe said. “The Forum and 3M give us what we need to fix these vehicles properly and safely, especially as trucks are being increasingly built like cars with ADAS and numerous sensors.”

As an anomaly in today’s business climate, Diversified is seeking additional techs for its 38-employee staff as fleet accounts continue to pump in business, though finding the right talent can be difficult.

“We’re a unique segment in the repair business,” Wolfe said. “It’s not easy for an automotive technician to slide into truck repair — they’re very different and require distinct skillsets.”

As such, the shop launched an apprenticeship program five years ago for new techs, who shadow seasoned veterans — many of whom come from manufacturer and dealer backgrounds — for approximately two years. “It can be challenging, but we also have some great stories with our techs who are making very good livings.”

Most of the shop’s competitors don’t perform the broad scope of work that Diversified does, he said. “Just as our name suggests, we do everything for large vehicles. Emergency vehicles and RVs are time-consuming repairs and have elevated degrees of difficulty that require specific expertise.”

The new AFC paint booth is 110 feet long and can handle large vehicles such as fire engine ladder trucks. The shop’s lead painter sprays Axalta, which it has used for decades.

Many of those vehicles are often custom-built, and sourcing parts can be difficult, so Diversified commonly fabricates parts when necessary.

“Our fabrication department really helps to speed up repairs. Getting parts is probably our biggest challenge in the commercial-truck world. Many of our dealers and vendors are direct competitors with us in repairs, so we try to source parts outside of our region when possible. There aren’t as many shops like us as there are in car collision repair, so it can be quite aggressive. Every job is important, and when things slow down, we’re all bidding on the same work.”

Diversified maintains its own parts department, which was expanded with the new facility for shipping, receiving and storage for often-used parts. It carries up to $1 million in inventory with stock and moving parts for jobs.

Three of the new facility’s bays are state-of-the-art AFC Finishing Systems paint booths where it sprays Axalta.

“We’re built on a higher quality platform, so we want to be the best and produce the best work with the best guarantee, which is why we’ve always used Axalta, even after testing other brands. It has the best warranty, is the most durable for what we do and allows us to accurately match challenging vehicle colors.”

This big rig is in for repairs after it jackknifed, a common repair, says Danny Wolfe.

The shop was also one of the first repairers to offer a hood exchange program to help get rigs back on the road while repairs are made, Wolfe said.

“We carry the most popular brands, so if a truck needs a fender repair, for example, we can get it back up running without losing down time.

Diversified also features its own frame, alignment and suspension shop in-house. “Having our own frame and alignment shop lets us control another aspect of the repair process and speed up our repair times without waiting on a sublet contractor to get our trucks done in a timely matter,” Wolfe says.

“We’re a niche business and it can be a difficult market, but we love what we do.”

The shop’s production manager and parts manager helm collision-repair operations.
Diversified features its own frame, alignment and suspension shop in-house.
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