In-Depth With Car Crafters: Nurturing in-house talent

Owner of Car Crafters Jim Guthrie (Adria Malcolm for The Journal)

Jim Guthrie likes to grow talent from within.

“If you’ve got a good attitude, I can teach you the aptitude,” says Guthrie, CEO and founder of auto repair company Car Crafters.

Guthrie started painting cars in his parents’ garage before getting his own shop in 1982. Car Crafters now has two locations in Rio Rancho and three in Albuquerque, including an 80,000-square-foot facility on 8.5 acres along Montaño Road.

The auto body shops perform collision, mechanical and glass repairs.

The industry, however, is seeing a “talent crisis.” Bringing employees up through the company ranks is one way to address that, Guthrie said.

With his son, he developed a spreadsheet and a process for training employees so that they’re qualified to perform tasks as technicians and can see what they need to do to rise to the next level.

The business employs welders, painters, estimators, mechanics and body technicians, but also hires young people without experience or tools and helps them to find a career path.

“The kids come in at an hourly rate,” Guthrie said. “And then as they graduate (from training at Car Crafters), they get hourly plus commission. And then pretty soon they get just commission and that’s when they start making really good money.”

Six figures are possible, he said. Plus Car Crafters offers benefits like dental, vision and disability.

“They’re not going to be taking apart cars and sweeping floors the rest of their life,” Guthrie said. “There’s a career path for them to move up with the organization.”

Guthrie, who says he’s always been good with his hands, got his start working on the motorcycles and cars he drove as a young guy in Northeast Heights.

“When you ride motorcycles, you crash,” he said. “When you crash, you have to fix it.”

Certified body technician Ryan Clevenger works on a vehicle at Car Crafters in Albuquerque.

Soon he was repairing the cars of his friends and neighbors, too. He never said no to a request, he said, and would purchase books when he needed to learn something new.

Guthrie values education and shows it by providing and paying for his employees’ training in return for a commitment to work for Car Crafters for a year.

The shop uses instructors and curriculum from I-CAR, a not-for-profit that educates workers in the auto collision repair industry. Guthrie’s technicians are certified to repair vehicles from over a dozen car manufactures, according to the company’s website. Some roles require annual training and others require recertification every six months — making learning just part of the fabric of Car Crafters.

What is something that would surprise people to learn about Car Crafters?

“A lot of people think it’s a chain, and it’s still a family-run business. I’m here every day. My wife works in accounting. My son’s the COO. My daughter, even though she’s a school teacher, she’s been the face and marketing voice of Car Crafters since she was in college. Her and her husband both … and he’s still working for us. He runs the shop out at Rio Rancho.”

Are the services that you offer now different from when you first started?

“Just expanded. For sure, expanded. I was pretty limited. Basic set of tools and a spray gun and affordable compressor. … My capital investment was pretty low back in those days. So yeah, we’ve grown from there.”

What do you think has helped Car Crafters grow into the business it is today?

“I would say it’s our value system. Morals and values. We’re a Christian family. We have a lot of Christian families that work for us. It’s just fun to work with people who are happy and who aren’t just working for themselves. They’re working for the Lord. And it’s just — it’s neat. It’s a different work day, for sure. Yeah, it’s frustrating. Yeah, we all have our problems. But at the end of the day, it’s not about us. We can’t make it about us. And I think we’ve done a really good job at that for 40 years.”

A paint technician works on a vehicle at Car Crafters in Albuquerque.

How did the pandemic affect your business?

“That second quarter was pretty rough, just to say the least. It wasn’t good on anybody. But it definitely wasn’t good in our industry because of all the lockdowns. You know, no one was driving. The streets were just empty. And so no driving, no wrecks. So that we were down almost 50%, 40-some-odd percent. And that lasted through that second quarter (of 2020), and then it started ramping up pretty quick. Today, we are busier than we’ve been in 40 years, at every single location. It is absolute craziness, how busy we are now.”

Why do you think you’re busier than you’ve ever been?

“I don’t know if it’s because people forgot how to drive or they actually had accidents but never made the claim. What compounds the busyness, or what we consider work-in-process, is parts delays, supply chain issues. So those parts delays actually keep those cars on lot longer, way longer, than they used to.

Inside the repair area at Car Crafters in Albuquerque.(Adria Malcolm for The Journal)

… It’s this way across the industry, in any shop that has any type of reputation or insurance relationship, they are all very, very busy.

“Not to mention, when you’re busy, you should be making lots of money. And we’re not because of the labor pressure that has been applied because of inflation. So it’s definitely interfering with our ability to make money, even though we’re super busy, because we’ve had to pay people more.”

Tell me about your employees. How do you find them? How do you keep them?

“So keeping them’s easy. Finding them is the hard part. … If I want to find an A tech, and an A tech would be an older guy with lots of experience, we advertise in the newspaper. If I want to find a young entry level guy, I just put it on Facebook. Old guys don’t have Facebook, and young guys don’t read the paper. So it’s kind of funny, but that’s what we figured out over the last few years.”

What’s your approach to leading your employees?

“Don’t ever ask them to do anything you’re not willing to do yourself. Which is why we’re not open on Saturdays and Sundays. Because I’m not willing to work. We work hard enough during the week. Weekends are for family. When you’re on your deathbed, you’re not going to say ‘Man, I wish I’d fixed one more car.’ Just not gonna say it. So we work so that we can live. We don’t live to work.”

A parts room is packed with boxes and car body pieces inside Car Crafters

Business Outlook’s In-Depth item features interviews with leaders of well-established New Mexico businesses about the practices that have allowed them to weather ups and downs. Send suggestions of locally owned businesses that have been in existence for at least a decade and that employ at least 20 people to [email protected] for consideration.

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