Dietrich’s Collision: a family tradition embraces technology
Written by Sheryl Bussard
Like many independent repair shops, Dietrich’s Collision in Imlay City, Michigan is family owned. Has been for three generations, in fact, founded in 1968 by the late patriarch Larry E. Dietrich.
We first heard about Dietrich’s Collision when Tony Benke – who now co-owns the business with his dad Kevin Dietrich – answered a survey following his experience with ALLDATA’s Library Request. Here’s what he wrote:
“Just had to use Library Request for the first time to prove SRS Technical data to a customer. You guaranteed a response within 30 minutes … you got it to me in 10! Also, the data was more than sufficient to satisfy my customer’s ‘extreme’ curiosity and gave me the answers necessary to communicate effectively and explain the repair procedures and the NEED to use OEM Repair Procedures for SRS systems along with necessary dealer programming operations. Definitely saved my butt on this one.
Five stars, two thumbs up, 10 out of 10, will 100% recommend to any of my colleagues in the automotive repair industry.”
We followed up with Tony, who was gracious enough to tell us about his shop and his family.
ALLDATA (AD): Tony, I understand that when you’re not wrenching, you’re also a writer? What do you write?
TONY BENKE (TB): I like sci-fi. I’m a big fan of post-apocalyptic fiction. I love writing about people who find themselves in a worst-case scenario and make the best of it. That’s like collision repair. Typically your car is one of your most expensive investments that you own. And when it’s damaged you have to make the best of the situation using the tools at hand. And that’s what we do in this industry.
Company at a Glance
Shop: Dietrich’s Collision
Locations: Imlay City, Michigan
Type: Collision Repair
In Business Since: 1978
Combined Production Space: 10,420ft2 (770 ft2 dedicated to an “aluminum repair clean room”)
Owners: Kevin Dietrich, Owner/Operations Manager & Tony Benke, Owner/Office Manager
AD: Dietrich’s Collision has been in business 50-plus years, a successful family business. Five decades. Three generations. Tell us about it.
TB: This shop is where my mother met my father. She used to live right down the road from this shop. And she had a – well, it wasn’t a horrible wreck, but she took out a mailbox with a Trans Am on a little bit of ice. Just so happened that the mailbox was between her house and the shop. She came in here and now I’m talking to you on the phone.
AD: That is a great story. How long ago was that?
TB: That would’ve been around the late eighties. My dad ran this shop from ‘82 to ‘93. It’s always been family owned since day one. My dad and I are the third set of owners. The first one was my grandfather when he opened it in 1968. My uncle Ron Miller was the next one. And after he passed away, we took over the shop from there. Three generations, three sets of owners.
AD: Did you grow up loving cars and wanting to be in the business?
TB: I grew up hanging out in the shop as a little kid. I’ve got a brother and a sister. My sister was only interested in riding her bike around and my brother was always in the back yard, in the shop, hitting a hockey puck against the wall. And I was always inside, helping my dad do tear downs, handing him wrenches, learning the different processes of body work and mechanical work. So out of the three of us, I was the one that really took a deep liking very fast to vehicles.
AD: You’ve seen some amazing changes … the technology has come so far.
TB: I remember my dad writing out of crash books back in the day. Before computers were even a thing. I remember our first mixing computer and that was like the state of the art. Black and white, gray scale, an old IBM machine working off giant floppy disks. Prior to that it was the microfiche system. And now I have a Windows 10 PC back in my paint department. I type in a paint code, it tells me what toners to put. It’s hooked right up to my scale.
The way technology has evolved in this trade, it’s just mind blowing, right up to ALLDATA. It used to be, back then, you called a couple of mechanic buddies to get their opinions and hope that one of them was right. And now you put the VIN in, you type in a system, you type in a component to ALLDATA and bam. It tells you what to do, why to do it, and how to prevent it, if it’s an issue, from happening again. It’s amazing. It really, truly is.
AD: So it’s just the two of you handling everything in the shop, a father/son operation?
TB: Oh, yeah. I handle the office. I do the detailing and the paint prep. I do the tear downs. My dad does the heavy framework. Him and I split the painting duties 50/50. But when it comes to any heavy collision repair, metal finishing, he does all the aluminum work and then all the frame stuff.
AD: How is it, working together that closely?
“ By having that OEM data at my fingertips. not only is it a great sales tool, but it’s a great educational tool and it’s a great safety tool, and it’s a great liability tool. ”
Tony Benke, Owner/Office Manager
TB: I get to hang out with my dad every day, which is awesome. I’m learning from one of the best people in the trades, you know, given all his certifications and the years that he’s put in. While we’re a small shop in terms of staff and square footage, we’re still a high-volume shop for what we do. We are very, very busy. So it’s a good thing.
AD: What kind of growth have you experienced?
TB: Since we took back over, it’s been astronomical. He [Uncle Ron] was doing just enough over the past few years to keep himself happy and to keep himself in a good situation.
The volume has definitely increased. I have four right now that are in sheet metal. I got two that are in paint prep. I got one that’s in the booth and I got two that are pending reassembly. When we were still in the winter deer season, we were averaging 10, 15, sometimes 20 hits a week. And that’s between us two. We are definitely staying busy.
AD: How long have you been using ALLDATA Collision?
TB: As soon as we got our licensing other business details changed over, I pulled the trigger and got it because I’ve heard nothing but great things. Especially just having that information at our fingertips, that was really, really important to us. We’ve been using it since March and using it daily. If there was a way to say more than daily, I’d say it.
AD: What were you doing before for your OEM repair information?
TB: A lot of it was calling up dealers, really. Before we took over Dietrich’s Collision, my dad was at a different shop and they used ALLDATA over there. Prior to that, when we were with an independent multi-shop organization, there was a shop foreman who would retrieve all that OEM information and give it to the techs. So we never really had access to it.
That’s one of the cool things about having ALLDATA here now is that I have access to that information. I know what needs to be done, why it needs to be done, I can make sure and get it done right. I’m not relying on somebody else’s word of mouth.
Larry Dietrich & Kevin Dietrich
AD: How was it getting started with ALLDATA Collision?
TB: The [ALLDATA support] person remoted in to do the install and gave me a quick product demo. By the time we were done with that, I was 100% confident in using ALLDATA as far as throwing in the VIN, figuring out the information. And then Collision Advantage. It’s as easy as a couple of clicks. It’s so seamless. My dad can use it and my dad is one of those guys who doesn’t want to touch a computer if he doesn’t have to.
AD: Tell me about ALLDATA Collision Advantage. How do you use that?
TB: I use that whenever I’m dealing with customers who say, “Well, why do we have to do this or that to perform a specific repair?” And I’ll say, “Well, that’s the OEM requirement and here’s why the OEM requires that.” Whether it’s having to drill for welds in certain locations, having to use structural adhesives in certain areas. When you have different substrates, different metals – back in the day everything could be pulled as long as it wasn’t kinked. And nowadays, with the different metals, if it’s bent and damaged, you’ve got to replace it. You can’t repair it.
Even though from a visual standpoint it looks like it could be repaired. ALLDATA is a great tool because I can explain to them whether it’s a customer or maybe an insurance adjuster who isn’t a hundred percent familiar with the different alloys and their characteristics, why things need to be replaced, why cuts need to be made at certain areas for sectioning operations. By having that OEM data at my fingertips. not only is it a great sales tool, but it’s a great educational tool and it’s a great safety tool, and it’s a great liability tool. So I think it covers all the important bases.
AD: So it’s fair to say you also use Collision Advantage daily?
“ I make sure that when that vehicle gets back on the road, I would be comfortable putting my wife, my mother and my grandmother, my daughter, anyone in that vehicle after it’s repaired because I know it’s repaired per OEM guidelines. ”
Tony Benke, Owner/Office Manager
TB: Oh yeah. Unless it’s like a simple cut and dry, remove the bumper, repair a bumper, paint a bumper, put it back on. Anytime that involves a sectioning operation, anything that involves mechanical, anything that involves any pulls, you run that through Collision Advantage and it’ll tell you, “Hey there’s an OEM alert here that there’s different metals here.” So you really got to prep right.
Anytime metal is getting cut, anytime welds are being broken, you have to run it through there just so you can make sure that you’re complying with the OEM procedures, both for safety reasons, some of the newer vehicles for warranty reasons. It’s the right thing to do.
AD: Scanning is a big topic in the industry. What’s your position on scanning?
TB: If it’s hit and it’s got a port, it’s getting scanned. Whether the insurance company pays for it or not, I’m still scanning the vehicle. Especially with these newer vehicles. There are so many different components. Every time you unplug something it has the potential to throw a code. I’ll use the Ford Fusions for example, the windshield wipers. If you take those out, say you’re doing something in the cowl area, you take those arms off you’re going to want to run a scan – especially with them having any independent motors to be calibrated, you’re going to want to check that.
AD: What would be your advice to other shops who might be considering ALLDATA?
TB: Give the demo a try. When I was initially looking into the different OEM database resources, I called around, checked a couple of ones out. The one that comes with my estimating software, I wasn’t a big fan of. The other one, I wasn’t a big fan of, but when the live [ALLDATA] demo was done where they remoted in and kind of let me watch how it works. That right there. If you’re on the fence about ALLDATA, check out the live demo, see what it can do for you. It takes a half hour of your time. And I’m 99.9% confident after watching the live demo, if you’re looking for a database, ALLDATA is going to be the one that you’re going to go with.
AD: Is better efficiency a major shop goal?
TB: Efficiency, and it’s definitely a cover-our-butt situation. Say we write an estimate for the OEM guidelines to do something and the insurance company says, “We’re not going to pay you to do it that way because on these other types of vehicles, that’s how we do it.” I can come back and say, “Well, on the other type of vehicle that’s fine, but the OEM says that we have to do it this way to maintain the structural integrity of the vehicle.” It makes our efficiency that much faster. It removes multiple phone calls, searching through books, calling, emailing people.
And then it’s also a safety and a liability thing. I make sure that when that vehicle gets back on the road, I would be comfortable putting my wife, my mother and my grandmother, my daughter, anyone in that vehicle after it’s repaired because I know it’s repaired per OEM guidelines.
We have a saying in my shop, we can do things right and you can do things in a ‘right now’ way. We don’t believe in the ‘right now’ way because even if it takes a little bit longer to get done right, if it’s going to cost a little bit more to get done right, I’d rather have it done right.
AD: That’s a good philosophy.
TB: I learned that one from my dad and he learned that one from his dad.
ALLDATA Collision builds on the industry-leading mechanical information found in ALLDATA Repair, adding OEM procedures such as section and structural repairs, handling of new materials, and panel removal and replacement. Request a demo of ALLDATA Collision by calling (888) 853‑7309 or click here to get started.
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