Multi-Generational Collision Repair Business Shares Tips on Building a Cohesive Team & Staying on the Forefront of Industry Changes
By Stacey Phillips, Radiant Writing
At Flower Hill Auto Body, President John Picciano III says that experience matters.
Four Picciano generations have served the needs of collision repair customers in the New York area for nearly 75 years. The business operates three locations—two customer-facing shops in Roslyn and Glen Cove and a production facility in Glenwood Landing. The company is opening a 30,000-square-foot fourth location nearby, which is three times the size of the Roslyn location.
“We’re excited about that opportunity,” said John III. “It’s a big step for us in a good direction and we feel positive about the future.”
The company prides itself on providing customers with fine automobile repair craftsmanship.
The original repair facility, Strathmore Auto Body, was founded in Great Neck, NY, in 1949 by Picciano’s grandfather after serving in World War II. In 1962, John Sr. and his brother, Nick, opened a second location in Roslyn and changed the name to Flower Hill to incorporate the name of the nearby village.
When John Jr., “Jack,” joined the business in 1969, he worked as a painter and loved spraying Spies Hecker paint. After finding out it was no longer available in the United States, he wrote a letter to the parent company in Germany, the Hoechst Group, to see if there was an opportunity to distribute it in America. He purchased the sole distribution rights for the US., Canada and the northern half of Central America in the mid-1980s. About a decade later, John Jr. sold it back to Hoechst and DuPont Group acquired that subsidiary. Dupont later became Axalta, which still carries Spies Hecker today.
Jack eventually bought out his uncle Nick’s share in Flower Hill, and he and his father became partners in 1972. Jack’s son, John III, spent time at the shop as an adolescent, helping out on weekends and during the summers. After graduating college, he became a professional musician and then worked at the New York Stock Exchange. He recalled how well the company had provided for his family while growing up and decided to join his father as a third-generation partner in the early 2000s.
Flower Hill is operated by the father-and-son team, who have grown the company and built a team of qualified employees. John III’s kids, James and Michael, have worked there, and his niece Ghaliya joined two years ago as the office manager at Glen Cove and recently moved to a production manager role.
John III started following Dave Luehr’s Elite Body Shop Solutions YouTube channel in 2022 and later purchased “The Secrets of America’s Greatest Body Shops” by Dave Luehr and Stacey Phillips.
“After reading it, I decided I needed outside help to take my business to the next level,” said John III. He reached out to Luehr the beginning of 2023 and hit it off right away. Following that conversation, John III felt comfortable retaining his company, Elite Body Shop Solutions in March of that year.
Since then, John III said the Elite Body Shop Solutions team has provided the knowledge and comfort to speak with experts outside his day-to-day business. “They’ve given me suggestions and insight to help my business grow and become more profitable,” said John III.
Thriving as a Multi-Generational Business Owner
As a multi-generational business, Flower Hill has created a culture that encourages positive relationships with colleagues and treats employees like extended family members. This includes seven father-and-son teams and one father-and-daughter team. Many employees have worked at the establishment for more than 35 years.
“My employees are my family,” said John III. “They are the greatest group of men and women you could ever imagine and I’m lucky and blessed to have them in my life. I feel an incredible obligation to them to be successful.”
A key to their success is good communication with employees and treating them with respect. Ultimately, he has found this has created a culture where employees support one another to achieve a proper repair for customers.
From his years of experience running a family company, John III recommends having the older generation work in the business to ensure it runs on track while the younger generation works on the business, attending industry events and training to stay on top of trends and bring knowledge back to the shop.
John III takes time out when possible to stay active in local associations, such as the Long Island Autobody Body Association (LIABRA), and attend industry events.
“Getting involved in industry associations and staying up to date with changes is not optional anymore; it’s imperative,” he said. “Otherwise, you’ll be left in the dust.”
Building A Cohesive Team
For those looking to build a strong workforce, John III recommends hiring from within and backfilling with entry-level workers. Over the years, he has found success using this method.
“We very rarely hire a skilled technician,” he said. “The best technicians you have are sitting in your shop waiting to learn the trade and do better for themselves and their families.”
Rather than looking for skilled technicians, employees are hired based on two principles, attitude and intelligence.
“They may have no experience, but if they have those two things and are passionate, I’ll hire them in an instant,” he said. “We can teach everything else and bring them up through the organization.”
He said a new employee might start out washing cars and learning about the shop but fast forward four years, and that same individual could be running operations.
“Those opportunities are not just for that person,” he shared. “Everyone witnessing that transformation will recognize the opportunity and likely put in the effort to achieve the same.”
One of the greatest hires he had in the last five years was a waiter in a Chinese restaurant with no experience but an interest in repairing vehicles. He now helps manage the company’s ADAS operations.
Staying on the Forefront of Industry Technology & OEM Certifications
Since its inception, Flower Hill has been at the forefront of the latest technology and continually invests in equipment, tooling and training to stay at the very top of the auto repair industry.
An essential part of this commitment is obtaining OEM certifications. The business has more than 25, nearly all available.
“Being OEM-certified is essential nowadays and we’ve worked really hard on that,” he said.
About 20 years ago, Flower Hill was named Best Shop in the area and Aston Martin reached out to see if the business was interested in becoming part of its certified repair program. Over the next two years, the company was certified by seven more brands.
“We saw very quickly the advantage of having OEM certifications to help us grow,” said John III.
Rather than becoming stagnant, he focused on obtaining as many OEM certifications as possible before the opportunity was no longer available and the market closed in his area.
“As soon as I found out another certification program was starting, I jumped on it,” he recalled. “I joined as many programs as I possibly could, as quickly as I could—that has been a great decision.”
For shop owners looking to join an OEM certification program, John III advises them to obtain more than one. When investing in new equipment to comply with the automakers’ programs, the shop determines which have the broadest coverage and can be used with other brands.
“If you outfit your shop with tooling and equipment for just one certification, you’re not going to see a great return on investment,” he explained.
Instead, he recommends that shops think strategically and consider it a long-term opportunity that will pay for itself.
Through the various certification programs, he has met other collision repair shops nationwide with a similar mindset. “We’ve become a close-knit group and built friendships,” he said.
He foresees that the industry will reach a point where the number of cars that must go to a certified repairer will become the majority and shops will become more specialized.
“If you haven’t invested in your business and certification, you’re going to be out of that segment of the car population,” he said.
Investing in Calibration to Ensure a Proper Repair
To ensure new vehicles with ADAS features are repaired properly, John III opened a standalone calibration facility in 2022 called Collision Automotive Equipment and Diagnostics.
“Not only are we capturing every calibration that needs to be done on that repair, billing for it and doing the proper repair, but it has increased our cycle times because I don’t have to rely on outside vendors,” he said. “I just rely on myself.”
They are so busy handling the flow from their shops that the facility hasn’t opened to the outside market yet.
John III often hears of shop owners who haven’t yet invested time, knowledge and tooling to complete calibrations.
“If you’re not treating this with the importance that it is, you’re going to have serious problems going forward,” he said. “You’re putting people’s lives and the liability of your business at risk.
He stresses the importance of shop owners being devoted to their company to be prosperous.
“Unless you are in it 150%, you will be left behind and it will be nearly impossible to catch up,” he said.
Are you ready to take your business to the next level like John Picciano? An outside perspective is a powerful first step on your journey. Industry leader and Elite founder, Dave Luehr, has opened his schedule for a limited number of free 1-on-1 strategy sessions to help body shop owners & managers outline their next few steps!
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