Cars, catered meals: Body shop does it all

January 20, 1995|By Shirley Leung | Shirley Leung,Sun Staff Writer

Auto repair shop owners saw the future last night at an $80-a-plate dinner party inside the garage of Gesek's Auto Collision Center in Glen Burnie.

"The old image of a body shop as a hole in the wall is now the image of a nice, clean place where you can have dinner," said Ray Bartlett, a Crofton body shop owner, in between sips of wine.

About 100 people -- the who's who of the local auto repair industry -- showed up, according to George Nyquist Jr., whose company sponsored the invitation-only affair at Gesek's, off Ritchie Highway.

The event sponsored by Nyquist Inc., the Baltimore distributor of a Dutch-made car refinishing paint, could become an annual affair. Last year, it was held at the Country Club of Maryland.

But Gesek's European-style auto garage seemed an appropriate setting last night. After all, that's what the Europeans do -- throw soirees in their body shops, which are kept spotless.

So could an American garage pull it off? It could, judging from the reactions of participants.

"This is unbelieveable," Mick Diehl, the body shop manager of Towson Ford, said.

And he wasn't even talking about the cellist, guitarist and keyboard player who serenaded the guests, who wore their best suits and dresses. Nor was he referring to the black-cloth-covered tables and the hors d'oeuvres and candlelight dinner catered by Martin's West and served by formally attired waiters.

He was talking about the shop.

"The layout, the equipment, the tiled floors -- tell me when to stop," Mr. Diehl said.

Butch Gesek, the owner of the shop, said he traveled in the United States and Europe to get ideas.

"I don't like the stereotype of a body shop," said Mr. Gesek, 40, who opened his shop last October. "Why do employees have to work in all the dirt and dust? It doesn't have to be that way."

At Gesek's, the garage floor remains unstained because the ceramic tile is scrubbed white each night. There are also metal grates in the floor to drain water and other liquids.

At 24,000 square feet, Gesek's, with almost 30 mechanics, is nearly five times the size of the average auto shop. It has high ceilings, bright lights and ample work space. Six cars can be painted at once in computerized booths.

For customers, going to Gesek's is like going to the doctor's. They're greeted by two receptionists in a carpeted waiting room. They meet in a booth with the mechanic who will be fixing their car so he will know about the problems first-hand.

And there's no odor of motor oil.

"Butch is putting the professionalism back into the auto shop business. He's just raising the bar for the rest of the competition," said Tom Tait, an account manager for Akzo Nobel, one of the world's leading makers of automobile paint.

Others at last night's dinner said Gesek's is the future of the business. They figure that with the average new car costing about $20,000, more and more sophisticated maintenance and equipment is required.

"I think in the future 30 percent of the business will be gone. The ones that survive are ones like this, which invest in their equipment," said Mr. Bartlett, who is upgrading his shop, Superior Auto Body on Route 3 in Crofton.

Mr. Gesek, a former Westinghouse Electric Corp. quality control technician, has been in the auto repair business for 15 years. He wouldn't say how much money he has poured into the new shop -- only that he expects his hefty investment to generate $4 million to $5 million in sales each year.

"You can make a lot of money in this business. But why do you have to be a mess ball?" he asked.

But does the customer pay a price for ambience?

"It doesn't cost any more to get a car fixed here than anywhere else," he said.

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