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PROGRESS 2021: Customer Driven (Brownsdale)

Brownsdale Auto Body working for the trust of its customers

 

There are no two ways about it — Brian Gerhart works only for the customers.

It’s the reason that Brownsdale Auto Body has been in business for 32 years, having grown from its two garage bay operation to the operation it is now, complete with restoration and paint services.

Brian Gerhart stands in the main work area of Brownsdale Auto Body which has been in business for 32 years. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Gerhart has been a car man for most of his life, starting as a young kid growing up in Brownsdale. He built his first car at the age of 15 and then drove that car to get his first license. That car also took him to a garage where he got his first job at the age of 16.

“Just driving down the roads and seeing an old car in the backyard,” Gerhart said. “It just excited me.”

That excitement translated well to Brownsdale Auto Body, which opened in 1987. As in most things coming from living in a small town, the building that Gerhart started his business in had a connection to his earliest days.

Not long ago, Brownsdale Auto Body updated its waiting area to give customers a clean place to wait for their car work to be finished. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

In those days, his family was living in what had been Brownsdale Meats, right next door.

The building made an impression on Gerhart while he and a friend were playing.

“We were playing and we heard this tremendous noise,” Gerhart remembered of the building, which was housing school buses. “The roof was laying on all these buses.”

Years later, “I saw an opportunity here and purchased this building,” Gerhart added.

Just a year into Brownsdale Auto Body, Gerhart added a paint booth he acquired from a garage in Waltham, whose owner wanted to concentrate on selling cars. After some bartering and a promise that Gerhart would do all the work coming from this dealership, the paint booth came to Brownsdale.

It was a tight fit in those days. The “office” was just off the garage bays and was so small the file cabinet was built into the wall — a wall that also served as a wall to the bathroom.  

In this bay, restoration work is done at Brownsdale Auto Body. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

“That gave us a good start,” Gerhart said, explaining that everything then was built on efficiency.

In 1994, Brownsdale Auto Body expanded to include a wash bay and a bigger office area. In the 90s a small building, not connected to the existing shop, became available. Gerhart purchased it and connected it to the rest of the shop where restoration work was located, complete with all forms of welding needed to ensure the job was done correctly.

About 15 years ago, yet another move was made, this time to the customer service area in an effort to make things more comfortable for the guests.

“We wanted to create a better waiting area and lobby where the customers could go while we worked on a car for an hour,” Gerhart said. “It made sense, plus it helped improve our service. It allowed me to bring everything into a much cleaner area.”

“We wanted you to walk into our office not knowing you’re in a body shop,” Gerhart continued. “Everything for me is about my customers.”

Gerhart’s most recent update came five years ago when the shop’s paint booth was updated to become more environmentally friendly, which included using water-based paints.

Gerhart’s push to ensure customer satisfaction can be seen in how his employees approach a job during things like collision repair. Brownsdale Auto Body will not use refurbished parts; rather, they get new replacements that ensure your vehicle is as close to factory specs as possible. That includes a meticulous attention to detail. Every new part is laid out beside the damage part and all parts are taken stock of before a job is begun.

“The customers I have … I’m proud of the customers I have,” Gerhart said. “I’m now in the third generation [of families]. We’re never running out of work.”

Auto body shops in small towns are quickly vanishing these days, with many people needing to drive to bigger towns like Austin to get work done.

But Brownsdale Auto Body, complete with seven employees, is continuing to go strong and its all down to customer satisfaction and hard work.

“This is my passion,” Gerhart said. “If you do what you love, it’s not a job. It’s just been fantastic.”