By: Autobody News Staff
SHOP & PRODUCT SHOWCASE Brian Levander, 36, learned the automotive repair industry from his father, who was a body man/painter and also from his grandfather who was a mechanic, so people weren’t surprised when he decided to pursue a career as a collision tech. “In my family, if something broke, we didn’t call a plumber or a technician, we fixed it ourselves,” Levander said. “It’s all I’ve ever known and that’s why it was a natural progression for me to eventually own my own shops.”
Levander’s Automotive & Collision was established in 1997 in Grand Island, NE, when Brain Levander opened a modest four-bay mechanical/ collision repair facility. In 2001, a 5,600 square foot shop was built nearby that housed the mechanical service center followed by the collision repair facility. Four years later, Levander’s added another 5,600 square feet to its existing building to accommodate a spike in volume.
In 2008, Levander purchased more land in order to separate his mechanical service shop from the body shop. This was followed by the addition of four more working bays three years later which made it apparent that they were going to need some new equipment that could get the job done faster.
In the summer of 2009, Levander decided to expand his business again, purchasing a building in Hastings, NE, and opening a body shop there. In 2012, with a successful move to a new city under his belt and still needing more space, Levander’s purchased another facility in Kearney NE. Today, Levander’s Automotive and Collision is a four-shop MSO operating in small cities that average 30,000 inhabitants.
Levander now looks back fondly at the first time he bought a frame rack from CJ, Inc. (formerly known as CJJ, Inc.) in 2001, as he was entering his aggressive expansion period. “They had a promotion that you could get either free shipping or a free chain board. So, I called them and asked if I came and picked up the machine, would I get the free chain board and they said yes. It was a five-hour drive to Minnesota, but I got that free chain board. I also met their people and they were great.”
Levander’s first CJ, Inc. frame rack was the Star-A-Liner Cheetah 360, a 17-footer that he described as his “entry-level” machine. Since then, he has purchased three more, including the acquisition of two Signature 22’ American Freedom GT frame machines which are designed for unibody cars all the way up to four-door heavy-duty trucks.
“There are a lot of farms in this part of the country, so we fix a lot of trucks and this heavy-duty American Freedom GT is capable of handling them,” Levander said. “With at least half of all the vehicles we get in here being trucks, this new frame rack is going to get a lot of work. It’s excellent, it features variable working heights, which is a very nice option because it actually scissors down to 12 inches and raises up to 42 inches off the ground, so that we can still use it on small cars in addition to the big trucks. We’ve advanced with CJ, Inc. as we’ve grown, starting off with their 17’ machine then moving up to their 20’ Cheetah and now onto our second Signature 22’ American Freedom GT.”
Levander still has his very first Cheetah and it’s still operating in top condition after more than a decade of heavy use, he said. “It’s held up nicely and that’s what any shop owner wants from any piece of equipment.” They are made in the USA and their quality shows through. The goal is to buy it and then not have to worry about maintaining or repairing it all the time. With our multiple locations and so many things going on, it’s refreshing to know that these frame racks are going to be reliable, sturdy and relatively service free.
“Considering that our first Cheetah cost us around $10,000 back then, that rack is obviously an extremely smart investment and it’s paid for itself several times over,” Levander said. “There are other machines on the market that cost three times more, but the Cheetahs do the same work, so it’s really an easy decision. That first machine got us started and now we’ve graduated to the Signature line, which means we can do the job faster and easier.”
If there is any service required on any of his CJ frame racks it’s normally minimal, Levander said. “Maybe every once in a while a pump will go on one of the Cheetahs, but that’s very rare. If I do ever need anything, I deal directly with the people at CJ, Inc. and it has worked well. They are still there in Minnesota and if I require a part or any type of service they respond quickly and, in most cases, our guys can make the repair in-house after they ship us the part next day.”
Brian Levander will always continue to operate his shops while adhering to his basic theory which is “Quality repairs delivered on-time,” he said. “If we focus on things like doing a good job and meeting our deadlines, everything else will take care of itself and the customers will see it in the finished product. Working with a vendor like CJ, Inc. is part of that plan, because we need the proper equipment to achieve our goals.”