AL GUARINO BREATHES BUSINESS, BUT THE REPAIR SHOP IS WHERE HIS HEART LIVES
Story and Photos by MAX REID
We give so much of our lives to our jobs, but how often does your job give back to your life? Building up others can be noble—there’s no doubt about that—but when you have no time to build a foundation for yourself and your own family, your capacity to give stagnates—you exist simply to feed others what you have and leave nothing for yourself. So, what do you do then? Maybe you take a step back, reconnect with the people you trust most, and stake out together to carve out a legacy that will become synonymous with integrity and genuine care.
That is what Al Guarino of Leon’s Auto Body has done, and things are working out for him just fine. A relative newcomer to the industry, with no family pedigree in the auto body game and a footprint only dating back to 2014, Al had a lot to prove when he first took over the reins of his North York repair centre eight years ago.
“We sat here in 2014 and said, ‘We’re not going head-to-head with these chains—we just can’t,’” Al said over the phone with Collision Repair, alongside his son and Leon’s Auto Body shop manager Daniel. “We thought: [these franchise players] are too big to compete with; they have too much market share and we’re not going to increase our market share by doing exactly what they are doing.”
With exceptional business knowledge between the both of them, Al and Daniel knew they would have to find a way to separate themselves from the pack, especially considering their business operates along some of the most heavily travelled roadways in Canada. “There are different niches that body shops fill in this industry. There are chains which are really focused on the insurer relationship. While Leon’s is very focused on meeting its KPI targets and maintaining our insurance partner relationships, we are highly focused on our clients; they’re the ones who brought their vehicle and insisted it be repaired at Leon’s Auto Body,” said Al.
To that end, Al says his team strives to provide top-quality repairs for even the most complex jobs that today’s vehicles present them with. The numerous OEM certifications Leon’s boasts are a special point of pride for Daniel who, like his father, entered this industry “completely inexperienced but ready to learn. Eight years down the road, you can’t deny that the progress is impressive. “We were the second shop in Ontario to get certified by Tesla, long before most shops had even considered making the investments needed to repair electric vehicles. We are also one of the very few Ultra shops in Ontario,” said Daniel.”
Al; a chartered accountant and former managing partner at global corporate accounting firm Arthur Andersen LLP, and Daniel; a bright, young business management graduate. There is no documented proof of either of them ever hammering out a dent in their lives, and yet they are out making moves that other repair facilities can only dream of.
The father and son didn’t get to where they are without a challenge, of course. For its first several years under new management, Leon’s Auto Body was deep in the process of assembling a strong core of ambitious, skills-driven technicians, painters and parts experts in order to be able to complete highskill repairs right from the jump.
“One of the keys is, put the right person in place and make sure that they see a career path ahead of them that they can aspire to, and give them some autonomy to make decisions in line with our corporate objectives, with the support of Daniel and I if they need it,” said Al.
He feels that imparting on his team a sense of agency and ownership bears only benefits when it comes to achieving the levels of customer satisfaction Leon’s is angling for.
“We thought: [these franchise players] are too big to compete with; they have too much market share and we’re not going to increase our market share by doing exactly what they are doing.”
– Al Guarino | co-owner, Leon’s Auto Body
“Our team of people have been empowered to make the right decisions in terms of how we deal with our clients, repair processes, suppliers, OEM dealers, insurance companies— everyone ends up on the same track,” said Al.
“It really is a powerful thing; rather than it just being the owner or shop manager trying to figure things out, we’ve got everyone, from the front office to the team on the shop floor, focused on ‘Hey, if I do this, will it enhance the customer experience?,’ and they’ve bought in.” Al attributes this attitude among his staff partly to the decision to operate the shop on an hourly-pay model, allowing technicians as much time as they need to get a job done right. Leon’s is also one of the only facilities Collision Repair has come across of late that dedicates a full-time technician solely to quality-checking vehicles before delivery. “If we have to take a loss on a vehicle in order to fix a vehicle right, we’ll take a loss. That’s just the way we have developed this business,” said Al.
He says they even make a point of having the technician hand over the keys of the vehicle they just repaired, allowing the customer to meet face-to-face with the individual responsible for their repairs and creating the opportunity to build a customer relationship built on mutual respect and value for the work done.
Al says that there is at least one extra set of eyes on every repair job Leon’s completes, both to ensure that quality work is done, and to give each technician the opportunity to receive feedback from a colleague on how they can improve their skills.
“We get great feedback from that—clients love it. They don’t get left in the dark. They get to see who is working on their car, what is involved in the repair process, and are able to develop a relationship with the technician as well,” said Daniel.
“The technicians also start to anticipate the client’s expectations and what is required to create an exceptional customer experience,” Al added.
This commitment to clarity and customer relations is visually evident when you step foot in Leon’s Auto Body as well, as Al and Daniel have taken the concept of transparency quite literally.
“In our lobby, we have a big beautiful glass sliding door, so you can walk right up to it and look into our shop. You can see right to the end of our shop through that glass door. Everything is visible, nothing is hidden—customers love it,” said Daniel.
This is yet another way Leon’s rises to the top of the collision repair pile when it comes to the comfort of the customer. “Too many collision centres out there try and keep the customer out of the repair process. It’s like, ‘Hey, we’re the experts, just let us fix the car. You can worry about something else.’ I understand, to an extent—these are very complicated repairs—but to give today’s modern customer credit, they are very well-informed and they like to have what is happening to their car explained to them,” said Al.
“We work hard with our team of people to empower them to make the right decisions in terms of how we work with our clients, insurance companies, OEM repair processes and dealers, suppliers—this way, everyone has the same goals: happy clients and efficient quality repairs.”
– Al Guarino | co-owner, Leon’s Auto Body
“For a lot of people, their vehicle is one of the largest investments of their lives.” With the impressive financial success of this post-2014 era of Leon’s Auto Body comes an additional triumph that can’t be quantified, as stepping away from the corporate accounting world proved to be a decision worth far more than money for Al.
“It’s a blessing for me as a father to work with my son building a business together. Early in my career, when I was at the public accounting firm, I was on the road travelling all over the world all the time. I really didn’t see Daniel growing up very much, so really one of my motivations to leave public practice and get into our own family business was to be able to spend some time together,” he said. Despite intentionally positioning themselves in separate sections of the business to prevent any unseemly familial overlaps, as Al handles financials and Daniel deals with management and repair planning, the pair commented repeatedly how easy decision-making becomes when the shop’s several different departments are all operating from a similar mindset. This method has no doubt been proven to work for them, given not only all of the previously mentioned certifications and achievements, but by the virtue of Al and Daniel’s opening of Leon’s Auto Body’s second location in Vaughan, Ontario, in July of 2021.
Barring anything out of the ordinary that could befall Leon’s Auto Body, Al and Daniel are undoubtedly due for more success to come their way as they continue leading their team through ever-changing competitive collision repair landscape head-first.