By Jeff Sanford
North Vancouver, British Columbia -- February 17, 2016 -- CSN-ELITE Body Shop of North Vancouver is celebrating a huge milestone this year—fifty years in business.
“It's a little sketchy as to when exactly the shop opened,” says Wade Bartok, the current owner and operator. “We had a fire in 1977 that wiped out our records, and so a lot of the history has been lost. But as far as we can tell, it was June of 1966.”
That year Bartok's father was working at another collision repair facility. Someone brought in a car from a brand he didn’t want to touch. “He said, 'I'm not working on one of those' and opened up his own shop,” says Bartok. He went into business with his brother-in law and a friend. At the start they had one body tech and a painter. Since then a large number of brothers, cousins and uncles have put in time. The third generation is now involved. As a kid, Bartok would sweep up. Over the next five decades the business generated deep roots in the North Vancouver community. It was time to mark the occasion.
“We didn't want the milestone to pass quietly. It's our 50th anniversary. I wanted to do something, so we had a big party,” says Bartok. The party was definitely big, with over three hundred guests at the bash. A popular local band with a Grateful Dead-type following, IConIX, played. Two of the band members are also technicians who work at CSN-ELITE. There was a gambling table set up. Former employees showed up. So did employees and owners of dealerships and suppliers.
“It was amazing. We were worried at one point we were going to have too many people,” says Bartok. “It was a real shaker. But we wanted to celebrate some of the history.” According to Bartok, his father and his partners have sold out, retired and no longer put in shifts, “But they're all still around. It has been good to the family,” says Bartok.
Reminiscing about some of the amazing changes in the business over the years, he remembers coming into the business just when lacquer paint was going away. “Colour change and complete paints used to be big. But now the paint is so good you don't see that as much. There has been a lot changes in cars over the years. You had unibodies show up. Just look at the lights on a car now. You had sealed beam, halide and now halogen. That’s just a small example. There have been so many changes,” he says. But there are some things that never change. “This business is still a service business. If you give quality service, that seems to keep you going. That's the thing. You've got to provide good service.”
One of his managers recently came across a leadership document that had been written out by someone in the last generation. “It was interesting. It was the same thing I would write today. It was all about the importance of training the staff, buying the right equipment, providing service. There are different materials but the principles are the same.”
The collision centre still operates out of the store they moved into in 1974, but there have been plenty of changes. There is an express shop a couple of blocks away now. And the dead-end gravel road they used to be on is now paved and opened up at the other end, while the stream they used to have lunch on is an expressway.
“It used to be deserted around here, but now the sprawl has caught up,” says Bartok. Today they see the fourth generations of customers coming in to the business. “We used to do a lot of restoration work. And we'll have someone come in who says, 'Your Dad painted this in 1982.' It’s funny to see those same people after all these years,” he says.
For more information, please visit elitebodyshop.ca.