The 2018 FenderBender Awards: Robert Molina

Following the acquittal of four police officers in the death of Arthur McDuffie in 1979, chaos ensued in Robert Molina’s childhood neighborhood. Raised in a bad part of Miami, riots became commonplace and violence plagued his everyday. There were few places where he found solace.

Outside the body shop, that is.

“Every day on the walk to school, I would look at the cars pulling out in the morning,” Molina says of the body shop down the street from his home. “Something about that soaked me up. I wondered how the hell they painted these cars. I had this fascination with it all.”

Molina carried that fascination with him until the age of 10, when he worked up the courage to walk over and ask how they returned a seemingly hopeless wrecked pile of rubbage back to working condition. During the tumultuous 1980s riots that took 18 lives in Miami, the art of repairing vehicles spoke to Molina in such a deep-seated manner that, from that day forward, it went beyond childlike awe and became a full-fledged obsession.

More than 30 years later, Collision Care Xpress represents everything that appealed to the young, impressionistic Molina. With its cool yellow and teal exterior playing off an array of palm trees; its spacious, modern lobby for customers; its state-of-the-art gym and kitchen for employees; and its 18,000-square-foot repair center equipped with the latest tools and equipment, Molina has spared no expense in building what he considers to be the future of collision repair: An operation that puts the customer before insurance companies, that makes employees excited to come to work each day, that can handle aluminum repairs and multiple OEM procedures.

“We have an unbelievable facility,” Molina boasts. “As we move the company forward, we’ve focused on becoming one big shop that moves a lot of work.”

Starting out in a small facility in a less-than-ideal area of Miami, Molina became a “master” of maximizing space. It’s no surprise, then, that after moving into its current 16,000-square-foot, built-for-the-customer facility across the city several years ago, annual revenue upped from $600,000 to $2 million rather quickly. Before Molina knew it, Collision Care Xpress’s unique presence had won over customers, who were smitten with Molina—the “Michael Jordan of the body shop business,” as the shop’s customer service rep Howard Kalik endearingly paints his boss.

“Robert takes pride in everything that comes and goes in the shop,” says Dayana Lopez, the shop’s administrative assistant. “Like a proud father, you can mention a customer’s name, and he’ll tell you what car they own… He doesn’t let a customer leave without personally thanking them for their business and trust in the repair of their vehicle.”

Riding his shop’s momentum, earlier this year Molina decided to add an additional 18,000 square feet to his business’s footprint, building a massive repair center across the street from his original location. The idea was to make the 16,000-square-foot location as aesthetically pleasing as possible for customers, and the new facility a base for its high-volume 250 monthly car count. In addition to the original building’s modern design, customers can walk through Molina’s “operation room” that houses Xpress’s aluminum equipment and a wall of welders. For the rest of the shop’s tools and equipment, of course, head into the new facility, which has put the shop on pace to raise annual revenue from $6 million to $12 million within a year.

He’s achieved that kind of growth by always putting his clients first. That meant more time focusing on learning customers’ names, responding to poor online reviews, and donating vehicles to schools and families in the area, and less time focusing on DRPs, which he claims were disastrous for growth during the shop’s early trying years.

But don’t mistake Molina as an anti-insurance advocate—in fact, he’ll tell you that his flourishing relationship with area insurers has played a huge factor in his shop’s rapid growth.

“Up until four months ago, GEICO had begged us to get on a DRP because our customer service is so good,” he says, detailing how he’s kept close relationship with insurers without sacrificing his processes and procedures. Following suit, the likes of State Farm and Nationwide have sought a symbiotic partnership with Collision Care Xpress as well, hoping to send their clients to the most respected body shop in town.

As someone once enamored by the potential a body shop represented, it’s no surprise that Molina has gone on to put the employees, the customers, the quality of repairs first. And with a stack of applications sitting on his desk, a line of customers waiting out the door, and a $12 million annual revenue in sight, there’s no doubt he’ll continue to improve collision repair in the neighborhood that originally introduced him to the art.

“Maybe I can be the poster child of the collision business,” he says with a laugh.

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