- Associated Press - Monday, February 13, 2017

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) - From its humble beginnings on St. Cloud’s north side almost 60 years ago, Peters Body Shop has continued to specialize in one thing: auto body repair.

“Our main forte is auto body,” said Glen Sunder, Peters Body Shop’s chief financial officer. “We repair and replace panels to bring vehicles back to their pre-loss condition.”

It’s an industry that has certainly evolved since founder Nick Peters opened his original shop in 1957, the St. Cloud Times (https://on.sctimes.com/2k3Pril ) reported. And it’s a business, like many others in the automotive industry in Central Minnesota, that has continued to grow as demand for services has increased.

It is precisely that industry growth coupled with a lack of qualified candidates in Central Minnesota that prompted Times Media to feature businesses such as Peters Body Shop as part of its 10-month initiative called Spark: Igniting Your Future. The series features a different industry each month that is growing - according to data from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development - and in need of workers.

And businesses in the automotive and trucking industry, like Peters Body Shop, are no exception.

In 1966, Peters was sold to Darwin Bonn and Vern Klein, who opted to keep the name as it had become a staple in the community. Bonn’s son, Roger, joined the company ownership team in 1987 after Klein retired.

In 1997, Roger Bonn and Sunder took over full ownership of the company.

Today, the shop at 205 Osseo Ave. N is in transition as Sunder prepares to take on the president and chief executive officer roles in October.

Throughout the company’s tenure, Peters has expanded significantly in both physical size - having outgrown its original location - and service capabilities.

The shop has added a wheel alignment and balancing machine to give customers a one-stop-shop experience. It has an in-house auto mechanic to provide services such as oil changes, suspension checks and repairs, and air conditioning checks and maintenance.

“We want our customers to have peace of mind knowing that Peters will take care of them start to finish,” Sunder said.

Peters Body Shop started with a handful of employees nearly 60 years ago and now has the equivalent of 26 full-time jobs. Positions in the company vary from estimators and auto body technicians, to service managers, detail personnel and painters.

“We have 10 body techs who when vehicles get dropped off will do all of the dismantling, repair and straightening of the panels,” Sunder said. “At this shop we do a combination of fixing and replacing.”

Each auto body tech has two lifts so they can work on multiple cars simultaneously. This is especially important if parts are on back-order.

“If it is a late model vehicle, sometimes insurance will allow us to order new parts,” Sunder said. “But a lot of times we get in reconditioned parts.”

After the work is completed - including basic auto mechanic work done in-house - the reassembled vehicle makes its way to a prep station where it is taped and ready to be painted.

“The painting is done in an enclosed space in order to have a clean paint job,” Sunder said.

The vehicle gets detailed and is then ready for the customer to pick up.

It may sound like a simple process, but Sunder said auto body technicians need a lot of training and problem-solving skills to get a customer’s vehicle back up and running.

“It can be challenging,” he said. “Every vehicle we work on is unique. No two hits are the same.”

In order to keep up with changing technology, every employee at Peters is required to undergo some sort of continuing education. Often that program is designed by car manufacturers and helps the shop become a preferred provider for many brands including Ford, General Motors, Honda and Nissan.

That commitment to education earned Peters Body Shop original equipment manufacturer (OEM) certification 2015, allowing the shop to make repairs using the exact specifications and parts the manufacturer did.

Starting pay for Peters varies with experience. Sunder said employees get a flat hourly wage and the opportunity to earn incentives as they increase efficiency. The shop also offers a full benefits package.

Sunder said experience from a technical college does help teach some of the basics behind auto body repair.

“But bottom line is a lot of training will come from people mirroring more experienced techs,” he said. “We are not throwing them out to the wolves. We can teach them the trade and the skills, but they have to be willing to learn.”

And in an industry where technology is rapidly evolving, more people - especially those who are capable of adapting to those technology changes - are and will be in high demand.

“(You) have to be a thinker to be in this industry,” said Sunder. “You have to be a problem-solver and be able to think on your feet. It’s a very challenging career and we are truly proud of what we do.”

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Information from: St. Cloud Times, https://www.sctimes.com


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