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In 2008, James Fonzi had a decision to make: operate his business the same way he always had, consider something new or throw everything he had into revitalizing and growing the company he had founded nearly two decades earlier.
He chose the last.
"We had a nice, steady business from 1990 to 2008-steady, low-double-digit growth. It was just a nice, comfortable business," said the owner and president of Gates Automotive Center, which is a dba for Veretec of New York Inc. "At that point we had been in business 18 years. We had the financial resources to do it right. So we found another building and expanded our business at that point."
Fonzi opened the company's Henrietta location in 2009, but not before equipping the facility with the "best of the best," he said.
"It sent a message to the people we work with in our industry and our customer base that we wanted to be a leader in our industry," Fonzi explained. "I thought it was going to take us maybe two years before we saw any real growth, but we were black the second month of business."
Fonzi noted the expansion allowed him to compensate his employees for their loyalty and entice them to stay with the company well into the future.
"The reality of the situation was we either had to do something that was for everybody, and with everybody, or some of our people were probably going to move on to other opportunities," he said. "This provided a great place, not only for our business to grow, but for the people who had been with us a long time to grow with it as well."
Though Fonzi declined to disclose revenues, he said Gates Automotive has had roughly 30 percent sales growth in each of the last three years. In 2009 he told the Rochester Business Journal he expected revenues to exceed $5 million that year.
A recent expansion and renovation at the Gates location allowed the company to increase its workforce to 56, including 19 in Gates and 37 in Henrietta. Gates Automotive has increased employment 30 percent since 2010, and Fonzi has identified two additional positions he expects to fill in Henrietta.
"We're going to see four or five new positions a year between both facilities. That's a conservative number," he said.
Fonzi founded the company in 1990 when he put together a business plan to open a heavy-truck repair facility on Mount Read Boulevard. Around the same time a friend asked him to help a family member who owned a gas station and garage.
The friend's business had grown dramatically, and Fonzi had the task of devising a plan to take it to the next level. Rather than acting on the heavy-truck plan, Fonzi purchased the garage and Gates Automotive was born.
The catalyst for the company's recent success is its investment in new technology, equipment and training, he said.
"The more we do of that, the more our business grows, the more insurance companies want to partner with us," he said.
Matthew Cutaia, vice president of operations at the Henrietta facility, says the company's growth is a product of keeping customers informed and up to date. Emphasizing consistency in quality and service has worked well for the company, he said.
"We stay close to our customers and make sure they feel important," he said. "We wouldn't have jobs without them."
Fonzi said the biggest challenges he foresees are the cyclical nature of the automotive industry and consumers becoming more willing to buy new vehicles, rather than maintaining older ones.
Though Gates Automotive's primary line of work is collision repair, the company also relies on towing work and expects to ramp up its service side in the coming years, Fonzi said.
"We see the opportunity today to see some significant growth in our service business by getting more into the fleet aspect of the mechanical repair," he said. "We're very aggressively developing a fleet clientele."
Fonzi anticipates sales growth of 20 percent annually going forward, and he and Cutaia hinted that an additional facility could be on the horizon.
"We're busting at the seams," Fonzi said. "We've pretty much come to a place where we're going to see steady growth going forward. But in order to take it to significant growth it's going to be another facility. And when we're ready, we may do that."
The Rochester Top 100 program is presented by the Rochester Business Alliance Inc. and KPMG LLP. Launched in 1987, it recognizes the fastest-growing private companies in Greater Rochester. This year's Rochester Top 100 event will be held Nov. 6. For more information, go to rochesterbusinessalliance.com.
Gates Automotive Center
Provider of collision repair, mechanical and towing services to motor vehicle owners and fleet operators.
2012 ranking: 88
Top executive: James Fonzi, president and owner
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