This month, we talked with Ken and Jean Zak about their company, Lakeville Collision, which they started in their garage in 1984 to help meet the need for an auto body repair shop in the Lakeville area. Lakeville Collision provides high quality auto-body repair and paint on all makes and models of foreign and domestic vehicles, and in-house glass replacement. The company guarantees its work for as long as the vehicle is owned by the client. For its customers’ convenience, Lakeville Collision also offers free loaners and has rental cars on site for those who need transportation after an accident.

By providing family-friendly service to the community, Lakeville Collision grew out of the Zaks’ garage, into a new building on an adjacent lot, and today to their new facility on the I-35 frontage road, which opened in 2008.

The Zaks raised their four children through those 30 years, and today have grandchildren who attend Lakeville schools just like their parents. Three of their four children work for the business — their oldest son, Nick, is a lead technician; their second son, Brian, is the painter; and Tyler is a journeyman technician.

Q: What sets your business apart from your competitors?

We are family-owned and operated. Customers deal directly with the owners. Also, we work for the customers first and foremost, coordinating details with their insurance companies not the other way around. We don’t work for the insurance companies but work with them on behalf of our customers.

Q: Looking back on your work/your company’s history, what are you most proud of?

We have made many friends and repeat customers over the years. We have repaired vehicles for our clients and their children, and we are now repairing their children’s vehicles. We have even met some past customers while on vacation and revisited our past working relationship and how our lives have changed and moved forward. We do our best to make every client feel welcome and that we will take care of them when they are in an accident. It is always stressful being in an accident; we want to take that stress off the customers’ shoulders. Also, we are proud of how far we have come, even through downturns in the economy. We were able to survive.

Q: How has your business changed/evolved since you started it? How has the industry changed?

Our business has grown and we have had to adapt to the changes in the industry as well. Cars are now more computerized and have little things that make each vehicle unique. We follow these changes and attend classes to keep up on the technology.

Additionally, insurance companies have set up direct-repair facilities or preferred shops. We have chosen not to follow that path but rather have stayed independent, working side-by-side with all insurance companies, and establishing very good relationships with them. To succeed as an independent shop, we have to work harder and make sure the product we put out is top quality.

Q: What is one misconception people have about your industry? What do you find yourself continually educating customers about?

People have an accident every 7-10 years on average, so when they are in an accident they may not be prepared for the repair and insurance claim process. We educate them on being able to choose the shop of their choice, not having to accept (cheaper) after-market parts for their repairs, and to check with their insurance company about rental coverage on their policy because, even though accidents seldom happen, it’s hard to live without a car.

Q: What’s your advice to someone who has been in a crash?

Our advice is that the car belongs to the owner, and in Minnesota, you can choose your repair facility — you do not have to go to an insurance company’s preferred shop nor can an insurance company or its representative instruct or require you to go to a specific shop. This is against the law in Minnesota (Statute 72B.092). Also in Minnesota, you have the right to refuse after-market parts. New, original parts or used, factory parts are acceptable but you do not have to accept after-market parts.

Q: What is the best entrepreneurial advice you’ve received?

Stay true to yourself and your customers. Treat them with the respect and courtesy that you would expect from others and you will succeed.