Outlook 2023: This Springfield auto body shop is probably best known for its billboards

Outlook 2023: This Springfield auto body shop is probably best known for its billboards

Great customer service and a special guarantee on workmanship for the life of a car fueled the popularity and growth of Rick’s Auto Body in Springfield over the years.

But, it was a sharp wit that also proved a stellar marketing tool for Raymond “Rick” Recor.

The owner’s warranty and wordsmithing began in the mid-1990s. Recor was working out of a shop on Verge Street then and was embroiled in conflict with insurance providers over reimbursements.

His response to the conflict was the creation of one hand-painted billboard. It featured a blue 1957 Chevrolet with the words, “Classic Quality. Lifetime Warranty.” Recor also ran a full-page advertisement in the Sunday Republican to address the insurance issue and his position on it.

The messaging propelled Rick’s to instant popularity. Over time, the business released new messaging frequently, and at one time, had 25 billboards from Springfield to West Springfield to Ludlow.

Recor came up with some of the one-liners and also ran contests and offered cash awards for cleverness, like:

“We fixed Abe’s Lincoln.”

“Love me fender.” (Complete with a caricature of Elvis.)

And most recently, “Make America Gracious Again,” a popular one.

Along with the telephone number that Recor secured — 413-543-DENT, the billboards set the auto body shop apart.

Rick's Auto Body Marks 50 years in business

Rick Recor, owner of Rick’s Auto Body in Springfield, goes over paperwork at his desk. (Steven E. Nanton photo)

Says Recor, “The phone began to ring. To this day, 30 years later, people still talk about our billboards.”

Rick’s Auto Body has been located at 375 Pasco Road in Springfield since 1997. “I’m still here every day, morning ‘til night,” he says. “It’s not absentee ownership.”

Rick’s has roughly 50 bays for repairs within nearly 45,000 square feet of space and repairs over 3,000 vehicles each year. Recor and Rick’s wife and co-owner, Mari Tarpinian, are especially proud and grateful for their 49 loyal employees, many of whom were once interns from Putnam Vocational Academy. After being hired, many of these students were promoted over time into management and leadership roles.

Tarpinian, adds, “We have the best employees.”

Rick's Auto Body Marks 50 years in business

Tim Clark, a painter, prepares to drive a car out of the paint booth at Rick’s Auto Body in Springfield. (Steven E. Nanton photo)

Recor says, “We have been blessed with the finest management team—the heart and soul of Rick’s. Mike Haniffy, our production manager; Chuck Laprade, our operations manager; and Susan Tarpinian, our office manager, share a combined tenure of over 75 years here.”

Recor’s interns aren’t much older than he was when he got started in the business at 18. The Ludlow native quit school in the 10th-grade and learned the trade, working alongside his father in a business someone else owned. In 1969, Recor went to work for other industry professionals in Springfield, opening his own place in 1972.

That first shop, in Chicopee, was modest, with one bay and a dirt floor. “I had to wet the dirt and hose it down and walk around carefully so I didn’t splash the mud up on the car while I was painting,” Recor recalls.

In 1973, Rick’s moved to a six-bay shop, but a fire in 1978 deemed it was a total loss. He soon acquired the 10-bay shop on Verge Street and started over.

Rick's Auto Body Marks 50 years in business

Susan Tarpinian, office manager, in her office at Rick’s Auto Body in Springfield. (Steven E. Nanton photo)

Back then, Tarpinian says, it was a male-dominated business. Men came in with their wives’, sisters’ or daughters’ vehicles. “It’s not like that anymore,” she says. This, in part because Rick’s made an intentional effort to make women feel welcome and comfortable.

Recor says his customers range in age from 16 to 99. “The demographics of our customers is huge,” he adds.

Rick’s is certified in 13 vehicle brands, Mercedes-Benz among them, and these vehicles require specialized tools, equipment and training. “We really feel as though we are an asset to our community,” Recor says. “We’re here, doing a service for people, assisting them to navigate through the repair process. We take our customer service very seriously and always have. We’re one shop, under one roof. We’re really proud of that.”