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When asked why he chose this particular industry to build a business, Sam Neira simply stated: “I took Auto Shop in high school, then barrowed some tools and made a few dollars fixing other people’s cars”. Sam was encouraged to take an additional class in his Senior year and continued to make money.
Sam’s skills did not go unnoticed. Mrs. Mooney, a cafeteria worker at East High School where Sam attended, soon recommended him to her husband whom was head of the auto body department of “Hawk Oldsmobile”, one of the premier auto dealerships in Kern County at the time. This was the beginning of a commitment to himself of being the “best in his field” in an industry that would shape his future and the future of generations to come.
In 1977, Sam became an entrepreneur. For almost a year he repaired cars in his garage. As business grew, he hired two employees, eventually opening his first shop at California Avenue and “O” Street. As business grew, “Neira’s Body Works” soon required the addition of two more technicians. Finally, he moved into the 12,000-square-foot facility on Kern Street he still owns and operates today.
The new building that houses Neira’s Collision Center in the Auto Mall boasts architecture that matches the newest and sleekest dealerships along Gasoline Alley Drive. Neira’s is the only independent body shop in the Auto Mall and first-time visitors to the building will be surprised by the high-ceilings and brightly lit lobby, surrounded by modern offices. The building also houses additional tenants relative to the industry, including a Hertz car rental office.
The collision repair industry is always changing. In the 19 60’s automotive manufacturers introduced the “Unibody” which is a solid weld of body and frame. Repairs on this type of vehicle are different than the conventional “Chassis” in previous autos. Strengths of metal are now different; lighter and stronger. The Equipment and tolerances are better – “Our industry is smarter now, cars are built better today. A vehicle can “give” under stress which causes less damage to the occupants as the unibody absorbs most of the impact in a collision” says Sam. “Our new computerized measuring system can repair cars from within 3 mils, to a zero tolerance clearance, bringing it back to factory specifications”. These important changes contribute to a better and safer consumer product.
“Employee training is ongoing” says Sam. “Keeping employees up-to-date in every aspect of the industry is important to the level of quality service Neira’s offers their clientele”.
Even the Environment plays a role at Neira’s Collision Centers. You wouldn’t think that a collision repair center would care about the environment but Neira’s does. In 2007, Neira’s implemented “water based” paints as part of their responsibility to the environment even before they were required to, leading the way to more conscientious business practices.
Sam takes pride in the fact that his company’s restoration of their customer’s vehicle meets or exceeds all expectations. Only then will he be satisfied. And asked how long he plans to stay in this business, Sam replies: “As long as we can offer quality service and parts to our customers.” It may sound cliché, but it’s what built this company from the ground up.
“Family is very important to me” says Sam, and explains he realizes that in order to keep up with all the new technology available today, he must bring in a younger generation.
At the end of the day, Sam Neira looks forward to going home to his wife Gloria, knowing that he has done the best job humanly possible. Sam believes that wasting the opportunity that he, as an American has, is a sin. “There are people in this world that want to work, want to educate themselves to have a better life, but can’t because of where they were born or other circumstances out of their control. We oweit to them to do our best and not squander our resources”.
Most repair work is covered by insurance companies. Both Neira’s Collision Center locations belong to the California Auto Body Association and the Collision Repair Association of California.