Raffie Nercessian, Simply Smashing & Harris & Adams Prestige
As the owner of two successful smash repair companies on the Central Coast – Simply Smashing and Harris and Adams Prestige – Raffie Nercessian is best described as an entrepreneur rather than a tradesman. He has a keen eye for the fundamentals that constitute an astute business acquisition and has bought, sold and amalgamated successfully on a number of occasions since moving to the Central Coast in the late 90’s. This story shines the light on Raffie’s business journey to date and highlights his key points of difference in an industry facing numerous challenges.
The son of Armenian parents, Raffie was raised on Sydney’s north shore. He left school in year 11 with a desire to join the police force however was dissuaded by his “old-school” father who believed every boy should have a trade under his belt. Somewhat reluctantly, Raffie listened to the advice of his father, secured a spray-painting apprenticeship and hasn’t looked back since. As a tradesman in some of Sydney’s more affluent areas, Raffie had the opportunity to work on high-end luxury vehicles for a discerning clientele. This taught him the benefits of paying meticulous attention to detail, a trait which stood him in good stead for what lay ahead on his career journey.
Right from the start Raffie made the strategic decision to provide all customers, no matter what type of car they owned, with 5-star service.
Married with his firstborn on the way, Raffie was keen to leave Sydney and work for himself. After doing his research, he and his wife Caroline purchased a 30-year old panel beating business on the Central Coast in 1999. Within a couple of years they had purchased a second long-established local business. Both businesses had good customer loyalty and Raffie knew he could inject new enthusiasm and ideas into them to raise their profile.
In late 2003 Raffie was forced to sell the businesses due to illness. He returned to the industry with a renewed sense of energy in 2005, this time opening the doors to a start-up business at West Gosford, which he called Simply Smashing. The timing couldn’t have been better. The region had just been hit with a severe hailstorm leaving multiple motor vehicles in need of repair. Right from the start Raffie made the strategic decision to provide all customers, no matter what type of car they owned, with 5-star service that includes valet service within a 100km radius, a fleet of late model courtesy cars, regular progress reports, fast turnaround, and Simply Smashing’s 5-year warranty on all workmanship.
“Our industry is a cottage industry that needed to be changed. It’s getting to the stage where it will become a specialist industry and that’s how I am gearing my business.”
Raffie has worked hard to build and maintain close relationships with all insurers and most auto manufacturers to ensure a streamlined assessment, approval and repair experience. While the industry was hit a blow when the Rudd Government changed the Motor Vehicle Insurance and Repair Industry Code of Conduct, which effectively gave insurance companies the power to take control of the industry, Raffie has always managed to use this to his advantage through customer education and better business management. “Our industry is a cottage industry that needed to be changed,” he said. “It’s getting to the stage where it will become a specialist industry and that’s how I am gearing my business. I’ve had to look at it not as a tradesman but as a businessman. It’s about proactive management – making sure staff are more efficient and getting the numbers out quickly and professionally.”
As a preferred repairer to a constantly growing clientele, Raffie’s number one piece of advice in relation to insurance is that people check their policies carefully to ensure they have the freedom to select a repairer. “Many of the cheaper motor vehicle insurers only deal with their own preferred smash repairers who are forced to work to the insurer’s criteria which can include the use of second hand parts for vehicles out of warranty, no matter how prestigious the make,” said Raffie.
Raffie has been very strategic with his business acquisitions over the years. Most have been amalgamated under the Simply Smashing brand. However he opted for a different approach when he purchased Harris and Adams Smash Repairs in October 2016. Raffie rebranded the 40-year old business (previously owned by Col Adams, the subject of our April 2016 cover story) to Harris and Adams Prestige, cementing the BMW preferred repairer’s status as a smash repairer that specialises in prestige makes. He also made other strategic changes, including the reinvestment of $250,000 to upgrade machinery and equipment and a $200,000 upgrade to the premises, to better reflect the high standard delivered to the niche market it services.
With an average age on his team of 40, Raffie’s main challenge and very real concern is staffing for a sustainable future.
Today Simply Smashing repairs around 80 vehicles a week and employs 35 staff, including specialist technicians and tradespeople with decades of experience, a General Manager and a full time WHS Manager. Raffie employs another eight staff at Harris and Adams Prestige. Simply Smashing occupies a large and growing premises owned by the Nercessians.
Both the spray-painting and panel beating workshops are pristine and incorporate state-of-the-art robotics, high tech 24/7 security and automated reporting processes. All staff are regularly educated in the latest information from each car manufacturer and workplace morale is high. “I treat my staff like family. You must build a good culture for people to stay. I’ve been on the floor myself so I know firsthand what’s needed and my staff respect me for that,” said Raffie. He credits his wife Caroline as being “the backbone of the business” and the one responsible for establishing formalised systems and processes as they grew.
With an average age on his team of 40, Raffie’s main challenge and very real concern is staffing for a sustainable future. “The last job I advertised attracted just two applicants,” lamented Raffie. “There has been a decline in skilled tradespeople for years and very few TAFEs now offer panel beating and spray-painting. Both trades are completely different to what they used to be and there are career paths in place here for young people with the drive to succeed. Despite this we struggle more and more to find skilled tradespeople and youth wanting an apprenticeship.” Raffie plans to raise his concerns and his ideas to alleviate them with local politicians.
A humble man, Raffie is not one to speak about his generosity within the community unless asked. He was recently featured (reluctantly) in the news for assisting a Macdonalds employee by repairing her car free of charge after it was involved in a hit and run in the car park while she was at work. This was one of many similar stories in Raffie’s world that normally go unreported. He and a few team and family members have also been cooking Sunday breakfast at Coast Shelter once a month for the past ten years. “I believe in giving back to the community that has supported me and my family,” said Raffie whose passion is for people first and foremost. In his words, “For me, it’s not as much about the cars as it is about the people who drive them.”