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Star Body Works buys former Lithia building

A major component of Lithia Motors' downtown holdings has changed hands.

Mark Lamensdorf, owner of Star Body Works, has purchased the former Lithia Motors Nissan BMW building at 600 N. Central Ave., for $1.8 million.

Star Body Works has been a fixture at the corner McAndrews and Summit since 1948, adding satellite locations in Ashland, Grants Pass and Rogue River in recent years.

"We really started growing in the space of three or four years coming out of the recession," Lamensdorf said. "We carried a backlog and a load level where we'd move cars between shops."

Lamensdorf estimates the remodel and move-in cost will push the overall project price tag to about $3 million. The bold expansion will double Star Body's capacity and enable it to roll out a European-style "lean" approach to body work.

What caught Lamensdorf's eye whenever he drove past the erstwhile auto dealership was the large shop area, suited for simultaneous repair operations. The former Nissan showroom, sales and parts departments will be removed, making way for two drive-through paint booths.

"We're getting out of the box and setting up a flow in the collision shop," he said. "It's just like going to McDonald's and expecting the same burger at four locations."

The 8,000-square-foot shop will facilitate orderly breakdowns, body work and reassembly, so the end result is consistent. It's pseudo assembly line, he said, where technicians do what they do best.

"The United States always follows behind Europe," he said. "Europeans have been doing what we're going to do here for the last decade."

Star Body Works does about 150 to 200 body jobs monthly at its McAndrews location, he said. He expects the additional 31,000 square feet of production space on four acres will add another 200 or more body repairs monthly. Between the two Medford shops, he anticipates fixing 350 cars each month.

"With our other facilities currently, we're doing about 350 cars," he said. "With that lean manufacturing part, we'll almost double our capability."

With more production will come as many as 10 more estimating and technician jobs, said Lamensdorf, who has 54 employees.

Star Body Works will keep its legacy location, but move its front office to the former BMW showroom. 

"We've grown with the community," Lamensdorf said. "Star gets its fair share of the market, and we have good customer retention."

The company expanded three times in an 11-year period beginning in 2003, when Lamensdorf and his brother Art bought a body shop in Rogue River from a retiring operator.

"We wanted to see if we could open up a second location and get the same product," he said. "It's easy to get a second and third shop, but the key is getting the same customer experience in all the locations. Central will become our hub, the main location that runs everything."

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

Mark Lamensdorf
Robert Devey III works Tuesday at Star Body Works in Medford. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]