CLAREMONT – Ever since he graduated from Stevens High School, Jason Laffin has wanted his own auto body shop. On Friday, he and his wife Brandi, both Stevens graduates, proudly opened the new business at 174 Washington Street.
“I've been doing this 15 years,” Jason said. “I was working in my dad's garage when I was 18.”
Jason ran the body shop at Howe's until recently. When his daughter was born, he decided it was time to go out on his own, and his boss encouraged him. He gets along with and works with the other shops in town — there's more than enough work to go around.
On the day 603 Metalworks opened, its schedule was already full to February. “Everyone's booked, so I'm taking the overflow. There's a huge shortage of auto body shops.”
Jasmin Auto Body in White River Junction is currently scheduling new work in March; if customers decide they can't wait that long, they now have the option of getting their vehicle moved to 603 Metalworks.
“Jay was a tech of ours for many years,” said owner Josh Jasmin. “He's very good at what he does. We could see he had what it takes to go out on his own, so we're pretty proud of him. We're glad he's had a chance to make that a reality.”
Over the last 15 years, Jason's seen some changes in technology in his field. Water-based paints that are safe for the environment and for the people using them used to be unheard-of, but they're what he uses in his shop. That makes it a safer work environment for him and anyone working with him. “They're better for color matching, too,” he said. “We're wicked safe today.”
The Laffins are proud of being from Claremont and want to give back to the community. Jason's hoping to work with Stevens to get students into the shop, since neither the Claremont or Newport tech center has an auto body program – Newport has an auto shop for students, but it doesn't focus on body work.
Acknowledging the labor shortage, Jason bought the shop looking for just enough room for himself and a helper. He renovated the office space to make room for paint shelves and got a custom-built bay for painting the vehicles, but most of the other equipment he already owned.
On the side he does custom welding, such as a hotrod seat with a flaming skull and copper rivets, or the hotrod 1951 Ford parked out front. “I've been using it as a shop truck,” he said. “It's got a 350 turbo transmission and a fully hand-built frame. I wanted it 100 percent built by hand — no parts from a catalog. I found all the parts in Claremont.”
Jason doesn't just do the work, but talks to the insurance companies and runs the business side of the shop as well. “I do the estimating, too. I'll walk you through the repair start to finish,” he said.
Brandi, who's helping behind the desk after hours, is a familiar face around the community as well. She works for SAU#6 in the superintendent's office during the day.
“It goes to show you,” said Brandi, “you can graduate from Stevens and own your own business.”