It was evident by the way CARSTAR CEO Dick Cross bypassed the stairs to the stage and leapt up onto it instead that this year’s annual CARSTAR conference was going to be a high-energy affair.
The leader of the largest group of independently owned and operated auto body repair stores in North America couldn’t have emphasized more strongly to the roughly 500 people in attendance in Baltimore that now was the time for franchisees to “break away” and surpass the rest of the industry in all facets of collision repair performance. The two key components to that, he said, was “extreme care” for the customer and “extreme productivity.”
The plan to strengthen CARSTAR’s industry presence was initially set out at the 2005 conference in Phoenix, Ariz., where the theme was “transformation.” CARSTAR invested an additional $1 million in overhead and planned to focus on three things: service value, insurance (leveraging CARSTAR’s scale to forge better relationships) and adding new stores.
The theme of the 2006 conference was “renewal,” where Cross encouraged franchisees to work on their hearts, strengthen their inspiration for what they do, see the “nobility of their lives of service” and take to heart the CARSTAR motto of, “Relax, we’ll take it from here.”
At the 2007 conference, which focused on “stepping up”, a more defined to-do list was created for both franchisees and the CARSTAR corporate executives. Franchises were encouraged to focus on:
- Competence in new technology.
Executives committed themselves to focus on:
- Education (CARSTAR University).
- Information technology.
- Service model.
So the stage was then set in 2008 for franchisees to “break away” like a race car in a tight duel with many competitors. One incentive offered for multiple store owners to increase their market presence with even more stores was a reduction in the initial franchise fee from $5,995 to $2,500, coupled with a reduction in monthly fees of 10 percent for operations adding their second and third stores, 15 percent for operations adding their third and fourth stores, and 20 percent for operations hitting five or more stores. Also, no monthly fees would be charged for the first six months for all newly-added stores.
Other strategies aimed at helping CARSTAR stores solidify their leadership positions were:
- Focus on consumer branding.
- Re-thinking of business groups within CARSTAR.
- New store discipline and integration.
- Increasing the effectiveness of advisory boards.
- Getting feedback on purchasing.
- Increasing the clarity of regional service manager roles.
- More local insurance support.
- Better communications.
“Growth with the right kind of owners is the right path,” Cross concluded. “Those are the people who have a passion to become better businesspeople, and exhibit integrity, passion and caring.”
Connecting the Dots
Taping boxes of the sweet, chewy gumdrops called DOTS underneath every attendee’s chair was done to do more than just satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth. It was to demonstrate the importance of connecting the dots between CARSTAR’s culture, marketing organization, message, consumers and communication.
CARSTAR Senior Marketing Executive Bill Garoutte unveiled the results of a consumer research survey commissioned by CARSTAR and conducted by an independent party that analyzed 1,500 consumers’ experience at a collision repair facility, whether it was a CARSTAR store or not. The 1,500 consumers polled were narrowed down to 500, and the results indicated that 70 percent were “satisfied” with their experience and would recommend the shop.
In deciding on a shop to repair their vehicles, most consumers said that they relied on advice from families and friends first and foremost. About 20 percent said they were influenced by their insurance companies.
Most had experienced a broad range of repair quality, from really bad to really good. Most considered one to two shops recommended to them by family and/or friends. And perhaps the most insightful fact the survey uncovered?
“When at a store, [the consumer] is not looking for an estimate but rather they want to interview [the shop] for the job,” Garoutte said.
The survey also indicated that the customer wanted to be assured of two main things: a hassle-free process and an emotional connection.
“So basically the customer is yours to lose,” Garoutte said.
With that in mind, Garoutte announced that CARSTAR was embarking on new TV, radio and print ads emphasizing an “emotional caretaker” strategy and tying in to the “extreme care” Cross spoke of earlier.
CARSTAR COO Dan Bailey didn’t disguise what his main objective is: to make franchisees happy. The things he feels CARSTAR can do to that end is improve:
- Number of cars (volume).
- Closing % (how many consumers you win over for the job).
- Average repair order.
- Gross margins.
- Limiting overhead.
Bailey also touted average store sales growth of 6 to 8 percent per month, in part due to CARSTAR’s EDGE operational service program that CARSTAR says gives shops an advantage over their competition due to its systems (business foundation), business refinement (enhance performance) and optimizing operations (CARSTAR lean operations).
Conference attendees were given the chance to drool over the 1967 prototype Mustang that has been on an 18-month fundraising tour to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
The tour kicked off at last year’s CARSTAR conference at the Loews Lake Las Vegas Resort. The CARSTAR SuperStang Muscle Tour is expected to make approximately 40 appearances at Make-A-Wish fundraising events and high-profile car collector events in conjunction with local CARSTAR collision repair golf tournaments, car shows and cruise events. The tour will end with the sale of the CARSTAR SuperStang at an auction in Scottsdale, Ariz., in January 2009, with proceeds going to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.