Val Fichera, president of Collision Care Auto Body Centers, and Gerald Wicklund, owner/president of CARSTAR Wicklunds Collision Center, were each honored with BodyShop Business’ prestigious Collision Repair Shop Executive of the Year award on July 23, 2015 at NACE | CARS.
Fichera won in the multi-shop category, and Wicklund won in the single-shop category. This marks the second consecutive time since BodyShop Business began handing out the award in 1984 that it gave out two awards, distinguishing between bigger shop organizations and smaller ones.
The goal of the award has always been to recognize true collision repair “visionaries” who have experienced great success through innovative thinking, overcoming challenges and persevering.
At the age of 43, Fichera has already led Collision Care Auto Body Centers in Philadelphia to being in the top 20 MSOs in the nation with more than $20 million in annual sales.
While in grade school, when other kids were out playing after school, Fichera was working in his family’s shop, which was started by his grandparents, Mario and Sarah DeNardo, who came to America from Italy to pursue their dreams.
One of the main reasons the BodyShop Business staff selected Fichera for this award was his dedication to his community. Fichera has donated refurbished vehicles to Louie’s Voice charity for autism and has shaved his head for the St. Baldrick’s Cancer Foundation. Many times, he has even hired people off the street who desperately needed a job to give them a second chance.
Fichera described how winning the award meant a lot to him and how it got him notice for some of the work he’s accomplished.
“The fact that it was from BodyShop Business magazine, which is highly regarded and very influential in the repair business and provides a lot of solutions for a lot of independent operators that don’t have the access to cash flow that we have, was pretty spectacular,” said Fichera.
Fichera has even been get- ting recognition from business associates.
“Some previous winners, two of whom I know, called me and said welcome to the club,” said Fichera. “I’m glad to be part of that group.”
When asked how the award is going to shape his future or affect his business, Fichera said he thinks it may open up some doors for him to participate in some insurance panels geared toward finding out what’s best for consumers. Also, to be a go-to source of information for consumers and collision repairers.
“I think there is a distinct possibility that I may become an expert that someone can turn to for information when they need to solve some problem,” he explained. “That someone could be from the insurance side, customer side or the collision repair side. I think I’ll be getting some phone calls from people asking ‘Hey, how did you handle that?’ or ‘How about this or what did you think about that?’”
Fichera has also been receiving local press recognition.
“We just got a ‘Best of Philadelphia’ award that is given out by a local magazine that is very well known and respected in our market,” he said.
When it comes to consolidation, Fichera believes there are truly plusses and minuses for the industry as a whole.
“Consolidation, in a lot of respects, is good because like us and a lot of other MSOs, we’re building new talent. We’re no longer recruiting and recycling and overbidding for the same talent pool that goes from place to place to place. Consolidation has created an environment where there is enough cash flow and capital to bring people into our industry and train them from entry-level positions all the way to a Class A metal tech, or from CSR to store manager. I think mom-and-pops unfortunately don’t have the cash flow or experience or processes to train someone.”
Fichera knows that the ever-changing vehicle technology and need for training is a looming and ever- constant issue in the industry.
“It’s a lawsuit waiting to happen, but we’re doing the best we can for manufacturer certifications,” said Fichera. “As long as the training is made available to us, we will make sure that happens. But some manufacturers have a closed circuit, not open platform, keeping information to themselves and their dealer network shops, which is totally unfair.”
Fichera believes the biggest issue facing the auto repair industry currently is all the people in the middle.
“We do so many things that don’t add any value to the consumer. The administrative process in repairing a vehicle takes as many hours as it does to actually fix the car.”
Fichera thinks some type of way of systemizing the administrative process may make it less stressful for the consumer and smoother and less costly for the insurance provider.
“If you want it done faster, better and for less, then you have to have a process that works across multiple platforms on the customer side,” said Fichera. “If we develop a process that works and is consistent and proven to work, why can’t that process be adopted and let the results dictate whether you’re performing or not performing instead of some set of goals or parameters that have no bearing or value to the consumer?”
Gerald Wicklund, recipient of the Executive of the Year award in the Single-Shop category, started out in the family business when he was 12. By the time he was 18, he was working in the shop as a painter’s helper and doing small body repairs. In 1980, he became the head painter, then became an estimator in 1986. He took over as general manager in 2000 and formally became the owner in 2012.
Wicklund has given back to the industry in numerous ways throughout his career, serving as a SkillsUSA judge from 2008-2012 and a CARSTAR Advisory Board member. He also hosts firefighter extrication classes and military appreciation events at his shop.
Over the years, Wicklund has won the 2013 CARSTAR Marketing Award, the 1994 and 2013 Liberty SERTOMA (Service to Mankind) Award, and – for the past seven years – the Best of Northland award.
Wicklund was shocked when he was announced as the Single-Shop winner.
“When I think of an award like the BodyShop Business Executive of the Year, I think of my mom or dad receiving it, not me,” said Wicklund. “I was shocked to say the least. I know we have done a lot of things right, but I’ve only accomplished a fraction of what I have in store for our family business.”
Wicklund said hardly a day goes by without someone congratulating him on his award.
“The Kansas City Star did a full-page article on Wicklunds CARSTAR,” said Wicklund. “And several businesspeople in the Northland Kansas City area have seen the press releases that were made.
“The founder of CARSTAR, Lirel Holt, even sent a congratulatory two-page letter of encouragement after he saw the press release.”
Wicklund said the employees at Wicklunds CARSTAR are very proud of their recognition.
“I’m very honored to have received this award, but our focus is to get better at what we’re doing,” said Wicklund. “Continuous improvement is a must for our shop to get to the next level.”
Wicklund has big goals for the future of Wicklunds CARSTAR, not to mention himself.
“The plan is for my children to continue the legacy that Bill Wicklund started in 1970,” said Wicklund. “I want to continue encouraging them to take on more responsibilities as we grow. It will be up to them to decide if we want to become a multi-shop owner.
“My secondary goal is to continue teaching martial arts and sharing the knowledge that I’ve been given since the late 70s, and playing more golf.”
When asked how he’s addressing the lack of qualified help when it comes to his own business, Wicklund explained how he has taken a proactive approach.
“I visit the local high schools to educate the students about the auto body industry. I’ve been in contact with the automotive instructor and had the students come out and tour our new aluminum repair station. One of the lucky young students actually got to try his hand at doing an aluminum weld on a test panel.”
Wicklund believes that the No. 1 issue in the industry is getting young adults into the auto body industry.
“After encouraging them to get the training it takes to become an entry-level technician, we can continue their education to become successful in an industry that has treated my family and I so well.”