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Get to Know: Clay Hoberecht, Owner of Best Body Shop in Wichita, Kan.

The collision repair industry is full of colorful characters, and Clay Hoberecht is no exception.

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Josh Cable has 17 years of experience as a writer and editor for newspapers, B2B publications and marketing organizations. His areas of expertise include U.S. manufacturing, lean/Six Sigma and workplace safety and health.

Editor’s note: This is a new BodyShopBusiness.com feature highlighting the men and women of collision repair. If you’d like to see someone featured, drop us a line at [email protected] or [email protected]

The collision repair industry is full of colorful characters, and Clay Hoberecht is no exception.

When BodyShop Business interviewed Hoberecht about his viral video on an insurer’s repair estimate, Hoberecht told us: “You’re stepping into a very passionate area of mine, and I have a lot to say.”

It turned out that Hoberecht, owner of Best Body Shop in Wichita, Kan., wasn’t just talking about insurer relations. Hoberecht is so passionate about the collision repair business, in fact, that he took his first body shop job for free. Here are a few highlights from our conversation.

BSB: How did you get started in the collision repair business?

CH: Fifteen, 16 years ago, I went to every single body shop in Wichita and applied. No one would hire me because I had no skills, so I got a third-shift job at Walmart. Then I went back to the first body shop that I applied to and said, “Can I work for free?”

I worked there for a year for free. I was the first one there and the last one to leave. I organized their bolt bin, I swept their floor, I took their trash out. I even went to the owner’s house and did some landscaping.

One thing that that’s lost in our generation – I hate to say the word “millennial,” but it is – is that we believe that we’re supposed to get paid and then we bring value. It doesn’t work that way. You bring value and then you get paid. And so that mentality is lost. The mentality that my dad raised me in was to bring value, so I did. I worked for free. I’m telling you after about a month, I gained their respect.

… I was doing enough that [the owner] would slip me a hundred dollars every once in a while – I think it was more like he felt bad for me. But after about a year, he said, “Clay, I think you’re ready for a job. You gotta go.” So I went to Lonny Moore’s [Collision Repair in Wichita] and started my career.

I kind of went all over the place. I got into hot rods hardcore, and I worked at one of the highest-end hot rod shops in Wichita. … And so I finally got to the point where I could start my own shop, and we took a leap. I found out my wife was pregnant, and I was like, “It’s time to s*** or get off the toilet.” So that’s how I got started.

BSB: In your three years as a shop owner, it seems like you’ve learned a lot about the way things work in the collision repair industry. You’ve said that the system is broken. What needs to change?

CH: This is what I think the future needs to look like. Right now, we have insurance companies that have estimators and adjusters and they’re hiring these third-party adjusters and all this BS. They need to fire every single one of those people, and they need to become the reimbursement company that they’re supposed to be. That means literally no field agents at all; the only thing they are is an office that gets estimates, they write a check and then they send it.

Now that does not mean that body shops just get carte blanche. This is what needs to happen. The OEMs need to stand up and start dictating repairs, and not just dictating repairs but requiring that repairs are done correctly. That means that all those people who got fired from their insurance company now can be hired by the OEMs [as inspectors]. And [shops] would have to become certified through the OEMs to be allowed to do insurance work, which means insurance companies now set up a policy that says the only way that you’re able to work on [Nissan] cars would be through a certified Nissan shop.

And then [the OEMs] need to start doing post-repair inspections, or inspections period. Ford should be able to walk onto your property because they certified you, and if they see anything that is not done to OE standards, they ought to be able to fine you or take away your certification, which means you can’t do any insurance work.

I guarantee that the people who want to be in the industry who want to do what’s right will rise up, and all the garage shops will be dropped.

BSB: You mentioned firing the insurance adjusters. Ironically, Allstate is doing just that, but they’re replacing them with a photo-based estimating app. I’m guessing that’s not a viable solution to the problem.

CH: Absolutely not.

… The only reason why this is happening is because no one’s standing up. There’s a turd in the pool that no one wants to grab, and that’s the liability.

Because we’re a bunch of technicians, we don’t have a business mindset, so we buy into the BS that everyone’s selling us – from the insurers and the OEMs. I watch the OEMs stand up at a conference and say, “Well this is the way we think you ought to repair it, but we’re not gonna dictate it.” Oh, because then you’d have to take liability?

And then I see insurance companies saying the same thing. “I didn’t tell John Eagle to glue that roof on, they’re the expert.” Well that’s funny, because I’ve literally had [insurance] agents in my shop say, “Don’t forget who you work for, Clay.”

BSB: What was your response?

CH: I said, “I know who I work for. I work for Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and so do you. And you ought to treat them with a little bit more respect when we’re talking about repairing their vehicle. Because we’re talking about families and their safety.”

This isn’t 1978, where we’re working on Monte Carlo’s where you can just throw it on a frame rack, beat this thing out and put it back on the road. We’re talking about cars that are being created lighter with thinner metal but with more brains, which means that the collapse rate is important and the way they’re designed is important.

Body shops are not a “make it look clean, make it look good” business anymore. It use to be that way, but [the OEMs] are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on design, and it is our job to make sure that that design is still the same. I tell client customers all the time, “It’s gonna look good, but what’s more important is that we’re an energy-tracking company. We track the energy and see where it stops and then bring it back to pre-collision condition within the OEM design, because that’s crucial.”

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