Caught in the Act
Treating people right steers path to prosperity for award-winning family business
By: James E. Guyette April 12th, 2013
Staying involved with community affairs while leveraging the benefits of widespread name recognition, a reputation for high quality repairs and extensive customer referrals is marshalling successful returns for James Marshall, owner of Marshall's Auto Body CARSTAR in Billerica, Mass. In business for 35 years, the family enterprise annually grosses $2.7 million while delivering a most-impressive 99.14 percent CSI (Customer Service Index) score.
"Word of mouth is the greatest marketing tool," declares Marshall. "Our goals are to let the customer understand that we are there to assist, educate and listen attentively to their concerns and not to be complacent."
Reflecting on an unending quest for his own ongoing education, Marshall notes that "everyone is my mentor."
"It would take me forever to list everyone that has had some form of influence over the way I operate my business," he says. "I learn from all sorts of people: Being a customer in other venues teaches you how to treat people. Being a parent teaches you to be patient, and reading books opens your thought process to know that all business operations share common denominators."
Marshall goes on to describe the entire company's empathetic attitude toward each customer by observing that "when our vehicles are involved in a car accident our entire lives are put on hold. It's a hassle to deal with auto repairs, rentals, insurance and estimates. You no longer feel in control, and the stress can be overwhelming."
Thus the 16-bay shop's focus "is always to get your car – and your life – back in order ASAP." A lifetime warranty from Marshall's and a 5-year limited warranty from the franchise reflect pride in the workmanship being delivered. "We don't just repair it quickly, we repair it right." The staff of 14 nets praise from the boss for being the best in the business, and the array of equipment is top-notch as well. "It's just part of our overall approach that gives you the ultimate peace of mind."
Manager Jayce Mitchell has been with Marshall for 17 years, and he remains comfortable and confident in Mitchell's ability "to keep the culture that we have embraced" by "protecting and maintaining" a philosophy of "There is No 'I' in Team."
"We work together to achieve a common goal," Marshall explains, adding that recruiting new hires is a thorough process to ensure a good fit. Depending on the skill levels being sought, candidates are gleaned from vocational schools, advertisements on craigslist or in newspapers and, of course, personal references and recommendations from jobbers who know the region's workforce. I-CAR Gold and Platinum technicians are on board to further heighten production standards.
Bonus programs are in place for achieving performance goals. "We also have a program called 'Caught in the Act of Correctness.' If an employee is doing the craft with 10 percent more effort and/or super-safely, I approach them with a gift card and yell out, 'Caught in the Act of Correctness!' We use a CSI card mailer and measure our results, and the staff is rewarded accordingly."
Always seeking solutions
Out of the shop floor, "we are 'leanish' – it is a work in progress," regarding lean production techniques. Every job is blueprinted using DFR, which stands for a set of "Design for Reliability" strategies that steer exceptional repair outcomes while driving stellar CSI tallies.
"We have SOPs in place for all repair processes, starting with a pre-wash and inspection, an in-process inspection check list and a post-inspection performed by two different people," he reports.
A 10-day average cycle time is always being addressed in an effort to move things along quicker. "I don't think anyone wants the cycle time to be more than one day," Marshall muses, adding that "we're working on cycle time all the time; that's on my bucket list."
The business' growth over the years has been augmented with the implementation of computerized and more strategic estimating. Laptop computers are utilized in the bays along with wireless cameras for direct uploading into a car's file, and the office staff has embarked upon a series of efficiencies to eventually become a paperless operation.
Waterborne paint was adopted eight years ago. "We thought we would be ahead of the curve and be eco-friendly as well as taking advantage of BASF's training opportunities," says Marshall.
"We have made a major investment in the finest paint system available and constantly upgrade the technology and equipment to ensure that each vehicle's paint matches. We take special pride in our ability to match factory finishes as the final step in the restoration process."
Membership in a CARSTAR-sponsored 20 Group for the franchisees is another management plus. "We meet quarterly and discuss our financial positions, ways of improving our processes and general business operations and trends," he says. "The group is focused on the auto repair industry, and as a result we relate to each other on the same level, have the same issues and seek the same solutions."
When dealing with insurance carriers, "the first step is total transparency and trust, then we follow up with our performance and CSI," says Marshall, citing the shop's 99.14 score as evidence of the clientele's consistent appreciation for services rendered.
A Hertz rental facility is onsite for customer convenience, and paintless dent repairs are offered for the more minor dings.
Massachusetts has no direct repair programs (DRPs). "Having the lowest labor rate in the nation puts a great challenge on being competitive in the market in hiring great technicians and compensating them in a proper fashion," he laments. For the most part, I_CAR isn't as recognized as it should be for the information to repair a car more safely and accurately, and shops should be classified for their level of training and performance."
Spreading the word
Advertising is accomplished via mailers, email referrals, a social media presence and supporting local athletics with team and banner sponsorships along with handbook ads. "It's great when the kids yell out, 'go Marshall's Auto,'" says Marshall.
"We implemented the "Donate to Educate" program in which we donate $25 per repair to the PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) of the customer's choice," he continues. We use Facebook, both in business and personally, to promote name recognition and events. However, in a world of electronic saturation, we still believe in touching our customers and (insurance) agents personally through community organizations and agent recognition."
The company belongs to six civic organizations and contributes to numerous other endeavors, including the Make a Wish carwash and other charities. Marshall travels to assist "the CARSTAR nation" as chairman of the iPods For Wounded Veterans program. "During the month of November we raised tens of thousands of dollars to bring to the severely injured troops in hospitals like Walter Reed and others like it across the United States."
Marshall also serves as chairman for local vocational school's auto body repair segment and sits on the institution's finance committee member. He was inducted into the Shawsheen Valley Technical High School Hall of Fame in 2012. In 2008 Marshall was named CARSTAR's "Rookie of the Year" as 2011 brought "Most Improved Shop" honors; last year he clinched the "Financial Focus Group Award."
The business was established at the family home in the latter part of the 1970s by his late father Malcom, who had four days of in a row due to his position as a fulltime firefighter. Subsequently outgrowing the home's garage, in 1978 they constructed a 1,400 square-foot building at the current location over on Pond Street. After five additions the structure covered 5,000 sq. ft.; in 2005 they building and installed a new paint booth and prep station.
"The original shop was at our house, so after school it was an easy fit into the family mix. I attended a vocational high school and took automotive repair. This would allow me to know all ends of the automobile," Marshall recalls.
He started in the family business as a helper and then progressed to refinish prep. After serving in the U.S. Air Force, Marshall retuned home and became a painter. Five years later he was shop foreman and a minor partner with Malcom. The younger Marshall bought the entire business in 1995.
Keeping the peace at Thanksgiving dinner amid a family in business together was easy, says Marshall, as Malcom left no doubt that "HE WAS THE BOSS." Marshall's wife Dawn is the company's bookkeeper. "We also brainstorm marketing ideas, discuss business strategies and attend financial focus group meetings and annual conferences together. I'm the boss at the shop, my wife is the boss at home." - See more at: http://www.searchautoparts.com/abrn/shop-profile-collision-repair/caught-act?page=0,3#sthash.iBU6Bibz.dpuf