Recently, a post on a Facebook page from Tiffany Reyes in Houston received major attention from the collision repair industry.
“My husband and I opened our body shop last month and since day one ... every person that has walked into my office has said, ‘This is a rough business to be in. You sure you can handle it?’ We’ve heard from tow truck drivers, the shop workers. Yes. Yes, I can handle it. But, I'm not sure the industry is ready for me. Feeling determined at Lone Star Auto Collision Plus.”
Many industry leaders weighed in with congratulations and support, while others made comments such as “are you hiring?”; “just run it like a real business … ” One sales representative used the opportunity to pitch his products.
To the naked eye, it looked like a husband and wife team opening a new small shop, which is fairly rare in an industry where many shop owners are either retiring and, or selling their businesses to large collision chains. But, once I dug a little deeper into the story behind Lone Star Auto Collision Plus, I realized it had all of the qualities of a whodunnit mystery novel or a show like CSI, except it was real.
It all began when Reyes’ husband, Augustine, was approached by a friend (who we will call “David” here), who eventually described his plans for opening a body shop in the Houston area. At first, David was asking to borrow some of Reyes’ tools, and the conversation evolved from there. David said he needed a $50,000 cash infusion to get his business to the next level, so he asked if he knew anyone who could loan him the money?
After looking at this fledgling shop, the Reyes decided to give David the loan and, ironically, Tiffany got into an accident during the same time. She was the last person in a three-car pileup that caused some significant damage to the bumper of her 2016 Mercedes ML 550, so she took it to Lone Star for the repair.
The other two people in the accident brought their vehicles to the shop as well, which is not the best way to build a car count, Reyes explained.
She didn’t think about the vehicle again until one evening while she and her family were on vacation at Lake Livingston, Texas. “I got a text that said my car had just crossed a bridge, and I was shocked, to say the least,” Reyes said. “When we called Brian, he said he was picking up the car from a PDR place, but how many PDR shops are open on a Saturday night at 11:30 p.m.? My husband and I knew something was definitely wrong right then and there. I was mad at this point, and I wanted my car back!”
After two weeks of excuses from their new sketchy “partner,” Reyes got her Mercedes back and none of the work had been done. “We found out that Brian received a $5,000 check from the insurance company and that was a bad sign,” she said. “Then, when we learned he cashed it at a nearby liquor store, we were really worried. We went through all of the shop’s files and saw that he took in ten cars and did nothing, but cashed all of the insurance checks—a total of $150,000!”
This discovery began a story that included deception and fraud, as Tiffany and Augustine Reyes learned more and more every day. “We met with an attorney and the Houston Police Department and it was worse than we imagined,” she said. “David had done the same thing two times previously, and was being sued and charged for insurance fraud and theft. He had it down; after six to nine months, he would take flee and let other people clean up the mess. The worst thing was that he got away with it every time. He would not appear in court and the cases were all eventually dropped. He walked away, scot-free each time and was cocky about it.”
David thought he was going to succeed again with his proven body shop scam, but he didn’t anticipate what would happen next.
The main message here is don’t mess with Tiffany Reyes, the new co-owner of Lone Star Auto Collision Plus who never thought she would be in the collision repair industry.
With a lot of previous corporate management experience working for home builders for many years in the Houston area, Reyes wasn’t dissuaded by this situation for a millisecond. She would have likely been a very successful attorney or a criminal investigator if she decided to go that way. David was now on her radar and if he ever ends up in jail, I imagine he will think about her often.
“We sat down and looked at the shop’s potential, and realized that it could be turned into a functional business,” she said. “Augustine went to David’s house and we bought the company’s assets, not their liabilities at $36. Suddenly, we were in the collision repair business!”
After she took over the shop and drilled a little deeper, Reyes could see the big picture more clearly, which was dire but not devastating. “It was a learning experience as I waded through 16 boxes of paperwork. The shop was ordering materials and parts and stiffing its vendors, as well as getting cars to fix by bribing towing companies and paying them with lap dances at a local strip club. I followed the money trail and began to see where it went—right into David’s pockets.”
With a shop full of cars, Tiffany and Augustine worked with the insurance companies to placate their newly adopted customers without further damaging the business. After mitigating the damage, the couple officially took over the shop in May. “We came in at midnight and changed the locks,” she said. “We worked with every car owner individually and everyone got paid, even though some of the insurance companies refused to pay us.”
The shop’s lean crew of two didn’t show up for work the next day, but the couple hit the ground running and hasn’t looked back since. “Our goal is to have all of our 16 bays full within a year,” Tiffany said. “We’re building a team and being totally honest with people and we already see positive results. We are going to run this shop like a corporation and the support we’ve received from the industry is definitely inspiring.”