Robert Walne’s grandfather, Herb Walne, founded Herb’s Paint & Body in 1956. The business encompassed a Humble Oil (Exxon) service station, a full-service mechanical shop, a drive-through car wash and a paint and body shop in northeast Dallas, TX.
It quickly became known for its knowledgeable professionals, outstanding customer service and quality repairs.
When Exxon purchased the mechanical shop in 1969, Herb focused his time and energy on the collision repair side of the business. Since then, the operation has grown at a fairly steady pace. When Herb passed away in 1986, his son, Alan, currently the chairman of Herb’s Paint & Body, took over the business. Today, Herb’s Paint & Body has eight locations. Robert, president and COO, manages the day-to-day operations with a focus on strategic planning.
Autobody News sat down with Robert to learn more about how the business sets itself apart from others in the industry and its recent enrollment in the General Motors Collision Repair Network.
Q: How did you get involved in the family business?
A: I grew up working at Herb’s and spent most of my summers at the shops washing and working on cars. After I graduated from Baylor University in May 2004 with a BBA in finance and real estate, I joined the company full-time. Today, we have 187 employees at our eight locations, and I serve as president and COO.
Q: To what do you attribute your company’s success over the years?
A: I think it’s a combination of our focus on the community and being a family business. Our core values and mission/vision are centered on these two aspects.
We are really passionate about being a family business and how we treat our employees. We have a motto that we treat them like family. They are part of the team. We often say, ‘You aren’t just a number; you are a name.’ That perspective was passed on by my dad. We have always been very much involved at the store level, being seen by employees and engaged in the business. Our employees are an extension of everything we do.
If employees have an event and they ask us to sponsor it, we do it on their behalf.
Another element that sets us apart as a company is doing the right thing, whether that is in regard to customer service or taking care of our employees. We’re not going to compromise our core values for anything.
It’s how we do business, treat our employees and customers, support the community and provide resources such as technology and tools. We attribute those things to our success..
Q: As avid community supporters, what is your motivation?
A: That’s at the heart of everything we do at Herb’s Paint & Body. The other thing my grandfather was very passionate about is that if a community was going to do business with him and pay him for his services, he felt he needed to provide back to that community for doing so. As a result, we’ve always been very passionate about that.
The majority of our marketing efforts and what we do is very much at a local store level, whether it’s a nonprofit, high school or another community organization. We support a wide range of local organizations such as the Child Advocacy Center of Collin County, the Dallas Zoo and the Down Syndrome Guild of Dallas. We also sponsor high school booster clubs and sports teams and award community scholarships, for example, at the State Fair of Texas.
We look for all possibilities to give back to the communities we serve. It has always been part of the fabric of how we do business, and we plan to always continue to do so through financial and time commitments. We feel that the greatest impact we could have is to reinvest in the areas we serve and make the communities we serve and live in better. We have that ability to do that, so we do.
By working together as a team with hard-working, highly trained employees and an attitude of charity, we will accomplish our goal to have a long-term, successful family-owned business.
Q: What do you enjoy most about the collision repair business?
A: I think it’s the compassion/people side of it. Over the years, I’ve realized that we have the ability to turn an experience that nobody wanted to have into something that can be positive. We’re able to help our customers understand that it’s going to be OK and we’re going to restore their vehicles.
I also enjoy watching our employees grow, whether that is through training or providing a home for them to grow in our business. I learned that from my grandfather. When his business went through a transition and he chose to run the collision repair shop, he realized that it gave him the ability to help somebody out. On the mechanical side, he was able to get somebody’s car running, but he never could see the impact of what was done and understand everything about it. The collision aspect gave him the ability to touch customers and let them feel the impact that was done, and I think that compassion plays a lot into what we do. It’s a driving force behind all of the decisions we make.
We are honored to have been named Best Body Shop by Dallas A-List City Voter. Since 2009, we have received six first-place awards based on more than 24,000 votes from local experts.
Q: Can you tell us about your recent decision to join the General Motors Collision Repair Network?
A: We first found out about the program through Mitchell. We have been long-time customers of Mitchell’s since the 1990s. I was attending their conference in the fall of 2017 and John Eck, collision manager, GM Customer Care and Aftersales, talked about the company’s path of coming up with a certification program. I told John that as soon as we were eligible to sign up, we would be on the list.
My grandfather’s strategy was always that he understood that an agent was taking premiums from customers. As soon as there was an accident, the individual who was taking the money was out of the picture. They couldn’t help make the experience go well for that customer. His motto was to make an unpleasant experience a pleasant one, and that’s what he preached from the moment he started. That’s still very much part of the culture and fabric of how we operate today.
It goes back to the same idea of making an unpleasant experience a pleasant one and determining how to accomplish that. By joining the General Motors Collision Repair Network, we felt that it was consistent with our belief of doing the right thing in everything we do. In terms of being certified, it’s about doing the right thing for that vehicle and having the knowledge to understand the new technology.
Q: What did joining the General Motors Collision Repair Network entail?
A: We signed up when the program was first announced in August 2018 and submitted all of our paperwork a couple of months ago. General Motors has a pretty comprehensive website where a shop can upload information. For us, it wasn’t a big undertaking simply because most of our locations are pretty much on the cutting-edge from a technology and tooling perspective, and we already had the majority of equipment necessary to perform the repairs. We also keep our technicians and employees trained in the latest and greatest from an I-CAR standpoint, so we didn’t have a huge to-do list. Also, with our existing relationship with Mitchell, the switch to Mitchell Cloud Estimating was straightforward.
Q: Do you have any other OEM certifications? What is the benefit of having them?
A: In addition to GM, we are recognized by Assured Performance, FCA, Ford, Nissan, Infiniti and Hyundai. Overall, the biggest advantage is the ability to perform proper and safe repairs per the manufacturer’s requirements. The industry is definitely transitioning to that knowledge becoming more and more available. That has been a very large benefit for us to know and understand how these cars need to be repaired, not necessarily for the manufacturer, but for the vehicle owner.
We understand retention from the standpoint that if the experience is not going well for a customer and we do a poor job, the likelihood that they are going to switch insurance carriers goes up. I think the same holds true for the manufacturer.
Nobody wakes up with the idea that they want to get into an accident on a certain day. What we want to make sure of is that we’re doing everything that puts that vehicle in a safe condition going down the road.
Ultimately, life happens, and we want to see that we’re there to make sure it goes smoothly for our customers and that their vehicles perform how they should if anything does happen again. We hope it doesn’t for that individual, but if it does, we want to be sure we’ve repaired it correctly and the way that GM intended for it to be repaired.