CARSTAR Hayden Named Idaho's Best Body Shop Following Consecutive Regional Nods

The Solesbee family keeps going to work, and CARSTAR Hayden keeps winning awards.

Greg and Rachelle Solesbee moved to Idaho from California and opened CARSTAR Hayden in 2018.

In a scene from "Rocky," Adrian notes curtly, “But it was Thanksgiving.” To which Rocky casually replies, “To you. But to me, it’s Thursday.”

Meet Greg Solesbee. He and his wife Rachelle own CARSTAR Hayden, just outside of Coeur d’Alene, ID. In May, the duo won their first statewide Best Auto Body Shop title in the 2024 Idaho’s Best Awards, after taking regional honors in their Panhandle backyard five years running.

At the 2023 SEMA Show last November, Solesbee also snagged "Executive of the Year" honors for single-shop owners, presented at the Collision Industry Red Carpet Awards Night.

It’s swell and all, but to Solesbee, it’s just Thursday.

A How-To

“We didn’t attend the event,” he said of the state prize. “A friend sent me a picture and said, ‘Congratulations. You won.’”

The SEMA crystal stemmed from a trade magazine article that automatically made the shop a candidate.

“We knew nothing about it,” Solesbee said, "but my wife says to ‘own it.’”

Not that he’s slacking on Thursdays.

Greg and Rachelle at SEMAGreg and Rachelle Solesbee at the 2023 SEMA Show.

“Indie shops are about culture, the customer, and certifications.”

Of culture: “You have to find people with the same mindset,” Solesbee said. “We’re doing the best we can … because that’s what’s right.”

Of customers: “Those who don’t find us the first time, find us the second, because of the experience they had” elsewhere.

Of certifications: “We hold the most in the area,” Solesbee said. He trains workers to the certifications, pays them more for nailing it.

He values his Rivian, Tesla and Ford certifications highest. EVs are obvious options; Ford cracks the top-tier with all-aluminum bodies. “It’s built more like an aircraft, using some crazy adhesives” and specialty rivets and welding, Solesbee said. “They rival Tesla for complexity of repair.”

Also: “We push against the insurance companies, and don’t cut corners.”

Jumping In

“I’m sure there’s someone who can do this better than me,” Solesbee said, even if a good slice of Idaho disagrees. “I wouldn’t claim I’m the best leader, but I’m genuine, and customers feel we’ve got their best interests at heart.”

Solesbee grew up breathing steel dust. His dad owned a SoCal shop, which Solesbee’s brothers now run.

Solesbee’s eldest son, Zachry, is training in his shop as an estimator. “He handles our Rivian account,” Solesbee said.

The Solesbees moved to Idaho in 2017, bought a CARSTAR franchise territory, and the next year found a shop to convert to the brand. Solesbee felt it aligned with his ways doing business. “They let us run it how we want,” he said.

CARSTAR Hayden is 11,000 square feet, treating 60 cars a month. All-in on painters, technicians and apprentices from a local college, there are perhaps 10 bodies at work, excluding the cars. Solesbee fixes law enforcement vehicles.

The previous owner’s best revenue month was $65,000. Solesbee’s first month was half that. One month this year hit $350,000. The shop won the Panhandle region "Idaho’s Best" starting in 2020.

Feet of Clay

The company behind the contest, Inbound Systems, by email declined comment. According to its website, the Idaho-based marketing services firm has offices in five other states. Idaho’s contest this year, the website said, had 2,761 nominees in 297 categories, and counts “tens of thousands of votes.”

Ghost Truck

The contest is free. A customer nominates you, Solesbee said. Google Reviews and voting figure big. His shop’s Google entry shows 4.9 stars out of 5 on 286 reviews, and 4.8 stars out of 5 on 817 from

He hasn’t used Inbound Systems’ marketing, but did buy an ad in the magazine it prints celebrating winners.

So, has Greg ever blown it? Gotten it wrong? Failed?

Well, a family of six, a dog and two chickens sold everything in California to move. It lived in a fifth wheel for seven years before getting a house. Smack in the midst of that, COVID hit. Savings, some to support workers, evaporated. Solesbee skipped meals. Wondered if he’d made a big mistake.

“If you didn’t believe in God before you start a business, you will after,” he said.

Idaho, Driven

Idaho has some 130 body shops statewide, according to Matt Thornton, former executive director of state trade group, the Idaho Autobody Craftsman Association. A third are in the panhandle, and two-thirds are indie shops -- though MSOs have made inroads of late, especially post-COVID.

Thornton owned Parks Royal Body Works in Boise for 22 years, before selling to Caliber in January 2021.

“My dad owned it before me,” he said.

Thornton said, “any accolade is good … it adds to the value of your reputation,” emphasizing the underlying strength of a triumph: Google reviews and community involvement to build goodwill and name recognition.

“People buy from people,” agreed Andrew Neldeberg, senior marketing manager for the CARSTAR system, part of Driven Brands Holdings Inc., based in Charlotte, NC. It has some 750 locations, Entrepreneur’s Franchise 500 shows.

CARSTAR “encourages locations to get active in their communities” and with charities, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation being corporate CARSTAR's favorite choice.

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