Shop Strategies: How a Shop Owner Enhanced Employee Culture While Providing Outstanding Service During COVID-19

Mike McClernon, a technician at Best Body Shop.
Mike McClernon, a technician at Best Body Shop.

Clay Hoberecht, owner of Best Body Shop in Kansas, said he is crazy about three things: his customers, their cars and his team.

“We want rabid fans, not just satisfied customers,” said Hoberecht.

With a passion for repairing vehicles correctly, Hoberecht said his team works hard to provide outstanding customer service by maintaining a culture of humility and expertise.

“We are driven to succeed and have a hunger for knowledge,” he said.

Hoberecht and his wife, Barbara, started the Wichita business in a 2,700-square foot facility in 2014. Over the years, the operation expanded. They eventually purchased the building next door, increasing their space to 10,000 square feet and focusing on collision repair, body painting, paintless dent repair (PDR), car restoration, hail damage and other services.

Autobody News asked Hoberecht how the shop owner has enhanced his culture with employees during COVID-19 while providing outstanding customer service.

When the pandemic first broke out a year ago, how did you and your wife react?

Without a shadow of a doubt, the last year has been intense. Between the political issues and COVID-19, the market has been volatile.

The No. 1 thing Barb and I did right off the bat when we very first started seeing a downturn in the economy is we immediately went into protection mode with our business. We made the decision to have no retraction whatsoever and agreed to move forward no matter what.

From then on, we made sure that every move we made was not a retraction. We were able to hold each other accountable, and the team was able to hold us accountable.

Sometimes, moving forward doesn’t mean getting a lot of cars in the shop. It might mean spending time looking at disaster loans or Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and figuring out what the best fit is. Other times, it is working on the shop flow, learning how to fix vehicles better, training or spending time with the team.

We shut down for 40 days and used that time as an opportunity to continue moving forward in our business and not retract it. During that 40 days, we rebuilt the entire shop, invested in new Spanesi equipment and tools, and focused on training and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

Timothy W. Morgan, chief operating officer at Spanesi Americas, was instrumental in helping Best Body Shop achieve this. Things are going exceptionally well right now.

What steps did you take to build a team environment and how has it impacted the culture at your shop?

I wanted to get to know my employees better and found this was a great opportunity to do that. As a team, we began to read a lot of books about culture, trust and building a team that can reply on one another. Then we discussed what we learned.

I shared my heart with the team and told them that I didn’t want to be the one picking out the books all the time. This isn’t a school and I’m not their dad. I wanted to see their interest in personal growth and I’m happy to say that we’ve seen that.

We got stuck on all reading one book for a while, but now we’re choosing separate books. I’m reading "Never Split the Difference" by Chris Voss. A couple of guys just finished reading "Can’t Hurt Me" by David Goggins.

Another good book is "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team" by Patrick Lencioni. That author also wrote a book called "Getting Naked," which is about being transparent with your teammates. That one, in particular, has made a significant difference in our shop’s culture.

Recently, I was talking to Mike, my painter, about being vulnerable and transparent with each other. We both felt that our team now has a better level of trust than we ever had. There was obviously a milestone of education that has made a major change in our shop’s culture.

How did you adapt your business once it opened again?

When we opened the shop back up to the public, it was like a frenzy. We offered a discount to customers, which was a big part of how we became busy really quickly. That busy-ness stayed for quite a few months.

During the presidential race, we noticed a major slump and the shop slowed down. There was a lot of tension in the air and I don’t think people cared about the aesthetics of their vehicle. Once that passed---whether or not you liked the results---it seemed there was a little bit of pressure relieved in the market and business ramped up again.

We’ve also noticed a ramp-up in our production ability because of the trust we built with the employees. I felt like we had a strong culture before, but it is mind-blowing that enhancing it during COVID has made such a difference. It’s like we are a well-oiled machine.

What are some of the procedures you’ve implemented for customers?

We’ve had an appreciation for our customer base but that has grown over time, especially now. Customers come in and tell us that they want to support small businesses and we want to show our appreciation to them.

As a result, we have done anything and everything we can to go above and beyond for customers. This includes providing a concierge service. We have been a lot more open to picking up and delivering people. Our customer service representative (CSR)’s main focus is to build relationships with customers.

We spent a tremendous amount of time consistently going over what can we do that is above and beyond. Once a month, Barbara, myself and Josh, our CSR, sit down and pick five customers who have either referred work to our shop or had their car repaired here. We do tremendous research to find out what they like and purchase a gift for them. We’ve bought autographed jerseys, baseballs, barbecue kits and even a gun holster. We want to show our appreciation to those who are supporting our business.

During times of extreme behavior, such as COVID-19, there are extremes on both sides. As a result, I’ve seen more giving hearts and more empathy and sympathy than I’ve ever seen. We want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem no matter what is going on that is creating this craziness in society. We have no desire to compete with other shops. We want to dominate and compete with ourselves.

What is your advice to other shop owners who are reinventing their business right now due to COVID-19?

I receive a tremendous amount of phone calls from shops across the country. Many people I talk to struggle with how to fix a car correctly or find time for the training needed to learn how do it. Now is the time to do that. I see too many people utilizing this time as an excuse to fail.

During the most challenging times over the last year, there were nerve-racking times. We reminded ourselves that the only way to fail was to quit. So, as long as we didn’t quit, we should be good. And if we’re not, at least we left it all out on the field. Ultimately, that was a successful strategy for us.

Throughout this time, I’ve grown a passion for helping the industry and I welcome other shops to reach out to me. We’re all in this together.

Stacey Phillips Ronak

Stacey Phillips Ronak is an award-winning writer for the automotive industry and a regular columnist for Autobody News based in Southern California.

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