Shop Strategies: Military Vet Focuses on Customer Relationships

Brookston Auto Body in Houston Texas
Co-owners of Brookston Body Shop in Houston, Texas: Robert Castellano (right) and his brother, Will.

Before working in the collision repair business, Robert Castellano had a different career path—the United States Marine Corps.

He enlisted on Sept. 10, 2001—the day before 9/11 when the towers were hit—and served for six years. During that time, he spent three years and nine months in Iraq and was promoted to sergeant. Later, he volunteered as a private security contractor working personnel security detail. As a combat veteran, he has been awarded the Combat Action ribbon and Presidential Unit Citation.

With a passion for cars, Robert decided to join his brother, Will, at Brookston Body Shop, where they have run the shop as co-owners for the past decade in Houston, TX.

“I just love cars and love helping people,” said Robert. “I guess that’s why I also volunteered to serve. I wanted to help people who could not help themselves.”

Q: After leaving the United States Marine Corps., how did you get involved working at the body shop? 

A: I have been around the body shop business and cars since I was a kid. My father had a shop, and that's how my brother, Will, started in the business. Will opened a body shop in 2002, and I joined him in 2005 when I was getting out of the military. My purpose was to help expand the business. We were in an older neighborhood where the clientele was a little shady and always looking to cut corners. My brother told me to start looking for a new location, and I found the perfect place in the Heights area of Houston, Texas. We started operating there and have been doing better and better every year!

We expanded to our second shop across the street, where we do our assembling and detail the vehicles for delivery. We are currently at 10 employees strong and our focus is always on the customer. We do not work for the insurance companies—we work for the customer. Without the customer, neither us nor the insurance company would be in business.

Q: How have you set your body shop apart from others in Houston?

A: What sets us apart from others in the industry—at least around our area—is that we are “old school.” We love to interact with the clients and are available 24/7. Our customers deal with us directly and we strive to make sure that everything is perfect. We value our customers and do whatever it takes to accomplish the job, no matter how big or small. We go out of our way to make our customers happy and hope to make a lifelong relationship.

I think people are surprised because we were both young when we started the shop here in the Heights 10 years ago. I was in my late twenties, but at that time looked younger! My brother was about 32, but also looked like he was in his late twenties.

Most of our customers seriously do become our friends and are known to just show up at the shop and hang out. That is why our motto is: “Where we meet most of our friends by accident.” I know a few people use that, but we really mean it! We are lucky to do what we have a passion for. When you love what you do for a living, it quits being a job.

Q: With the shortage of technicians in the industry, what is your advice about hiring veterans?  

A: I think hiring veterans is a good idea because they are used to structure, thinking outside the box, doing more with less and usually have a good work ethic. Arriving early is a big thing and failure is never an option. They are usually dedicated to their unit, which is the equivalent of their working team.

I'm sure you can find these qualities in the civilian world as well, but I think in the military you learn them at a really young age. Who would trust an 18-year-old to work on a $50 million jet or with the cryptography that is set on the radios for communication? In the corporate world, most people would not trust someone this age with running the coffee maker or copy machine. However, in the military an 18-year-old is entrusted with the life of his comrades and to make decisions that would keep the civilian population alive. We had an 18-year-old Forward Observer. He is the guy calling in the airstrikes or artillery. If he made a mistake giving the pilots or artillery men the wrong coordinates, innocent civilians or even his comrades could have been killed. I think that’s a pretty massive responsibility for someone this age who cannot even drink beer yet. If a shop has the opportunity to hire a veteran, I highly recommend it.

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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