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ENJOY YOUR STAY

Sibling duo Sari and Mark Descoteau bring hospitality to collision repair

Story by MAX REID

There is something magnetic about Parksville, British Columbia. At the beaches it can often be hard to tell where the shoreline ends, and the ocean begins. Small changes in the elevation cause the white sand to poke through the surface of the water like semi-submerged dunes.

Every year the city hosts Parksville Beachfest, Canada’s only World Championship Sand Sculpting official qualification event, attracting the world’s most skilled sand sculptors to this small Vancouver Island community.

Should you find yourself driving in the Parksville area, become entranced by its lovely beaches, and subsequently find your vehicle to need repairs after taking in too much scenery, you may find yourself attracted to a certain family-run collision centre that would take genuine delight in getting you back on the road again.

CARSTAR Parksville, or Terminal Auto Body as it used to be called, is powered by the sibling duo of Mark and Sari Descoteau.

The pair, alongside Mark’s wife, Christina and their 16 loyal employees, run a 1,115 sq. m. (12,000 sq.-ft.) collision repair facility just 30 minutes northwest of Nanaimo.

Like many great shop owners, they took up the business from their father who first established the Terminal Auto Body name back in 1978.

While Mark and Sari undoubtedly look back on childhood memories at dad’s shop with fondness and an appreciation for a fine automobile, their paths took them in different directions when it came time to decide on careers of their own.

“Our story is a little different,” said Mark, over Zoom with Collision Repair. “My background is in hospitality management.” “And my background is daycare teacher,” said Sari.

“Early childhood educator,” corrects Mark, with a laugh. These two look and act and tease like any pair of siblings, but one thing they do not do is reduce each other.

Around 2004, Mark moved back to Parksville after a four-year stint working at a hotel in Jasper, Alberta.

“When I moved back here, everybody who was interviewing me at the resorts in and around the Parksville area were my age, so I was gunning for their jobs,” said Mark. Just as his frustration with the job hunt was hitting its peak, Mark’s father approached him with a proposition

From left to right: Sari Descoteau, Al Descoteau and Mark Descoteau. Al, Mark and Sari’s father first established the Terminal Auto Body name back in 1978.

“My dad had a person in the office that was leaving; plus, him and my mom used to go down to Arizona for four, five months of the year through winter. He really wanted some family at the shop, just to keep an eye on everything.” Over that winter, Mark took the skills he learned in the hospitality industry and injected them into the processes of a collision repair facility.

“He looked at what I was doing with the processes here—in this business, you have to be very empathetic, upbeat. You’ve got to be able to think on your feet to help people out. That was kind of how I started here,” said Mark. “I’ve always worked in hotels at the front desk, and in the sales department. It was a good experience and a good fit.”

“Mark’s a people-person,” remarked Sari. Sari’s path led her back to the family shop at a time when a long-time employee was looking to make a change.

“[Diana] was ready to retire, so that’s what brought me into the business in 2010,” said Sari, who brought the organizational skills requisite to survive as an early childhood educator to CARSTAR Parksville’s reception and accounting departments.

“I’m also proud to work with CARSTAR. Over the years, I’ve developed a lot of good relationships with them in corporate. I’m comfortable picking up my phone and reaching out whenever I need.”

— Mark Descoteau, co-owner, CARSTAR Parksville

Though Mark noted, “As the shop has grown, Sari is way less a receptionist and more everything to do with accounting.”

The siblings took over the business from their father in 2017, though they admit jokingly that the exact moment a family business changes hands can be a little “murky”.

Since then they have kept on a loyal core of staff that are increasingly diverse in age, as per shop manager Jason Steil’s proven formula for skills advancement in the shop.

Jason saw what he had in his staff: a team of bona fide career body technicians, solid in their skills, but many of them heading into the final years before retirement. Jason adjusted to the changing tide.

“Seeing the age of the staff and the great experience that they have, the first thought was to try and mix in a younger generation to help take us into the future,” said Jason.

Through Mark’s connections with local high schools and the Parksville Chamber of Commerce, CARSTAR Parksville has had an incredibly positive experience bringing in young apprentices to learn at the shop.

“Sari and Mark started with a phenomenal team/family atmosphere and I think bringing apprentices up in that atmosphere helps keep it going. Having that atmosphere already set in gives them a really solid foundation,” said Jason. With one apprentice having just completed their program and received certification, two currently working within the paint and body departments, and one new prospect looking for spot, the shop has become an extremely sought-after employer in the area.

When the pandemic hit, the employees of CARSTAR Parksville knew their jobs would be there waiting for them when things opened back up. In fact, the shop even managed to pull a few displaced techs from the lockdown wreckage. “We went from 17 people to nine. We were able to spread our work out and keep everybody busy. Then in June and July, it started to get crazy again and all of the sudden we were up to our peak at 19 people…We’ve sort of ‘rightsized’ and now we’re back down to 16, although we always feel like we could use more bodies,” said Mark.

“We did have some new people who joined us from shops who couldn’t take them back. Where we lucked out was that there were people around us that needed and wanted work.” And how could one not want to work there when the owners literally know how to make your time there feel like vacation.

“There’s a few things we do around here that keep a positive attitude. Twice a week, as a team, we stretch in the morning. We feel that’s pretty important, so we have a personal trainer that comes in and stretches everybody out,” said Mark.

“It’s for two things: it’s preventative, and for a lot of the team physical wellness and learning how to breathe through things is important— how to stay calm.”

If the stretching and breathing exercises don’t work, Mark and Sari can always rest easy on their numerous OEM certifications (FCA, Ford, Nissan, Toyota, Kia and Certified Collision Care) and strong ties to their corporate parent. “I’m also proud to work with CARSTAR. Over the years, I’ve developed a lot of good relationships with them in corporate. I’m comfortable picking up my phone and reaching out whenever I need,” said Mark.

More than anything, the fact that Mark and Sari get to work alongside family every day is an immense source of pride for the two; pride that in turn inspires others to want to join them on their journey.

“I’m pretty proud just to say that I work with my brother and I’m a part of a family business, said Sari.

“When customers come in and you get to tell your story—every time I get to tell it is a proud moment.”

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