By Mike Davey
Hamilton, Ontario -- January 23, 2017 -- CARSTAR has big plans for the year ahead, according to President Michael Macaluso. He discussed the company’s outlook and key initiatives for 2017 in a special media teleconference on Friday, January 20.
The topics under discussion included the integration of the Canadian and US arms into one organization, the launch of CARSTAR’s cross-border insurance initiative and the first-ever combined Canada-US CARSTAR conference, taking place this August in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“We’re extremely pleased with the integration within the Driven Brands family,” said Macaluso. “It’s at the point now where we don’t even talk about integration any more. Moving forward it’s business as usual as the overall integration platform was completed by the end of the summer. Now we’re one CARSTAR, driving forward with one plan, although we are still maintaining nuances for different markets.”
Macaluso also noted that the outlook is very positive for 2017, with increasing consolidation expected across the auto claims economy, including among insurers, suppliers, director vendors and repairers.
There are also robust plans to grow the CARSTAR network throughout North America. Macaluso pointed that CARSTAR is the first collision repair organization in North America to cross the 500 store milestone, thanks to the recent addition of a new location in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“We’re very proud of the fact that we surpassed that milestone, but we have no intention of resting on our laurels,” he said. “Our longer term goal is 1,000 locations across North America, and we’re slated to open 100 new stores in 2017.”
Much of the planned growth will be in the US market, but there are plans underway to expand CARSTAR’s footprint in Canada as well.
“This year we opened about 52 locations. The goal of 100 locations is aggressive but extremely achievable. We only serve 35 US states, so there’s lots of white space to expand into,” said Macaluso. “In Canada, there are several key markets we want to enter and other areas where we want to optimize our presence. We’re encouraging the growth of MSOs (multi-store operators – Ed.) in our network and working closely with our insurance partners to identify those opportunities.”
During the call Macaluso also briefly outlined CARSTAR’s new EDGE operation platform, a new operations strategy set to roll out to the operations team in Canada, and from there to the rest of the network.
“There are new levels of achievement within that platform,” said Macaluso. “There’s EDGE Elite status and ultimately, best-in-class status.”
Macaluso also took some time to outline CARSTAR’s cross-border insurance program and the opening of the CARSTAR Care Center, a call centre for assigning claims to CARSTAR locations by becoming the main point of contact between the customer, US CARSTAR collision shops and Canadian insurers.
“One of the true benefits is the opportunity for Canadian insurers to utilize the made-in-Canada program to repair the vehicles of Canadians traveling throughout the US,” he said. “It’s operated out of the Hamilton office, and provides a single point of contact of the entire claims process. If you have your car repaired in Florida, the warranty is fully honoured throughout the network. ”
Canadians make almost 12 million trips to the US each year, so this program carries some obvious value for insurance partners.
Macaluso added that more programs of a similar cross-border nature will roll out over coming months, also noting that CARSTAR’s office in Hamilton is also the Canadian home for other Driven Brands’ franchises such as Meineke, Maaco and Pro Oil Change.
“There are opportunities to streamline our mechanical programs and increase profitability for our store owners. The first logical one is Meineke, internalising mechanical services to speed up the claims process. On the marketing side, we can offer synergistic programs,” he said.
CARSTAR may be North America’s single largest collision repair organization, but there are other large players in the US.
“One of the big things that everybody continues to focus on is ‘When will the large US MSOs come in?’ Boyd/Gerber already operates in both countries, but there could be others,” said Macaluso. “We want to stay not only the largest, but the best. As the landscape continues to grow, the industry as a whole gets better and that forces us to get better.”
Regarding accreditation, certification and the continuing interest of the OEMs in the collision repair industry, Macaluso pointed to CARSTAR’s heavy investments in these areas.
“It’s not a new trend, but the impact of the OE presence will accelerate in 2017,” said Macaluso. “We’re heavily invested in an OE strategy and we don’t feel that the accreditation or certification process ends when you receive the paperwork. It’s ongoing and something you have to maintain. We’re working with AIA Canada on CCIAP and stores are working with local OE dealerships. It’s a key area of focus for us.”
Finally, Macaluso announced that moving forward, CARSTAR North America would have one conference that combines both Canada and the US. The first combined CARSTAR conference will take place in Charlotte, North Carolina, from August 23 to 2016, 2017.
“We’re expecting more than 1,000 people to attend. We’re very excited,” said Macaluso. “When CARSTAR was founded in Canada in the mid-90s, Canadians went to one or tow of the US conferences. It’s nice to see us all coming together as one again.”
For more information, please visit carstar.ca.