Weathering the Storm: How CARSTAR is helping franchisees navigate uncharted waters

Toronto, Ontario — Like all Canadian businesses, CARSTAR and its franchisees have been forced to make some rapid adjustments amid the pandemic.

Collision Repair spoke to Jeff Labanovich, general manager of CARSTAR Canada to hear about the shifts the company has made when Canada began battening the hatches, and what it has done to support its franchisees in this turbulent time.

CR: What were some of the first steps taken by CARSTAR Canada?

JL: We don’t exactly have a playbook for this kind of thing. We have strategies for other catastrophes—for natural disasters and whatnot—but a global pandemic is an unchartered territory.

One of the first actions we knew we needed to take was connecting with authorities like the Public Health Agency of Canada and the U.S. Centre for Disease Control. We wanted to get our facts straight and hear, from the source, what kind of safety protocols we should be taking to keep our staff and customers safe. As we connected with authorities, we began making a repository of all the information we were collecting.

After we’d taken the necessary and recommended steps, that’s when we started considering what social distancing on a day-to-day basis meant for our claims experience. We needed to craft a claims process that can be contactless and virtual.

As we fed our franchisees the disinfectant protocols, we quickly adopted a photo-based estimating service for our shops, insurers and customers that would still allow them to complete the claim, but remotely.

We then implemented a curbside drop-off where customers could simultaneously grab a rental. We also have a valet service, where cars are picked up from the customer’s home via tow truck to support social distancing practices.

All of these protocols came into play relatively quickly and we were able to turn them around it a matter of days.

CR: How has CARSTAR supported local communities amid the pandemic?

JL: Everyone has stepped up in their own way to offer some help. We’ve seen facilities buy lunch for front line workers from nearby restaurants to help out local businesses, launch food drives, donate extra 3M N95 masks—I’ve seen it all.

Giving back to the community is one of our main values at CARSTAR—there’s not a week that goes by where we don’t see franchisees supporting their communities in one way or another.

At a corporate level, we’ve been working closely with 3M to seek alternative equipment for our facilities. We actually had a national call with 3M and our franchisees this morning, where the company advised and answered their questions on alternative equipment.

CR: One of the mantras throughout the pandemic has been ‘emerging stronger than before.’ What steps are you suggesting collision repair facilities take to survive the pandemic and come out stronger than before?

JL: What we need to remember is, although some locations have had to issue some short-term layoffs, those layoffs can provide an opportunity for some cross-training. Maybe this situation could give you the time to work on an efficiency strategy. If you’ve been meaning to go paperless, now’s a perfect time—a little bit of extra time can inspire some great practices that stick with us after the pandemic.

We predict many of the services introduced to comply with social distancing will continue to be offered post-pandemic. We’ve had to adapt in some drastic ways during the pandemic and there’s a very real chance many of these services—like curbside pick-up and vehicle delivery—could become permanent.

When that happens, we want to be ready to perfect our practices. We’re somewhat new to this virtual model and our photo-based estimation, so we’re learning as a network and sharing best practices as we try to leverage all the new technology.

I’m proud of what we’ve done so far—we aim to be on the forefront in the modern industry and we’ve pivoted in this crisis to come up with alternate solutions. Hopefully that will be recognized post-pandemic.

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