Carstar Fort Collins North experiences stroke of serendipity after record flood
Fort Collins, Colo.—Early in the morning of Sept. 13, 2013, Doug Kaltenberger arrived at work to discover floating dumpsters and trout swimming in his parking lot. Over the weekend, the nearby Poudre River had flooded, depositing six inches of water in the 12,000-square-foot building that houses Carstar Fort Collins North. “You walk in and don’t know what to think or feel when your property is destroyed,” Kaltenberger recalled. Facing a situation that would threaten to extinguish many small entrepreneurs, Kaltenberger, his 19-person crew, and insurance partners acted swiftly in order to recover. Two years later, the crew recalls the events surrounding the historic Colorado flood, citing the many unforeseen positive outcomes and lessons learned. Replacing lost revenue News of prolonged rain over that weekend prompted Kaltenberger’s crew to keep partially repaired cars indoors and move others to higher ground, Kaltenberger said. Despite their efforts, nearly 30 cars were flooded. Among them were several completed cars in queue for delivery, customer pay jobs, and even a simple bumper repair, all deemed total losses, said Mary Collins, estimator and supplemator. In all, nearly 50 percent of the shop’s car count disappeared over the weekend, said General Manager Darryl Cronan, creating urgency to make up for lost revenue. That meant getting the shop to a point where it could accept new work quickly. Sorting through the aftermath on Monday that included wiped-out phones and computers, Cronan said the office crew was able to set up a single desk on a concrete floor in the shop so they could function the next day. “The business still had to run,” he said. “You can’t just focus on lost cars. All our work was lost and we didn’t have enough cars coming in to make up for it.” It took three months for the front office to be repaired and remodeled, Collins said, which happened to coincide with Carstar’s rebranding and new gray-and-red color scheme. It happened that the Fort Collins shop was one of the first in the country to adopt Carstar’s new branding, Kaltenberger said. So the flooding gave him the opportunity to design the front office he’s always wanted. The entire front office was torn up and the water-damaged flooring, walls, and desks were all replaced with modern materials, finishes, and paint. Who is responsible for damaged cars? A standard industry policy for many collision repair shops is to inform customers that the shop is not responsible for “acts of God” when they drop their car off, Cronan said. But this proved to be untrue. “I learned a lot when this happened,” Kaltenberger said. “Most shop owners don’t know what’s in their insurance policies.” As it turns out, he said, his Farmers garage insurance and American Family flood insurance proved to be good, helping ease the pain of the situation. “There was a certain period of time figuring out who was responsible,” said Cronan, who personally handled the insurance claims of the 28 cars. “We were taken off guard when we found out we were responsible.” Cronan urges other shop owners to review their insurance policies to make sure the total dollar amount on the policy covers the cars in the shop and on the lot. Fortunately, Kaltenberger was covered for the total value of the cars on the premise at the time of the flood. It’s also a good idea to review DRP agreements to see who is liable for cars in the event of damage, Cronan added. Personal items left in customers’ cars are not usually covered by insurance policies, he also discovered. “Some customers were understanding, some were very upset,” Cronan recalled. Calculating recovered losses For vehicles deemed a total loss, Cronan said it was the shop’s responsibility to calculate its losses in labor and parts. Each RO was dissected by Cronan to determine losses incurred by the shop. “The parts department also got flooded,” he said, destroying many of the boxes. “Dealers will only take parts back if the boxes are good.” So those losses had to be calculated, too. “ASE and I-CAR teach students that flood- or fire-damaged cars are usually unrepairable,” Collins said, but noted that in some cases, insurance carriers may request that a flood-damaged vehicle be repaired. Out of the 28 damaged vehicles, only one — a pickup truck that sat high off the ground — was repaired, she said. “In the end, it was a series of reactions that you can’t plan for until it happens,” she said. “You just have to try and do the best you can.