Small-town shop puts up big-time numbers in competitive Red Bud

Rodney Cissell discusses importance of industry relationships and voices concerns facing the segment today

Red Bud, Ill.—In a town with a population of 3,500 that supports six body shops, Red Bud CARSTAR Collision Center finds ways to come out on top, from customer satisfaction to cycle time and well-trained staff.

“We’re really saturated, but we have a fair amount of industry here which draws out-of-towners who have their vehicles repaired in town,” said Manager Rodney Cissell, who, at the time of Parts & People’s interview, was in the process of purchasing the shop. “It’s still fierce competition.” 

It helps that Red Bud’s cycle time is 3.5 days faster than all other shops in Illinois, Cissell said, which he attributes to being in a rural community where the majority of people are “die-hard” Big Three — driving mostly GM, Ford and Chrysler — and parts accessibility.

“We’re fortunate to have Weir Ford and Weir Chevrolet in town and next door. I can literally walk over and pick up a bumper and have a car back to the customer the same day. If there’s a part that’s on backorder, Weir makes daily trips to Paducah, Ky., and Evansville, so I’ll have it in my shop the next morning, whereas other shops might have to wait three or four days for it to be delivered. They’re great partners to work with,” he said, adding that they also assist with diagnostics when needed.

The I-CAR Gold shop, which joined CARSTAR in December 2013, features a 5,000-square-foot facility with 10 bays and employs three techs, two of whom are Ranken Tech graduates and the third a new hire and recent graduate of Southwestern Illinois College.

“They know what they’re doing and keep up on training and certifications, and coupled with excellent equipment, such as our resistance-spot welder from Pro Spot and the Car-O-Liner measuring and frame rack, we can really knock it out,” he said, which is more than he can say about some shops in the industry at large.

A big problem, Cissell said, are shops that don’t train technicians properly and don’t acquire the necessary equipment, and yet, they still get the same amount of work and money as those that are above-board and make investments.

“Who knows if they’re fixing cars right,” he said. “We see vehicles come in with improper repairs, such as areas sectioned that shouldn’t have been, and nobody holds them accountable. Untrained, uncertified shops are getting a lot of the same business, which can be frustrating. Insurers decide hourly rates based on what they’re paying everyone, so we’re stuck with the same rate as the shops that don’t make the investments and are making a decent profit just by hacking cars together. Until there are some kind of enforced requirements, the industry will be impeded, not to mention liability and image issues.”

Cissell said he knows outside adjusters who tell him they regularly encounter shops that are supposed to be putting new door skins on or new suspensions, and catch them straightening doors and installing used products. “But nothing happens, other than making them do the proper repair. Insurers need to mandate that a vehicle can be fixed only by a shop with required certifications for safety-related repairs.”

CARSTAR assists in planning and budgeting for equipment purchases, and given that upgrading is a more frequent necessity as vehicle technology advances at a rapid pace, Cissell said that’s important. “Spending time every three months with CARSTAR owners [CARSTAR EDGE Performance Group (EPG)] from around the U.S. will help us attack the big investments we need to make, especially with aluminum, within the next two years. I’ve already learned a lot from EPG.”

He might be two years away from investing in equipment for the aluminum Ford F150, but Cissell said that, as a member of the St. Louis Business Group, they are discussing pooling resources and buying one set of all that’s required and placing it in an enclosed trailer. “The equipment would be portable for all of us to use until we can all afford the full investment individually. Another consideration is to load-level the work among St. Louis shops that have components of the necessary equipment. All options are better than turning the work away.”

Red Bud developed another important industry partner when it began spraying Standox in 2011, after having issues with a previous paint, such as with application and customer support. “Now, we get great service with Colormaster. If my painter is out, they’ll send someone here to sub, and they send us to all the necessary training for certifications. They even agreed to pay my past supplier’s warranty on comebacks. I don’t think they had any idea what they were getting into,” he said, laughing. “Tom Adams, the general manager, has been great.”

Parts & People

Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.