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Clay Hoberecht: Integrity — Pass It On

This is what collision repair done the right way looks like.
Clay Hoberecht, March 2024 VCR
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Collision repair shops often face a moral dilemma: If you disagree with the insurance company on the best way to repair a vehicle to pre-loss condition, do you cave into the insurer’s demands or stand your ground? As the BodyShop Business 2023 Industry Profile notes, 74% of body shops believe they lose business due to insurer steering, so getting on the wrong side of an insurer can be costly. But is it worth the cost of your principles?

Clay Hoberecht, owner of Best Body Shop in Wichita, Kansas, doesn’t think so.

“Vehicles need to be repaired based on manufacturer’s guidelines, because the engineers have designed that vehicle to absorb energy and divert that energy away and around an occupant, and at the same time read that energy at hundreds of thousands of seconds and communicate to the restraint system that saves your life. At the same time, that restraint system can also potentially end that life if it’s not used in the right timing,” Hoberecht asserts.

Learn more about Clay’s views on:

1:00: What’s going right and wrong in the collision repair industry

4:20: Biggest challenges facing the industry

5:48: How to build integrity and trust in your shop team

10:34: Hiring outside of the industry and training talent

13:50: Insurer relationships

18:01: How to entice techs into the collision repair industry

Show Me Your Soul

While Clay admits that OEMs have been communicating more clearly on how to repair vehicles in recent years, he says there’s still plenty of confusion. As such, he understands that repairing vehicles per the manufacturer guidelines is tough — but he’s also disappointed by how few shops he sees following those OEM guidelines.

“Most body shops don’t even know how to access that information, let alone know how to navigate through it, let alone know how to implement it in a shop setting. Now, my immediate question after that is: why not? And there’s just a lot of corruption in our industry, a lot of focus on money instead of safety. Something that we say at our shop quite often to our clients is, ‘There’s some things that are worth more than money, and your safety is one of them.’ You couldn’t pay us to repair a car incorrectly. In fact, we’ve had cars picked up and towed to other shops because we would not go against the manufacturer’s guidelines.”

So how does Hoberecht make sure his techs are following the strict moral compass he wants his shop to have? By having them get naked — emotionally.

Clay Hoberecht, Best Body Shop staff
Clay Hoberecht has built a culture of trust with his team — which leads to a relationship where they can have fun and be honest with each other.

“If you want to see real results in any kind of organizational period at all, you’re going to have to have a certain amount of trust and love. The reality is that the majority of people have been trained to almost self-protect in almost every setting. And if you can get a team to actually show up and just get naked emotionally with each other and with you, then you can actually find the problems in your organization faster. And it builds a good relationship. How you implement it is you go first,” Hoberecht explains.

Of course, it’s also difficult for owners to open up and show anxiety to their staff. However, if, for instance, you admit to your staff one week that there’s not enough money in the account to make payroll and that you’re worried about it, your staff will understand how real a problem is — and they’ll start to reciprocate, admitting that certain processes are being done the wrong way or that they didn’t charge enough for certain repairs.  

It ends up creating an openness, where people can be honest without fear of hurting the relationship between boss and employee, Hoberecht says — and that makes all the difference.

Same Kind of Humble, Hungry and Smart as Me

Retraining staff to speak up isn’t the only mental reprogramming Best Body Shop has to do. Because Hoberecht runs his shop “the right way” — that is, repairing a car to pre-loss condition per the manufacturer’s guidelines, no matter what shortcuts insurers might want to take — he often finds it difficult to hire industry veterans who might be set in their ways.

“We really hire outside of the industry as much as possible, love it or hate it. At the end of the day, the majority of the collision repair industry is full of people that have been doing it the wrong way for so long that it’s a practice now. And so to retrain that out of people is what we have found to be more of a challenging mountain to climb than just training the right way from the beginning,” Hoberecht explains.

Clay Hoberecht
Clay Hoberecht lets job applicants know upfront what qualities he’s looking for.

In fact, Best Body Shop currently only employs one person that came from another shop; everyone else started out in other industries. The bar to pass at his shop doesn’t involve technician skills; rather, it all comes down to being humble, hungry and smart.

“When [we’re] able to go through an interview process, [we ask]: Is this person humble enough? Is this person selfless? Are they hungry to change and to drive? And even if everybody else is doing it another way, are they hungry enough to continue doing it the way that no one else is? And are they smart? And the smart isn’t just intelligence — it’s emotional intelligence. Do they know that their words mean something?” Hoberecht explains.

With so many businesses across the automotive industry grumbling about the technician shortage, Hoberecht’s attitude towards experienced techs might seem strange. However, his own struggles of trying to break into the collision industry informed much of his mindset, and he has a plan for getting those humble, hungry and smart job candidates up to speed on their repair skills. Best Body Shop puts new techs through a training program that sets them up alongside more experienced techs to teach and mentor them until they are ready to work on their own.

Fight Like a Brave

Best Body Shop doesn’t just educate newcomers into the collision repair industry, however. A look at the company’s YouTube and Facebook pages will show dozens of consumer and industry education videos — everything from helping drivers understand their rights during the insurance claims process to different repair techniques that the company uses when repairing cars (or rants about repair techniques that insurance companies want him to use that he refuses to). These videos have given him a reputation for being an anti-insurance guy, but the way Hoberecht sees it, it’s not an insurance company’s fault if a car is repaired incorrectly — it’s the body shop’s fault. Collision repairers are the ones with the tools doing the work, after all. For that reason, Hoberecht wishes to see less blame and more accountability and responsibility in the industry.

He feels that this strained relationship between insurers and repairers is one reason shop owners can’t attract techs: They are taught the correct ways to repair a car … but then they’re asked to repair cars incorrectly because of insurance partners’ demands.

Clay Hoberecht
Because Hoberecht puts his customers and their cars first, he doesn’t compromise on repairs.

“I’ve never met a technician that wants to repair a car incorrectly. I’ve never seen a technician that’s like, ‘Oh, well, I just don’t want to change.’ In fact, they love some of the new technology and some of the new tools,” Hoberecht asserts. “But I get a significant amount of phone calls, emails, text messages, messages through Instagram and Facebook, all from technicians and managers that all say the same thing: I wish we could do the right thing. So, if you ask how to bring people into the industry, there’s not going to be a silver bullet or a magic wand. You’re going to actually have to do things that are challenging for you to make their life easier. In other words, buy the tools and equipment that it takes to repair cars correctly, train your technicians, and then allow them to do their job correctly. And whatever you have to do in the office between you, your customer and the insurance company, that’s why you’re the owner. Figure it out.”

Clay Hoberecht’s no-nonsense attitude is a refreshing change from the endless cycle of blame that is the battle between insurers and collision repair shops. After all, change can’t come in an industry if its own people are afraid to stand up and fight back. With Hoberecht singing his anthem of integrity into the mic for all collision repairers to hear, he stands out on stage as a true Vehicle Care RockStar.

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