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How I Work: Corey and Charlotte Liss

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Two locations? Check. Two hours from Indianapolis? Check. Two shop operators? Check.

Two seems to be the magic number at CARSTAR Liss Auto Body, owned and operated by husband and wife Corey and Charlotte Liss. 

While some shop operators work best alone, the Liss duo tackles managing shops by splitting responsibilities. For instance, Cory tackles the day-to-day operations and workflow logistics. Charlotte, meanwhile, focuses her talents on marketing the business.

“I work on bringing cars into the shop,” Charlotte notes. 

Corey is a third-generation owner of the business, which his grandfather opened in 1946. As a result, he’s accustomed to a family philosophy that prioritizes hard work and putting one’s all into the business’s future. 

However, today, Liss’ work ethic centers around work-life balance. Gone are the long work days, and little to no time for family. The Liss’ focus on maintaining a balance between work, making time for themselves and giving back to the community. 

In the Shop

Corey spends the majority of his workdays in the shop, managing workflow and the team, at large.

The shop opens at 8 a.m. so I typically get there at the same time. My days are mostly filled with paperwork and taking a walk around the shop floor to check on the status of vehicles. Our team has a daily production meeting in which we discuss the day’s cars and the schedule. 

Sometimes, I attend production meetings but, for most of the week, at least three days of the week, I let my body shop manager or production manager lead the meeting. I like to be there when I can and keep an eye on tasks, but I’m not an essential part to the meeting.

I spend a large portion of my day working on projects that improve workflow or efficiency. Either it’s a project from CARSTAR’s Edge performance program or it’s a personal goal I’m trying to complete.

One of my latest projects was working to improve the quality-control process within the shop. We focused on the process of quality control and hard stock quality performance. It was a big project because we had to make sure we were following the OE’s guidelines and repair procedures along each step. This project took us about six months to implement. Roughly two months of that time was simply working with staff to train them on the process and get staff buy-in.

Too often the mentality  in the industry is that you need a body in the chair and it needs to be filled immediately.  I actually think it’s better off for the business to have an empty “chair” or job position open in the shop. I’ve created an environment in my shop where, if there’s a shortage of technicians or other positions, everyone picks up the slack and is accountable.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned throughout the years is to not hire too fast. Some of the qualities I look for in employees include people focused on selling, people who want to please others and people with a can-do attitude.

I’ve also had a lot of success training staff myself. Instead of hiring a technician based on skill-level, I’ll hire based on characteristics and then train them from there. You need to take someone who wants to build a career in the industry and show them that you are offering that possibility at your shop.

You need to let your team make mistakes for themselves. During the day, if I’m not in the body shop itself, I’ll let my managers know that I trust them and that they don’t need to ask me for anything.

Most of the time, if I’m off site, and they have a question that they can’t solve independently, they’ll simply text me or send me a quick email. 

My days used to end around 8 or 9 p.m. at night.  I had a bad habit of working too much within the shop. I would get home late at night and not even eat dinner until 10 p.m. I liked working in the body shop.

Then one day, I realized that the business can still grow without an owner present 24/7. I decided to relinquish some of my authority. 

Now, I got home around 5 p.m. I’ve started to appreciate a work-life balance. For instance, it used to be so shifted toward work that the whole body shop would work on the day after Thanksgiving. Now, everyone has that day off. We’ve also started closing for Christmas and New Year’s. 

 

Out of the Shop

Charlotte, on the other hand, almost always works remotely, spending the majority of her day visiting partners.

My car is my office. I’m constantly on the go, either visiting vendors, parts suppliers or insurance agents. I typically work remotely and sometimes I work from my home office.  Each day, I pick a section of the market and visit those agents. I like to touch base with our clientele in the industry and keep our name out there. For instance, sometimes I bring a candy bar and have a fun saying to accompany it. I’ve brought in Snicker bars before and say, “Hey, I wanted to give you something to snicker about today.”

 

My goal is to visit 8–10  agents each day. Realistically, this doesn’t happen everyday but when it does, I try to coax some of the back-office staff out to meet with me, as well. During the holidays, I dress up as the appropriate character for the holiday and go around to the agents. For the winter holidays, I dress up as Santa or a reindeer.  Then, I ask them if they want a holiday picture taken with me. Who doesn’t want a group picture with Santa Claus?

And, it all loops back to staying in front of the customers and insurance agents. I take the photos and let them know we’re going to post them to our social media including Facebook and Instagram. I ask them for an email, as well, so I can email them the picture once I get back to my “office.” This way, they’re happy and they get a fun picture and I get more emails to add to my network.

I’m one of those workers that, if given the opportunity, I can do the job bigger and better. We do a huge golf outing each year to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. We typically raise about $26,000 per year. In all the years that the shop has been participating in giving to Make-A-Wish Foundation, we’ve collectively raised about $200,000. 

The body shop was already participating in this charity fundraiser for two to three years before I came on board. We have a few corporate sponsors for the event, including 3M and Enterprise Rental Cars which has helped boost the money raised. When I first started we were raising about $6,000, the next year around $8,000, and so on. 

I have never golfed before in my life but I took a gamble. Ever since, I decided to keep doing the fundraiser, making it bigger and better each year.

 

SHOP STATS: CARSTAR Liss Auto Body  Location:Crown Point, Ind.  Operator:Corey and Charlotte Liss  Average Monthly Car Count: 150 for both locations  Staff Size:18 (6 in the office, 12 back end)  Shop Size: 8,900 square feet. Annual Revenue: $3.6 million for both locations

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