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Best Workplaces 2021: The Right People, Right Place

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Owner: Kurtis Barks Staff Size: 110 Average Monthly Car Count: 2,000 Annual Revenue: $11 million Average Employee Tenure: 10 years

It’s an understatement to say Kurtis Barks, owner of Complete Auto Body & Repair, wasn’t sure about using the Culture Index Survey to better sort his MSO’s staff.

“I was totally against it,” says Barks, who owns five shops in the St. Louis, Mo. area. “I just didn’t believe that an eight-minute survey could give you so much information about someone.”

Barks finished high school two decades ago and went to work at Complete alongside his father, Bob Barks, who started the shop in 1973. He says he helped grow the business from strictly offering collision repair to offering mechanical, then full service, and by 2012, towing and loaner cars.

“None of our employees suffered any financial burden throughout COVID.”—Kurtis Banks, owner of Compete Auto Body & Repair

About 10 years ago, Barks bought out his father’s interest in the company to become the sole owner—Bob was done dealing with insurance companies and got into the RV business.

Having grown Complete Auto Body & Repair from a single location to five, with two more in the works for this year, Barks says he’s always been focused on delivering the best customer experience possible.

“I was never a body man, I was never a mechanic—I was just always at the front dealing with customers and I wanted the experience to be good,” he says.

That focus on customer experience, which Barks says he sought to cultivate through satisfied and motivated employees, who would go the extra mile for customers, in 2014 prompted him to give the culture index a go.

Two questions, big results

Sandie Travis, Complete’s recruiting specialist, says the Culture Index Survey seeks to find out who new hires are, and how they’re designed.

The survey, she explains, is used to determine how employees interact with others, and their attention to detail. Travis says the survey was created by consultant Chris Lundine and that the shop pays an annual fee to use it.

Barks says what’s gleaned from the survey helps shop leaders place people in roles where they’ll excel, and with people with whom they’ll work well.

For instance, he says he had people working sales roles who didn’t really want to be dealing with other people day in, day out.

He says he moved those folks to lower stress positions, “and their productivity went way up and their happiness went up,” with their pay following.

That heightened job satisfaction has led to stability, Barks says, giving him the ability to delegate to his location managers and their assistants.

Complete Auto Body & Repair’s cohesive culture was in play as the COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses to alter the way they operated.

Travis says employees offered to take temporary pay cuts to save others from being laid off, or in her case, temporarily give back a raise.

“To me it was like a savings account, we didn’t lose anything,” she says.

At the same time the company shifted to contactless service, towing customers’ vehicles to the shop while dropping loaner cars off at their homes.

“While our competition around us kept closing their doors, we kept getting traction,” says Barks. Any employee who took a pay cut was 100 percent reimbursed, he says, and even technicians whose hours fell below average were made whole.

“None of our employees suffered any financial burden throughout COVID,” Barks says.

Finding a way to thrive despite the pandemic allowed Complete in June to acquire an existing body shop, which fit the MSO’s model.

Barks says how his employees reacted to the challenges of 2020 was a show of “overwhelming respect,” and he credits his staffers and their bonds with helping the business exit the year stronger.

“Without having the culture, the team we have,” says Barks, “we would have had to shut our doors too.”

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