The Bigger Picture
Need to get ahold of Captain America? Gerald Wicklund can probably help—he’s done it before.
Last year, Wicklund, his family’s shop, and the rest of the MoKan CARSTAR Business Group arranged a meeting between the leader of The Avengers and a 3-year-old boy with a rare form of eye cancer. It was through the Make-A-Wish Foundation; the only thing the boy wanted was to meet—and see—his hero, Captain America, before he lost his vision.
Wicklund, asked recently about the effort to orchestrate the introduction, lets out a sigh. It was difficult—not granting the wish, he says, but deciding which of the many children he and his business could help. There were so many to choose from, and it made him wish he could do more.
“You listen to the stories about those kids and it’s beyond being a no-brainer,” he says. “How can you not help?”
Really, that’s been his and his family’s decades-long philosophy in running Wicklunds CARSTAR & Glass: How can you not help?
Whether it’s through its extensive work with organizations like Make-A-Wish or supporting veterans or running food drives, Wicklund says it’s always been a priority to serve his Liberty, Mo., community in as many ways as possible.
Wicklund is among many in the collision repair industry that have devoted their time and their businesses’ resources to the betterment of their communities. Patrick Cibotti of Boston Body Works (also profiled here) is another. Both shop owners look at it as a responsibility and a necessary part of business ownership, something that every shop in every market can do.
Wicklund helped deliver Captain America, but your community, your customers, your industry, they aren’t looking for superheroes. It’s everyday, ordinary people who can do the most extraordinary things, Wicklund says.
Boston Body Works’ Patrick Cibotti has mapped out a pathway for technical students to achieve success in the collision repair industry—and he wants you to do the same in your business.
There’s a sign that hangs above the entrance to the collision repair wing at Madison Park High School in Boston.
“Step in Through the Future,” it reads in big, bold, block type.
Patrick Cibotti put it there, and he wants it to hold as much meaning to all those who see it as it holds for him.
“[Collision repair] isn’t the same industry it used to be, and we don’t want students and teachers and people thinking of it as a place to stick people who aren’t on a great path,” Cibotti says. “This isn’t a dumping ground. That perception needs to change before anything else can. … The sign’s supposed to show that to people. The industry has a bright future, and so should the people coming into it.”
That’s the reason that Cibotti, owner of Boston Body Works, has dedicated much of his professional career to empowering students at schools like Madison Park. He’s been the chairman of the collision program’s advisory board for more than 25 years, offering his experience, knowledge of repairs and the industry, and funds to help the school’s students gain the skills and understanding needed to enter the workforce.
And he created an apprentice-internship program that offers students a direct pathway into a career in Cibotti’s own shop. Since starting that program, 90 percent of his body techs have been Madison Park grads.
That much-discussed technician shortage? Cibotti says it’s self-imposed. Grow your own—that’s his message. It’s not just about improving your own business (which it does), but the industry as a whole. Look beyond your walls, he says, and make a widespread impact.
“You hear it again and again and again, but no one does it,” he says. “We need to grow the industry, and that starts with the schools—getting the programs right and getting the right people in the program and creating a path for them from school to your shop.
“This is the direction the industry has to go, and we (shop owners) have a responsibility to ensure that happens.”
Today, Boston Body Works is surrounded by development.
Boston University’s 10-story housing building for its medical students is right next door. There’s a 1,000-unit apartment high rise a couple blocks east; an 800-unit complex is now being built less than a half mile in the other direction.
Cibotti’s South Boston neighborhood is vastly different now than it was when he first opened up shop in 1975. The area used to be downtrodden—a lot of local families renting and living paycheck to paycheck.
And that’s exactly where Cibotti wanted to do business.
“This is how I grew up,” he says. “I grew up around cars, street racing, and it eventually just led to this.
“You look at how a neighborhood like this was, and these people didn’t have much. Their cars were everything to them, and they’d do what they needed to keep them going. Not only is that the type of customer you want, but it’s the type of people I want to help and I want to support. What good is your business if you’re not there to support people who need it?”
Cibotti learned the nuances of the business through trial and error. Originally, he had just a single bay, before hopping around to three additional, small facilities as he gradually built his reputation in the community.
He scrimped and saved for two straight years, eventually having the money ($65,000) for an open piece of
land at the corner of Albany and Pike streets. He bought it, and put the land up as collateral for a mortgage to build his 13,000-square-foot brick facility. He hasn’t moved for more than 30 years.
“When we moved in, it was like going from Little League to the big leagues,” he says. “But we were able to find our way pretty quickly. And now, this is our neighborhood, our community. We feel a part of things here.”
Links in a Chain
Richard Sauro used to teach in Madison Park’s collision repair department, and he’s known Cibotti for years.
Sauro says Cibotti is proactive with the trade schools in the area, a true “people person” who demonstrates to
students what being a professional is all about. And, more importantly, “Patrick is the type of person our industry needs more of,” Sauro says.
“Patrick has always made me feel that the work I do with students is important,” Sauro adds. “He has gone above and beyond to help whenever possible to improve the program.”
When Sauro left Madison Park for a similar teaching position at nearby
Blue Hills Regional Technical School, Sauro reached out to Cibotti to sit on that school’s advisory council, as well. Cibotti never flinched, Sauro says, “he simply asked, ‘When?’”
Cibotti shrugs off the praise. He says he doesn’t feel his work with Madison Park—or Blue Hills, for that matter—is anything out of the ordinary. It’s the new prerequisite if you’re looking to grow the industry, and grow your business.
Always a step-ahead-of-the-competition innovator (Cibotti was the first in his area to look into SEO-focused digital marketing; he now dominates SEO in his major metropolitan market), Cibotti has developed a co-op of sorts between Madison Park and Boston Body Works, bringing in promising students for fullforce internship and apprenticeship opportunities. He and his team (the majority of which came through that co-op effort) teach the students about the technical nuances of the modern industry, and about how to be a true professional in business. It’s about life lessons, Cibotti says, and ensuring the future for those kids and the industry as a whole.
Again, Cibotti insists it’s nothing special. It’s what every single shop in the country should be doing, he says.
“Let’s get people involved instead of complaining, ‘They’re not good enough,’” he says. “Are we doing enough to make sure they are being taught what we want? We have the ability to ensure that. So, what are people complaining about?
“I think of the industry as one giant chain, and each part—the shops, the schools, all of it—are the links. For strength, every one of those chains have to be strong. The link between schools and shops has to be strong for the industry to succeed. It’s like that sign: ‘Step in Through the Future.’ That future involves all of us.”
Giving, charity and community outreach have been ingrained in Gerald Wicklund’s family-run business long before he took over from his father. Today, Wicklunds CARSTAR & Glass serves as a shining example of how to combine good work with goodwill.
Back before Wicklunds CARSTAR & Glass ever became the premier collision repair facility in Liberty, Mo., that it is today, Gerald Wicklund’s father, Bill, had to split his time between his budding business and shifts on the local police force.
“That was back when you weren’t paid enough as a police officer and you were basically a volunteer,” Wicklund says of his father. “He did it, basically, just to serve and help the community.”
And it set an example for Wicklund as he grew up in the business his father started.
Service. Gratitude. Humility.
Those were the tenants on which the shop operated, and a large reason for its significant success.
For all intents and purposes, Wicklunds CARSTAR & Glass is what many would-be shop owners imagine when looking to break out on their own. It started as a one-man, one-bay operation more than 50 years ago. Today, it’s large—around 18,000 square feet with 18 employees—and does more than $2.5 million in annual collision work. It’s aluminum certified. It’s achieved I-CAR Gold status. It’s won awards, within the industry and the local community.
“We’re very proud of what our family and team has been able to do,” Wicklund says. “And a big part of that is the people in the community that have always supported us. That’s why, in any way we can, we want to show that support back to them.”
In his Father’s Footsteps
Wicklund first worked in the shop when he was 12. (“I think my first paycheck was $33, about a dollar an hour,” he remembers with a laugh.) But it was in his mid-20s that he began the transition into a leadership role. And that actually began outside of the shop’s walls.
Wicklund’s father was a longtime member of the local chamber of commerce, and in the mid- to late-1980s, Wicklund began representing the shop in that capacity.
“It’s something that has always been a big part of what we did,” he says. “I think we’re the longest-standing member. … The key is being an active member. You can’t just put the sticker in your window and expect it to help your business.”
In 1990, Wicklund joined the local branch of Sertoma, an international service group. He’s still heavily involved in the organization’s community efforts (he recently spent a weekend helping build a wheelchair ramp for a local family). For the last eight years, he has hosted a large event at the shop honoring veterans. And then, there’s the time, money and supplies donated to local charitable organizations over the years—from local schools to sports teams to cancer research organizations to Make-A-Wish.
Wicklunds CARSTAR & Glass hosts an annual golf fundraiser for Make-A-Wish, partnering with the 13 other shops in the MoKan CARSTAR to raise tens of thousands of dollars each year. And the shop makes a donation on behalf of each customer to Make-A-Wish, giving them one of the organization’s blue “stars” upon delivery of the repaired vehicle.
Coming Back Around
The customer’s excitement was palpable, and it’s the reaction that Wicklund loves seeing.
“When you get a customer that comes in and the first thing they say is, ‘We really appreciate what you do for the community and all you do to give back,’” he says. “It’s humbling, and it’s wonderful when people recognize that. But, at the same time, that’s certainly not why we do it, and that shouldn’t be the goal.”
Granted, all these community efforts build the shop’s brand, and—both directly and indirectly—drive business to Wicklunds CARSTAR’s doors.
Still, Wicklund says the purpose needs to be pure or your community will see through it—and it’ll be far less meaningful of an experience for you and your team.
Take that Captain America introduction as an example: Wicklund doesn’t have any idea how many jobs the publicity brought in. He’s never even considered adding it up, or figuring out how to do so.
“What you think about is just how big of a tear-jerker that situation was,” he says. “You think of how simple of a thing it is for us to make that effort and do something that means that much to someone else who might need that [boost]. I’d do it every day if I could. There’s no reason not to.”
Become Involved: Three steps to engage your community
1. Join a Service Club
Becoming involved in a local service club (or the local chapter of a larger organization, like Sertoma), is one of the simplest ways to make a large impact on your community, Gerald Wicklund says. He joined the Libtery, Mo., section of Sertoma (sertoma.org) in 1990, and has remained very active since. There a numerous similar options across the country, and Wicklund says it’s an experience that will change your life for the better.
2. Get the Most Out of Your Chamber Membership
Wicklund is involved in a number of committees for the Liberty (Mo.) Chamber and has served in leadership roles in the past. He attends and hosts business-networking events through the chamber. The CARSTAR Business After Hours he holds at his shop each year draws close to 150 people.
“The first piece of advice I’d give any shop looking to be more involved in their community is to join the local chamber,” he says. “Attend meetings, events and be as involved as possible. Those relationships are invaluable.”
3. Host an Event (How to Get Started)
Wicklunds CARSTAR & Glass has hosted an event at its facility for the past eight years honoring military veterans. In 2015, 312 people came, 133 of which were veterans (six from World War II). The shop smoked an entire 250-lb. hog, and had about 40 more pounds of additional meet and “all the fixings,” Wicklund says. The shop always provides all the food, drinks and entertainment; there have been performances from magicians and dance troupes, and even a 21-gun salute. Wicklund and his team get sponsors (Enterprise is a large one), and a number of local organizations are involved, as well.
And your shop can do it, too, Wicklund says. When he held his first event eight years ago, he simply cleared out the shop, cooked up hamburgers and hot dogs and notified the local VFW and American Legion to spread the word.
The best way to start is to start small. “It doesn’t have to be an enormous event,” he says. “Just cook up some food and invite people in. It’s that simple. Then, as you get people involved, grow it.”