CARSTAR Liss Auto Body Repair Experts has given back to the community for over a decade. The two-location Indiana collision repair business supports the Make-A-Wish Foundation, National Military Recognition month, the National Auto Body Council’s Recycled Rides initiative, and Skills USA. CARSTAR Liss even spends an entire day driving to Chicago to hand out warm clothes, blankets, scarves, mittens, hats and $5 food gift cards to the homeless. Charlotte Liss, marketing manager and owner, took over the marketing of the shop seven years ago. Since then, Liss has helped the shop raise over $150,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation during its annual golf outing that led to the shop being inducted into the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s Chris Grecius Society of Hope in 2015. Liss says that giving back has always been a part of the family-owned Liss body shop, but when she joined her husband, a third-generation owner, in running the business, the shop’s charitable efforts kicked into overdrive.
You came into an established business that was already involved in the community. What did you do to establish yourself and increase charitable donations?
When I came aboard, Liss was already involved in Make-A-Wish. There was an annual golf outing, which was in year three when I joined. Where it stood when I came aboard, it was a break-even thing and there wasn’t a lot of money actually going to the foundation. I came aboard and I was competitive. However, I had never done a golf outing in my life so I was nervous about that. I just thought, “I’m going to do the best I can with this.” The first year I was involved, we raised $6,000. I was just getting my feet wet. The year after, I decided we were going to do corporate sponsors. That next year, we were able to raise $8,000 and the third year I was involved, we raised $16,000. Now, we average $25,000 a year.
How were you able to grow the event?
I just kept telling myself bigger is better. I have not raised the fees or sponsorship amount since I started. We just keep picking people up. We try and do a good job promoting after the event. We spread the word about the people that have helped make this happen and this is what the companies that sponsored did. During the event, we invite the families of the Make-A-Wish recipient to come to a dinner. They can talk about their experience if they want, but they do not have to. It’s really powerful. We try to pick up kids from different communities every year. It’s always an amazing event. I’ve found that once I can get a company onboard, they stay with us. It’s impossible to attend the event and not want to help more.
How does the event benefit Make-A-Wish?
The money that we raise for the scramble golf outing and dinner that we hold goes right back to the foundation. Typically, each wish is about $8,000. We commit to the foundation that we will grant two wishes, but we’ve typically been able to grant three. By the time we’ve had our golf outing in August, the wish has already been granted. The recipients are invited to come and share their experiences. We share photos and they talk about their experience. We had one girl that’s a young adult now and when she was 17, we granted her wish to go to Hawaii. We keep in touch still and it’s been amazing.
I know the golf outing is your big event, but how else does CARSTAR Liss give back?
We do a scholarship through Crown Point Community Foundation. The scholarship is offered to a local resident for $1,000 to further their education. We also make an effort to support the local school and sports teams. We have done sponsorships in the past, but lately we’ve been doing one time contributions. We also do a drive for the homeless where we collect $5 gift cards from local businesses and go to downtown Chicago and hand out stuff that will make them feel comfortable. This last year, our agents donated $200 in gift cards for this. The community acknowledges the need for stuff like this and helps out.
What advice would you give to a shop owner that’s looking to get involved?
Jump in when and where you can. If you can’t afford to sponsor a team, give $50. That would make a difference. You know what you’re capable of. I don’t believe for one minute that people cannot give $50 or $100. Most people spend that on one dinner. Try it out—you’ll like it. You’ll get that warm fuzzy feeling.
Have you seen benefits for your business as a part of your charitable contributions?
Obviously that’s not our motive but there’s always a return on investment. Not to get churchy, but it always comes back tenfold. We’ve had customers come back based on our events alone. Givers gain—it’s a true statement. We have fixed cars for families of the Make-A-Wish recipients. They drive a distance just to come to our shop. It’s such an amazing thing that happens. Someone comes with a wrecked car and they want us to fix it because we believe so adamantly in philanthropy. A shop that believes in philanthropy must be run by a loving, caring person with integrity. Why wouldn’t you want your car fixed by that type of person?