Goodwill, Good Business
It’s not that John Gagliano didn’t have an answer to the question. It just seemed so obvious to him that he was surprised to even have to explain it.
Why does your shop do it?
It has become Gagliano’s passion—Wheels of Hope, a car donation program he started through his 15-shop Collex Collision Centers franchise.
Gagliano and his now 300-some employees have been so involved in their communities over the years that the tangible benefits of such work seemed self-explanatory to him.
“When we check out, we take nothing with us from life,” Gagliano says. “We come in with nothing, and we leave with nothing. So, the key is: What are we going to do while we’re here? We all have our mission, our calling. So, what are you going to do with that resource and how will you use it?”
FenderBender spoke to five shop owners who have significant, yet different, answers to that question. Each is deeply involved in their respective communities, something that not only allows them to show their appreciation to customers, but also helps their shops improve their brand, provide better customer service and, ultimately, run stronger businesses.
John Gagliano, Collex Collision Centers
John Gagliano employs more than 300 full-time employees at his 15 Collex Collision Center locations in Michigan and Florida. More than 35,000 customers will go through Gagliano’s shops in 2012.
Since we opened, we always were involved in the community any way we could—donating money, time, taking part in fundraisers. And one day we had this situation where we knew of someone who really needed a vehicle. They were struggling. They were someone that, if they had a car, it would open up so many things in their lives. We were able to help.
It was just that simple, and then our staff, our people, just saw that and got really involved. They loved it, and it just took off from there.
The response has been pretty amazing. We officially established Wheels of Hope as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit around 2001 or 2002, because we were getting all these donations and people offering to help. We have an insurance company that has now agreed to donate totaled vehicles. AAA donates roadside assistance to the recipients. It’s amazing.
Officially, we’ve done 35 cars as an organization. The goal now with 15 shops is for each shop to do one vehicle each year.
We look for individuals who are single parents and trying to get through life and trying to improve their job or education and could use that hand up. It’s a whole thorough process to make sure we are giving the cars to the right people, the people who need them.
For the right individuals, [donated] cars can make all the difference.
And our staff is so into this—they all donate their time and effort to make this possible—and it translates into their work, their customer service.
We have one employee, Monica Langlois at our Clinton Township, Mich., location, who has collected cans and bottles from all our employees at all our shops to raise money. She’ll leave on Fridays with her car full of bags. She does this on her own, and raises thousands every month. With the money, we’re able to provide insurance and fuel cards to the people we give vehicles to.
People recognize these things, and customers appreciate it. While it’s not the reason we do it, and there’s no way to show it, it does affect business. People know this is what we’re about, and it makes a difference in them choosing us over competitors.
That’s the whole point—making a difference. There’s nothing better than seeing someone get their car back looking good as new. It’s why we’re here.
— As told to Bryce Evans
Frank Butori, Butori Collision Center
Frank Butori opened Butori Collision Center in Butte, Mont., which is where he was born and raised. His business does $1.2 million in annual sales out of a 6,000-square-foot shop.
I grew up poor. My mom and dad had five of us kids. We never had any money, and I always had to wear hand-me-downs.
I swore that when I grew up, I would never be poor. I wasn’t going to have my kids wear hand-me-downs.
I run my business with a similar mindset. I provide for my family, and I also provide for my community. I help out where I can, giving my time, my money and my support.
As a community provider, our shop does a lot. We sponsor a few bowling events. I’m not a big bowler, but my son is. We sponsor the Junior Gold bowling tournament, a youth bowling event. We also sponsor the annual bowling tournament at the Star Lanes Family Sports Center.
We sponsor an annual golf tournament hosted by the Butte Emergency Food Bank. I spend $250 on the sponsorship and play golf. They raise a bunch of money so they can give out Thanksgiving baskets to people who otherwise couldn’t afford a Thanksgiving dinner.
At Christmastime, we pick an unfortunate family who can’t afford to buy gifts for the holiday. We do that through the Butte 4-C’s, a local childcare nonprofit. The nonprofit chooses the family, and we buy Christmas dinner and gifts for them.
We also help the elderly during Christmas. We go to Walmart each year, which has a partnership with local nursing homes. Every year, they put up a tree with names of elderly people at nursing homes who want gifts. You pull the names off the tree and buy gifts at Walmart for people.
We do lots of other things. For example, we donate about $2,000 to the local private high school and elementary schools. We know they’re very appreciative of that. I buy raffle tickets for fire department fundraisers, and I donate to local youth sports teams who stop by the shop and need money for uniforms.
In total, we probably donate about $25,000 per year in cash to various events and groups. It all comes back, though.
Plus, I figure, who’s going to help me out if I don’t help my people? I live in Butte, I buy in Butte, and I give in Butte.
I’m happy to do this for my community.
— As told to Britt Johnsen
Gary Boesel, Alpine CARSTAR, Jordan Road CARSTAR
Gary Boesel has run collision shops for more than 20 years. He owns two CARSTAR stores: Alpine CARSTAR in Aurora, Colo., and Jordan Road CARSTAR in Centennial, Colo. Between the two stores, he employs 46 people and brings in $7.5 million per year in sales.
I see myself not only as a business owner, but also as a caregiver of mankind.
See, we’ve been very fortunate to have a profitable business. An important part of running a financially successful business is giving back. And then, as we’ve become more financially successful, we can give back more time and money.
It’s important to me to have compassion for others, and to step up for people who sometimes through no fault of their own are put in a tough situation. Maybe they’re homeless or they don’t have enough money to put food on the table. Our company, CARSTAR, has emphasized community involvement for some time. But I have a passion for helping others who are less fortunate.
For example, we have a military month at CARSTAR where we are encouraged to honor veterans and those on active military duty. Then we realized this is something we personally wanted to do on an ongoing basis. So every month, about five or six of us at the shop visit the local veterans hospital. We bring lunch to patients, visit on the holidays, and bring them movies and books. We even recently purchased $800 of yoga mats and equipment so they can get some exercise. They appreciate the visits because, sadly, many patients at the hospital don’t have family members who visit. It’s really rewarding for us to spend time with them.
We don’t allocate a certain dollar amount for community giving each year, although we probably spend at least $20,000 per year. Still, we feel like the amount we give is a moving target because there’s always another need. As long as we have a healthy profit margin, we’re comfortable giving what we can.
For example, we had significant wildfires in Colorado this summer. That was an unforeseen hardship. We donated to families and people who lost homes, as well as to the first responders.
There’s no question that people like to do business with companies that are engaged in their community and support their community.
It’s a way of helping my fellow man, and a way of succeeding as a business owner in the community.
— As told to Britt Johnsen
Vartan Jerian, H&V Collision Centers
Vartan Jerian owns H&V Collision Centers, a four-location company headquartered in Troy, N.Y. that does $14 million in sales each year.
My purpose is to grow my business. It’s no secret that that’s my vision.
And at the same time, we have to do the right thing and make sure that our customers are happy, and that our insurance partners are happy. The company has been around for 40 years, and between the locations we have 24 DRPs. They are a key part of our business. Another big part of our success and evolution is our employees. It’s important that everyone stays happy.
That’s where charity giving comes in. Doing good for others—whether customers, employees or DRPs—ensures that goodwill comes back to you.
For example, last year we teamed up with GEICO and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany [in N.Y.]. The story chokes me up a little. I was at home one day reading the paper, and I noticed a story about a little boy close to my son’s age. The boy had a blood-borne infection and wound up losing his limbs. He was restricted to using the wheelchair all the time.
It touched me. I wanted to help in some way, to make a difference in this little boy’s life.
I felt so strongly about his story that I told my assistant we needed to do something. We ended up retrofitting a van for wheelchair transport and gave it to the family. We thought the boy’s parents could use the van, especially for doctor visits.
We do other charity giving, such as making donations to the Humane Society and other community groups. We have customers donate toys to the Toys for Tots program. We also sponsor baseball teams in the communities we serve.
But out of all the things we do, this boy’s story hit home for all of us at the shop. It felt really good to help the family.
As a shop, we have to be profitable, but there’s more to business than just that. To me, it’s easy to see that when you make others feel good, what you get in return is feeling good. When you help others, it comes back to you 10-fold.
That way, everyone’s happy.
— As told to Britt Johnsen
Jay Urato, Windham Coach and Carriage
It’s been 17 years since Jay Urato opened Windham Coach and Carriage in sleepy Brattleboro, Vt. Urato’s 2,000-square-foot shop has been voted “best of the best” in his area for the past 12 years and was named one of the top-75 shops in New England by Best Businesses of America.
Brattleboro is a small town. We see our customers walking down the street. Everybody knows everybody. So when they see my wife and me, they know we’re from the shop.
Everything we do is going to affect our business.
That’s not why we do it, but we’re both very involved in our town, and our customers see that every time we’re out doing anything.
From the time our kids were in preschool, my wife and I coached their baseball teams and softball teams. My wife still works with the high school and middle school softball teams. We were really involved with their marching band through high school. Donating, helping out at events, we were always around.
Our kids aren’t at the high school anymore—our daughter graduated college a couple years ago, and our son is a junior in college right now—but I’m still on the school board and the board for the Windham Regional Career Center.
Education is something we’ve always been passionate about, and even without our kids in those schools, we think it’s important to be involved.
We donate our time and money as well, whenever we can. My wife does all the bookkeeping, so when we get requests, she puts it all in a pile. Then, whenever we have the money to give, she goes through the pile and helps out.
It doesn’t have much to do with our business—we’re making these donations because we want to, because we want to help out our community. Still, those checks come in saying “Windham Coach and Carriage” on them. It shows the community in a positive way that Windham Coach and Carriage is involved. It’s about having your face out there all the time, and it shows that you’re getting involved and you want to be part of the community.
That’s who people want to do business with. It’s what will separate you from everyone else. People want to do business with the people they know and trust.
There are a lot of things you can do to get more money out of customers, but I want to sleep at night. I want to be able to look my customers in the eye if I see them out on the street, instead of turning my head to hide.
— As told to Bryce Evans