From Claims Adjuster to Shop Manager

Nov. 1, 2017

How Brian Hartwig’s need for an estimator led him to Josh Hall, his now shop manager who came from the insurance side of the fence.

Josh Hall, shop manager of Brian’s Collision Clinic of State Center, Iowa, received a typical call from an insurer informing him that one of his estimates—a rather large estimate, actually—was approved. And Hall recalls the woman saying something rather surprising:

“This is the exact [estimate] I would write if I was in your shoes.”

While that sentence isn’t heard all that often during insurer-shop negotiations, once the lady found out why his estimate was written to a T, she laughed and responded, “That makes perfect sense.”

The reason? Hall is a former claims adjuster for Progressive. So, he knew how to shoot the right photos, use the right “insurance language” and put the appropriate notations on file to justify the estimate he wrote. Thanks to that training, it’s only natural that his estimates are accurate almost every single time.

Brian Hartwig, owner of Brian’s Collision Clinic, was in desperate need for someone like Hall before hiring him, as Hartwig’s shop had a solid team of technicians, but no estimator to handle customers and navigate processes. And while Hartwig knew Hall’s approach would help fill the shop’s need for a talented estimator, he soon realized that he needed a lot more than an estimator—he needed a manager.

Hartwig immediately knew that Hall was the right fit for his business, but he had no idea that bringing Hall on board would nearly double its growth.

The Backstory

From paint and body tech to shop owner, Hartwig had little experience in anything else but technician work.

Opening his shop in October 2003 in a town of around 1,500 people, most of the techs he hired were fresh out of college and lacked experience since there were a lack of job opportunities in the area.

Training everyone from the ground up, he was able to create a strong team of techs. But when it came time to fill an open estimator position, he started encountering some difficulties.

The Problem

Finding the the right estimator for Hartwig’s shop proved difficult. He says that there was a lack of skill and candidates in his area, and if there were people that were qualified to do the job, they were already taken.

He needed someone who dedicated a high level of attention to detail, who could confidently sell, who could handle questions and concerns throughout the process, who had a good attitude overall.

Because Hartwig needed someone fast, he called the local college to ask about the graduating class from the trade school. An instructor said the school didn’t have anyone interested in estimating.

Hartwig made two attempts of promoting internally, but the first one didn’t work out and the second one was too skilled of a technician to keep up front.

As the shop grew busier, Hartwig realized he also didn’t have the time to train someone and look over their shoulder, let alone teach them all the technical basics, such as negotiating, submitting estimates and how to work with the shop’s systems.

After being weeks behind, working endless hours of overtime and receiving a little pressure from his wife, Hartwig needed someone with experience and knowledge to quickly excel in the position.

The Solution

Since there was a lack of talent in the area, Hartwig had a theory that the best option would be to recruit someone from the insurance world in order to obtain someone with the knowledge and experience needed for the position.

Not knowing if Hartwig could even afford someone of the caliber he was looking for, he began speaking with insurance adjusters in his area to get an idea.

Through those conversations, one of Hall’s co-workers brought the idea up in a team meeting at Progressive in January 2017, and Hall’s interest was peaked. Hall was the territory adjuster for the county that Hartwig was previously located in. Having worked with Hartwig before, he says that he knew Hartwig ran a great shop, especially since he was always far and away the highest performing shop over anyone else in the county, including the company’s network shop.

“I was pretty giddy,” Hartwig says. “I didn’t want to miss this opportunity because ... I was burned out.”  

As the two began discussing the position, they eventually reached the conclusion that Hartwig not only needed an estimator, but also a shop manager.

Starting in February 2017, Hall became Hartwig’s shop manager and was able to come in and get going right away.

His responsibilities include running the front of the house, writing and closing estimates, managing parts, some billing and more. Hall says that he takes his years of training and certification through his previous position and uses it to his advantage for inspecting damage.

“I understand [insurers’] expectations as far as how to get to certain numbers when it comes to repair time negotiations,” he says.

A big rule of thumb that he had to live by in his past work experience was, “You need to be able to show your supervisor why you chose to pay out what you did.” With that in mind, Hall says his approach to writing estimates isn’t bare minimum but, rather, what the insurance company needs from the shop to maximize each estimate.

If he needs to take three extra pictures or use a paint pen to show additional damages, he’ll do it to effectively explain the story of the accident.

“The training and the experience that I have on the insurance side I think really makes my estimates more bulletproof,” Hall says.

The Aftermath

Hartwig is now able to take care of the business and be what he calls a “floater.” He’s able to go around his shop and do what is needed. He can answer questions and boost team morale versus having to be strictly up front.

“Before, I was actually more of an employee, I guess, of my own business,” Hartwig says. “Now I’m actually an owner.”

In March 2017, since Hall’s arrival, gross profit went up by 46 percent compared to the previous year.

Hartwig also says that Hall’s ability to close sales is very beneficial to the business, and that his customer service skills are beyond helpful.

He says that since Hall worked as a field adjuster for some time, he has the negotiation skills and ability to deal with problematic customers effectively and provide answers to any of their questions or needs.

Hall also came in and handled organization, using weekly and monthly calendars and getting more tech savvy as far as notes and documentation. Prior to his arrival, most of the shop’s communication was verbal, whereas now everything is thought out and trackable.

But, most importantly, now there’s enough coverage in the shop where if someone is out sick, Hartwig is not in a panic. With Hall available, Hartwig can jump in where needed and it doesn’t stall anything in the process.

The Takeaway

For Hall, the impact has been much greater than he anticipated. It has been so refreshing to come out of the corporate environment, he says. A big benefit for him is knowing emotionally that, every day, he gives back to his employees.

“I’ve just been amazed at how much I’ve enjoyed it,” Hall says. “I’m contributing to a team that is directly affected by what I do every day and that’s something that can’t be understated.”  

SHOP STATS: BRIAN'S COLLISION CLINIC  Location: STATE CENTER, IOWA Operator: Brian Hartwig  Average Monthly Car Count: 35  Staff Size: 5  Shop Size: 5,700 sq ft; Annual Revenue;$950,000  

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