Occasionally a customer comes to Wicklund’s CARSTAR Collision Center in Liberty completely distraught.
“There is a lot of stress, going through an accident,” said Gerald Wicklund, owner of the center at 941 Sutton Place.
“We have people who are 67 who have never had an accident. All of a sudden, they are falling to pieces because they are in an accident.”
They want to know the cost of repairs and how long it will take. They also have to deal with insurance and possibly a rent-a-car company.
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Wicklund wants to put the customer at ease as quickly as possible. He invites the customer to sit in one of the three massage chairs that are in the lobby.
While the customer pushes several buttons on the chair to help relax, Wicklund begins to explain everything involved with getting the car repaired.
“We take care of the paperwork and negotiating with the insurance company,” Wicklund said.
Wicklund brought in the massage chairs a few years back. It is that kind of innovative thinking that has made Wicklund’s CARSTAR Collision Center a thriving business since it was started in 1970 by Wicklund’s father, Bill, and was simply called The Body Shop.
Forward thinking by Wicklund helped him earn national recognition in July. His collision center was the first in the Kansas City area to get aluminum repair certification. When the Ford F-150 came out earlier this year with an all-aluminum body, Wicklund knew it was important for his shop to know how to repair it in case of accident.
Wicklund’s CARSTAR gained aluminum certification in March. This was one of the reasons why BodyShop Business magazine selected Wicklund the 2015 single shop executive of the year on July 21.
Wicklund was humbled by the honor.
“Of course, when I think of awards like that, I think of my dad and parents receiving the award,” Wicklund said. “I don’t think of myself.”
Wicklund credits his family and staff for the award. Despite his dad’s retirement and Wicklund buying the business in 2012, three generations of Wicklunds still work at the collision center.
“I run the operation,” Wicklund said. “Rochelle, my mother, didn’t want to retire. My mom still likes the interaction and staying busy. She has been a great asset to the business helping me take care of some of the training classes and keeping my employees trained.
“My oldest son, Billy, runs the shop when I am not here. He also handles the production area. He supervises the employees who have hands on the car.”
His daughter, Kristin Wicklund helps out in the detail department and the youngest Wicklund, Jason, is an auto damage appraiser and estimator.
Wicklund added that Jason reads a lot of publications to keep the business on top of all the changes in the auto industry.
“We always tried to stay cutting edge,” Wicklund said. “The cars were changing faster than the industry was keeping up, so dad saw through the ’70s and early ’80s that we really needed to have right equipment to repair the cars correctly.”
And that led to another change. Bill Wicklund’s Body Shop became the first store to join CARSTAR in 1989. CARSTAR, which has over 400 stores in North America, is based in Leawood.
“He is, without question, a leader among our shop owners, and a leader in the collision repair industry, said David Byers, CEO of CARSTAR Auto Body Repair Experts, in a press release. “We are extremely proud to see such a well-deserving person honored with this recognition.”
By working with his dad at an early age, Wicklund was able to see the business grow and adapt to change in the auto industry. He started working for his dad at the age of 12.
“I was helping out in the shop, and dad thought it was time for me to earn my money,” Wicklund said. “I made $1 an hour. When I got that first check for $33, I had so much money I didn’t know what to do with it. I thought I was rich.”
Wicklund admits there was a time when he thought he was going to be a fulltime karate instructor. He is a sixth-degree black belt in three different styles of karate, including Okinawan weaponry.
“I realized the family business is more where I wanted to go,” Wicklund said. “It worked out well. I’m training the younger generation, and it will be their turn to continue the legacy.”
The key to the success of Wicklund’s CARSTAR Collision Center is making sure the cars are repaired the right way. Plenty of responsibilities come with that task.
“A lot of these cars have names, so you are taking care of their baby,” Wicklund said. “And they are not happy when they come in. A lot of times somebody else hit them. It is the first wreck they have had.
“We have this adage around here – ‘We will take it from here.’”
Plenty goes into fixing a car that has been wrecked. Hidden damage must be found. New parts are brought in and then comes the repairing. It takes time to do the job right.
It is a way of life for the Wicklunds.
“It pays the bills,” Rochelle said, “and it gives us access to a lot of good people, friends all over the United States and Canada.”
Rochelle is proud of the award her son won.
“I thought it was really neat,” Rochelle said. “I think he has worked hard for it and so has the whole family.”
The Wicklunds do more in the Liberty community than just repair cars.
“In 2004, dad said we are going give back,” Wicklund said. “We all chose a service club.”
Despite the success of the repair shop, Wicklund said he was still surprised when he learned he had won an award.
“I had people calling me and texting me congratulations,” he said. “It is a little bit overwhelming to receive such accolades from my peers. I even had a businessman in Liberty come up to me and said congratulations.
“I said, ‘Wow, this is a big deal.’ You think of hundreds of shops nationwide, and I was one of several hundred shops that were nominated. To receive the award, I really wasn’t expecting it. It is very nice to be recognized in this way.”