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Culture, family atmosphere fuel success at Herb’s Paint & Body

Saturday, July 1, 2017 - 07:00
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When body shops expand to become multi-shop operators, they often struggle to maintain their identity – both in the way they approach repairs, and how they manage their people. At Herb’s Paint & Body, an MSO in the Dallas area, treating customers and staff like family has remained a tradition even as the company has grown – and that has helped the business thrive, despite heavy competition.

Herb's Paint & Body headquarters in Richardson, Texas

Herb Walne entered the auto service business via a Humble Oil service station in northeast Dallas in 1956 using money he borrowed from his relatives. He added a mechanical shop and drive-through car wash to the service station, followed by a full-service paint and body shop.

At a Glance:
Herb's Paint & Body
Richardson, Texas
No. of locations
States served
No. of employees
Paint supplier

When he passed away in 1986, his son Alan took over the company. By then, Herb’s had three locations. Now, a third-generation of the Walne family – Alan’s son Robert – has taken over as president and COO, while Alan has shifted to chairman of the business. Herb’s has now grown to eight locations and more than 200 employees.

“When Herb passed away, my dad was in his mid-30s and his life changed drastically,” says Robert Walne. “He had to figure out what to do next and where the company would go.”

Where the company wound up going was north, adding new locations every three or four years and following the population spread of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. All are full-service shops with the exception of the facility near the Dallas Love Field airport, which is a satellite site that is used for drop offs and estimates. “We transport the vehicles to other locations to get fixed from there,” Walne says. “It’s a convenience location for that area of town.”

Herb’s was one of the first companies in the Dallas area to shoot waterborne paint, and now has two shops certified to work on aluminum vehicles. The company opened its last new location in 2014, and is actively looking for another.

“A lot of what we are looking for in a new location is market driven,” Walne says. “The population growth forecast, where companies are moving, incomes, number of vehicles per household, etc. If we identify a market that’s a good opportunity, then we look and see what type of competition is there.”

All of Herb’s locations have been greenfield builds, with the exception of one shop that was developed in a former gymnastics facility. “We’re not opposed to acquisition, but we really haven’t done that up to this point,” Walne says. “If there was an opportunity and other factors like zoning or competition played a role, we might look at buying a shop.”

Herb’s previously had a co-marketing agreement with another chain of shops in the Fort Worth area, and had avoided expanding west into that market. However, that company was purchased by Caliber, so it’s possible Herb’s could move west as well.

When a new location does open, the company has shifted experienced general managers to the new site while training technicians on Herb’s repair processes and culture at existing stores. “We do management training for the next guys in line, so as we move people around we can fill those positions,” says Alan Kirkpatrick, executive vice president of business development. “For the technicians, we hire people and put them in at our other locations so they can get a feel for the Herb’s way. Once the store opens, we have a full staff ready to go.”

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Focus on fixing cars

As the company grew, the Walnes saw a clear need to create a more formal management structure and has largely centralized most high-level management functions so that the general managers at the stores can stay focused on operations.

“Really, once we got to have four or five stores, there had to be certain infrastructure changes,” Walne says. The company created a corporate headquarters at its Richardson location. The central services there include accounting, human resources, IT, marketing, vendor and insurance relations. “We do everything in central service so the shops can just worry about fixing cars,” Walne says. “The stores are handling their day-to-day operations. Repair processes are standardized across the board, but each general manager does their own hiring.”

Herb’s also recently established a strategic leadership team (SLT) that will include IT, human resources, marketing/business development, accounting and operations executives. “The SLT is set up to help serve the general managers with those different aspects of the business,” Kirkpatrick says. “We’re just forming that team, and our goal is to serve each of the eight locations.”

The central office also includes a call center, and staff there can see the workload of each location and schedule customers accordingly based on location and capacity.

Family atmosphere, community involvement

The company has stayed heavily involved in Dallas, both at the shop level and at the corporate level. Herb’s hosts an annual golf tournament to raise funds for the Down Syndrome Guild of Dallas, and has held fundraisers for other groups and organizations.

“Over close to 20 years we’ve raised $1 million helping those organizations,” Kirkpatrick says. “We’re very tied to the community as well.”

Like his father, Alan Walne has been heavily involved in the Dallas community, serving in local boards and community organizations, as well as spearheading the company’s charity work.

Both Kirkpatrick and Walne say that Herb’s has strived to maintain its identity as a family-owned business. Herb Walne set the tone, treating his employees as an extension of his own family. That focus has continued over the years, even though the company has expanded.

“We really try to maintain that family atmosphere,” Walne says. “It’s a culture of compassion. We try to assist our employees and engage them as much as we can. That culture has been very important to us.”

Employee feedback is also important, and the company is open to any new best practices managers identify. “We’re focused on cycle time, and we are always looking for new ways to do things, to reduce stress or downtime,” Walne says. “Because of our size, we can be pretty nimble and adjust very quickly.”

The company monitors key performance indicators (KPIs) to try to spot problems or identify shops that may be improving performance on key metrics. Herb’s uses CCC for estimating and Mitchell shop management software. There are monthly meetings with the general managers to share ideas and get feedback.

According to Kirkpatrick, Herb’s is also creating channels for employee advancement. “That’s a priority for the new strategic leadership team,” Kirkpatrick says. “We’re refining that. We need a pipeline for growth, and we’ve identified several candidates who can lead our next location. We’ve taken people in for internships over the summer, and we now have one of those interns training with us and working with one of our lead technicians.

Staffing challenges

According to Walne, the economies of scale created by having multiple locations is the biggest benefit to being an MSO. “The power of two is greater than one,” Walne says. “Having multiple people in the room and getting more people to look at the same problem, having another set of eyes – that can be a great benefit. We think of it as a mini-20 Group every time we get together. We share what’s working and what’s not working.”

But there are also challenges to being a local MSO. Herb’s faces competition from two main sources, according to Kirkpatrick: larger consolidators and chains, as well as large dealerships that have added body shops to their service bays.

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