By Peter Saunders
Carstar North America president Michael Macaluso, who is entering his 10th year with the collision repair franchise system, recently consolidated all of its research and development (R&D) programs into one location in Kanata, Ont. Going forward, the system’s only corporate-owned store will pilot-test new repair processes and service offerings for the chain’s approximately 550 locations across the continent.
“It’s a state-of-the-art 8,000-square-foot facility that was constructed in late 2015 and we shifted our R&D centre there in August,” he explains. “The industry is rapidly changing because cars require more technologically complex repairs. We constantly invest in testing new equipment and this is where we’ll ‘walk the walk’ before rolling it out across the network.”
As the previous R&D facility was in Stilwell, Kansas, the move can also be seen as reinforcing the importance of the Canadian market. And indeed, Macaluso continues to run the growing system from his offices in Hamilton.
A broader territory
Macaluso originally joined Carstar Canada, the national master franchisor for the brand, in 2008. After he rose through sales and operations, he took charge as chief operating officer (COO) and president at the Canadian level.
In 2015, Roark Capital Group—known for the Driven Brands family of automotive franchise systems, including Maaco and Meineke Car Care Centres—purchased the U.S. and Canadian Carstar businesses. Macaluso was put in charge of the combined portfolio in early 2016.
“Now I oversee both Canada and the U.S. from Driven Brands’ Canadian head office in Hamilton,” he explains.
Sister system Pro Oil Change is also headquartered in the same facilities and led by Macaluso.
“Joining Driven Brands has opened the door to many new tools, technologies and opportunities,” he says. “We benefit from sharing best practices from both sides of the border.”
As far as the Canadian market goes, while Hamilton is Carstar’s biggest market on a per-capita basis with 10 locations, Calgary is the largest overall with 19.
“We’ve opened several locations across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), but that market has been more difficult for us to grow in, as there’s so much competition there,” Macaluso says.
In the past, Carstar has been best-known as a business-to-business (B2B) franchise system, having formed and fostered partnerships with insurance companies across Canada, such that its name is recommended confidently after an accident happens.
“We’re still predominantly in the B2B space, but we’re also building out our consumer brand now, so the public is starting to hear about us more,” says Macaluso. “People are only in an accident about once every seven years, on average, and we want to be in contact with them more frequently than that, with services like cosmetic repairs and glass replacement, for when customers just want to freshen up their car’s look. They’re just looking for easy, consistent service and we’re well-positioned to provide it.”
By way of example, he points to the system’s mobile app, which helps customers save time when getting repairs done to their vehicles.
“In these ways, our brand is already very strong, but I would say it’s bigger than our business actually is,” he says. “We have a way to go yet.”