Most of the local collision industry reflects the Gulf Coast’s slow recovery. However, some determined shop owners are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Denny Schenck, owner of Car Craft in Chalmette, Louisiana, is on the right track.
Autobody News visited Car Craft in December 2005 – December 29 to be exact, five months to the day since hurricane Katrina. I had been in the region since October, working on a catastrophe team – a daily mind-numbing experience observing the devastation and its consequences.
In the Saint Bernard Parish of New Orleans – one of the hardest hit neighborhoods, I found Car Craft. The doors were open at Car Craft and the floor was clean – a good sign. There still were not many open doors on the entire Gulf Coast.
Schenck spent the afternoon showing me the neighborhood and his own facilities. Schenck and wife, Cindy, have been in business in Chalmette for all 38 years of their married life. Car Craft had a booming collision repair shop, separate mechanical shop truck shop and a towing company with over 50 employees on August 28, 2005. By December 29, 2005, Car Craft had seven employees – all living in FEMA trailers behind the body shop.
Fast forward to the present
Today Car Craft is fully operational in Chalmette – both collision and mechanical shops. The truck shop has not been reopened. While Schenck was struggling to provide normalcy for his customers and employees in Chalmette, he had his eye on building a shop in Covington, Louisiana. Keeping his eye on the future – and learning from the past – have brought about the future of Car Craft. The brand new ground up Car Craft facility will open its doors in April and the original Car Craft in Chalmette is going to stay open.
“Business is better in Chalmette,” said Car Craft Office Manager Cheri Newbury. “Car Craft’s reputation is doing its share to push growth forward. Customers are coming to Car Craft from outside the area, where as before the Hurricane customers came from nearby neighborhoods. Newbury reiterates that growth in the region is slow. “Some nicer neighborhoods are beautiful – like nothing has happened, but once you venture outside these neighborhoods, it is not so good.”
Twenty-two employees keep the body shop, mechanical shop and tow trucks operating at Chalmette Car Craft. Schenck and crew repaired all the equipment after the Hurricane and almost everything has held up keeping this production shop full.
“We are still using the compressor that was ripped away from the shop and turned upside down,” laughed Schenck, “The only thing we have had to replace is the motor for our Euro Vac System.” Even the brand new Pro Spot Welder survived Katrina. This well-equipped shop is moving about 200 cars through the mechanical and body shop every month.
Planning for the future
Schenck has been focusing on the new shop for the past year-and-a-half. “I did my homework before appearing in front of the Covington city council to be accepted into the community. “I think the city is very happy to have us there.”
This is a dream come true for this industry veteran. “Building a brand new facility is letting me do things I could never do in my original shop.” He has designed the operation himself and is managing the ground up construction from start to finish. The foundation is poured and the “tin” is going on the outside of the building this week.
This 23,000-square-foot facility will have two state-of-the-art downdraft paint booths. Car-O-Liner and Kar Grabber will have a place in the new shop as well. Enterprise Rent-A-Car will also have an office at this location.
Schenck has a long-standing relationship with DuPont and will continue to use their products in all his locations. At one time, in the past, Schenck painted a young Jeff Gordon’s NASCAR race car at his Chalmette shop.
Covington promises to be a great location for the new Car Craft. This is an upscale, beautiful horse community on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain – the opposite side of the lake from Chalmette. Covington is in the Saint Tammany Parish, the largest parish in Louisiana. The Covington population is growing fast – providing a safer home for many from New Orleans. With housing more available here, the Covington location will attract more employees. It still is not easy to find housing in the Saint Bernard Parish.
In January 2006, I wrote: “The world is watching America's Gulf Coast. The collision industry is watching Car Craft, Denny Schenck, his family and employees. They have grabbed a hold of the cards that were dealt and are throwing a new hand. There is no doubt about it. They are doing okay.”
And they really are doing okay. Employees that have stayed with Car Craft are in homes and still have good jobs. Employees are enthusiastic about their future at Car Craft and the region. Schenck is involved with the rebuilding of Saint Bernard Parish – his lifelong home. When asked about the future you can hear him smile: “ We are sitting really good. Everybody has a paycheck and a place to live.”
Janet Chaney has been in many facets of the collision industry. She is serving the best interest of her clients through Cave Creek Business Development. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.