A 'White Christmas after all'

July 12, 2023
Jamie White, owner of four CARSTAR collision repair facilities in northeast Georgia, shares some disaster-recovery tips after his Dalton shop's sprinkler system froze on Christmas Eve.

All the stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there. But Jamie White, owner of four CARSTAR collision repair facilities in northeast Georgia, got a lump of coal instead.

On Christmas Eve, just as White was preparing to celebrate the holiday with his family, he got a call from the fire department that his sprinkler system had been activated at his CARSTAR South Thornton location. White sprang into action, donning his cap and heading to see what the clatter was all about.

Dalton, Georgia, was in the middle of an unseasonable deep freeze, and the pipes supplying White’s sprinkler system had burst, dumping a massive water flow of more than 6” in an hour throughout his lobby and office areas. The building, which was the original Ford dealership in Dalton, had a solid foundation, so damage was fortunately limited to the inside.

“I was in shock,” said White. “The fire department got there quickly and got the water turned off and I was right behind them. My family and our team members started showing up shortly after. We had my dad, our lead estimator, our administrator, and several others who heard about it on our small-town grapevine and came to help on Christmas Eve.”

The damage was unbelievable, White said. The ceiling, floors, furniture, office equipment and files were all ruined. White and his band of Christmas Eve elves did what they could to salvage items and mop up all the water. He reached out to his local insurance agent, who provided all the steps he needed to follow, and filed a claim on his garage keepers policy with Travelers.

“There was nothing else we could do but go home and focus on Christmas with our families,” he said. “I started putting a plan in place to get us up and working in the short term and renovate our building to be better than ever over the coming months.”

White was prepared for just such an accident, learning from his friend and fellow CARSTAR owner Tom Martin, who had a massive fire at one of his CARSTAR locations in Ohio several years ago.

“Tom’s experience taught me an important lesson – don’t ever think it won’t happen to you, because it can,” said White. “I made an effort to get organized, document everything and have a plan just in case we had a disaster. And when it did happen, we were as ready as we could be.”

White outlined several key steps in getting prepared for a flood, fire or other natural disaster – before it happens:

• Understand the value of your insurance coverage – know what is and isn’t covered and increase your policy to ensure you’re protected.

• Conduct an audit of all your equipment, furnishings and materials – record every serial number, purchase information, warranty details in a safe place

• Back up your technology regularly so you always have a digital record of your business, banking, tax information and customer files

• Conduct a cost analysis of your assets and what it will take to replace them – then create a fund to cover such emergencies

Once the water dried, White and his team went to work to get the business running again. Fortunately, there was no damage in the production areas, so they only had to focus on the office space.

“We relocated our parts department to our production area so we could keep repairs in process,” White said. “The production area isn’t heated, so our parts team put up with being chilly for a few months but never lost their focus on getting the job done. Then, we got a mobile shipping container that was outfitted as an office, and our customer service team, estimators and managers all piled in there. We went from about 5,000 square feet of space to about 300 square feet. It was cramped, but our staff was absolutely amazing and soldiered on to keep serving our customers.”

White noted that building back provided an opportunity to modernize the facility and make better use of the space. He opened up the waiting room to make it more spacious and relaxing for customers, added private cubicles where they could meet with estimators and discuss their repairs, created a training room for his team, and designed the offices and work stations for more efficient flow and communications.

Now, six months later, White is reopening his facility renovated and ready to serve his customers. He credits his local insurance agent and Travelers with helping him navigate the flood waters. He has had some time to reflect on the experience, and shared these tips for anyone facing the same situation:

• Keep your operation lean get rid of things you don’t need along the way

• Be patient and follow the process you can’t rush the steps you need to go through and you can’t let your frustration impact your team

• Enlist your family and friends in helping rebuild together they will be more vested in the outcome if they are part of the repair planning

• Don’t think it won’t happen to you  be prepared and have a plan in place when it does

So after the shock of the flood on Christmas Eve, White made it home for dinner and Santa arrived as scheduled for Christmas morning. It was a White Christmas after all.

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