Getting into an automobile accident is a stressful situation.
From the point of impact through the police reports and insurance claims to the costly vehicle repairs, an accident is emotional and time-consuming, and something we all want to avoid.
But if a mishap occurs, DeForest Collision Repair, Inc., 416 N. Main St., is there to execute the reconstruction of your vehicle with exacting standards.
Established in 1968, DeForest Collision Repair is a full service auto body and mechanical shop.
“When a car has been in an accident, it usually requires body repairs and mechanical repairs,” owner Todd Morris, said. “We take care of everything your car needs under our roof so we can control the quality of the repair and how long it takes to do it.”
His shop handles unibody and frame straightening, tire work and wheel alignment, complete mechanical services and engine work, brake service, auto body repair and lifetime guaranteed painting. The shop is a direct repair shop for major insurance companies and honors all insurance estimates. Free estimates and free loaner vehicles are available.
Building the business
DeForest Collision Repair, formerly known as DeForest Auto Body, was originally built by Jerry Bowen, Belvidere, Ill. Bowen had sold his auto repair shop in Illinois and chose to rebuild his business in DeForest, a location halfway between he and his wife’s families.
While Bowen worked on autos in his shop, his wife operated a yarn shop and did paperwork in the front office.
In 1974, Bowen built a shop in Arkansas and sold his business in DeForest. But just before he was ready to move to Arkansas, the deal fell through in Arkansas, so he stayed in DeForest and ran DeForest Auto Body for the new owner.
“I ran it like my own,” Bowen said.
Bowen’s business grew until he had six employees, three of whom still work there today: Steve Johnson, Jeff Minick and Dave Stiemke, all master technicians. He added onto the shop five times, including more office space, a mechanical shop and a storage shed.
“I had a very good business and got to know a lot of people,” Bowen, who turns 84 in March, said.
In the late 1990s, Bowen was ready to retire.
Meanwhile, Todd Morris was working for Utzig Auto Body in Janesville. Owner Al Utzig was friends with Bowen. In a conversation one day, Bowen asked Utzig if he knew anybody who’d be interested in taking over his shop. Utzig thought of Morris, a master technician and collision consultant who had worked at his shop for 17 years.
“How would you like to own your own business?” Utzig asked Morris.
Morris discussed it with his wife, Bridget, and together they purchased DeForest Auto Body in 1997 and renamed it DeForest Collision Repair.
“Bowen had worked hard and had a respectable reputation in the industry,” Morris said.
The two worked together for a couple of weeks to make a smooth transition, and still remain friends today.
The Morrises put a lot of hours and effort into their new business. A young family, now with six children, they often brought their kids to work with them. The children played and slept safely in the office with Bridget while she worked with customers, wrote repair estimates and managed the paperwork.
As the couple’s children grew older, Bridget slowly pulled away from the daily data entry and secretarial type of work. She has become much more behind-the-scenes and deals with the business details.
The Morris children are now between the ages of eight and 28 years old.
And 15 years later, DeForest Collision Repair does nearly double the business and has grown to nine employees.
Customers come to DeForest Collision Repair from DeForest, Columbus, Morrisonville, Waunakee, Sun Prairie, Dane, Poynette and beyond.
According to Morris, his shop stands out from the competition because of his staff.
“My production employees have 134 combined years of experience,” Morris said. “And, my overall staff has 218 combined years in the auto body industry. They’ve worked here a long time and are experts at what they do.”
Morris considers his staff to be above average.
“They are masters of their trade,” he said. “There is nothing they can’t fix.”
Bridget whole-heartedly agrees, adding that their talented technicians truly care about the work they do.
The Morrises are easy-going employers who believe in running a family-oriented business. They allow flexible hours so employees can go to their kids’ school activities. Todd actually leaves early himself a few times a week to coach his son’s wrestling team in Columbus for the Whole Body Strong Wrestling Club.
General Manager Richard Briggs, a DeForest native, has worked in the auto body industry for 22 years, the past 12 at DeForest Collision Repair. He is the primary contact for all customer interactions and handles all the paperwork with the insurance companies.
“I like working with our customers,” Briggs said. “It’s important to let them know we will take good care of them and their vehicle. I also try to help them understand what it will take to properly repair damage done to their vehicle.”
The DeForest Collision Repair team aims for an average repair time of three days per vehicle. They work on an average of 25 to 28 cars per week.
An evolving industry
“Cars have gotten more complicated over the years,” Morris said. “We spend more time up front communicating with the vehicle’s computer to recognize a problem.”
Manufacturing techniques are constantly changing, too. The technicians must depend on instructions from manufacturers to best determine where and how to make many repairs.
Continuing education is important and necessary to keep up with new and changing procedures.
“Learning is ongoing,” Morris said. “We do a lot of research on the Internet and a lot of reading of manufacturing manuals.”
Doing the job right is critical, especially when repairing airbag-equipped cars.
“The deployment of an airbag depends on timing, and if the timing is off by even 1/100 of a second, it can cost you your life,” Morris explained.
It’s no accident that Morris and his technicians are perfectionists.
“I wouldn’t do anything to your vehicle that I wouldn’t do to my own vehicle and then put my wife and six kids in it,” Morris said.
Morris and his staff take their jobs seriously.
The shop features heavy-duty frame machines and Wolf computerized digital frame and unibody measuring systems. The equipment ensures precise measurements down to a millimeter and makes sure vehicles are perfectly level for exacting reconstructions.
All painting is done in a state-of-the-art, downdraft spray booth.
“We make all of our paint colors from scratch using European preparation procedures developed by Mercedes Benz,” Morris, who uses all primer, paint and finishing products from the same company to ensure consistency and quality, said.
He offers exact color matches and a written lifetime warranty on all jobs involving paintwork.
“No chipping, fading or peeling as long as you own the vehicle,” Morris explained.
Customer Jerry Newman came to DeForest Collision Repair after hitting a deer with his car a couple of years ago. The left front fender, door and hood were damaged, requiring new parts and painting.
“They did excellent work,” Newman said. “I would absolutely recommend them.”
Newman has since returned to the shop with his truck after branches fell on it in a windstorm.
“They fixed it right up,” he said.
Even original owner Jerry Bowen still comes to his old shop for auto repairs. After being hit on the interstate a few years back, he took his car in for repairs. When it was finished, he couldn’t tell where it had been damaged during the accident.
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