The July 2021 edition of South Sound Business is the Legacy Business Issue. Here is the first in a series of features about local businesses steered by second-, third-, or fourth-generation leaders.
When the first iteration of Puyallup-based auto body shop Cornforth-Campbell CARSTAR (CCC) opened in 1938, it was a gas station manned by just three employees — a size and model that wouldn’t stick. Soon, the Harold O. Wilen-founded business was operating as a Buick/Pontiac/GMC dealership and body shop and stayed that way for several years. Decades later, the company abandoned its car-dealership offerings and became the CCC recognized by customers today.
“(CCC) is probably one of the few businesses that dropped the dealership and became just a body shop — usually, it’s the other way around,” current co-owner Kurt Johnson said.
Today, this South Sound business has 40 employees across its two locations — the second of which opened on the company’s 80-year anniversary just a few minutes down the road from its tentpole location — and puts an emphasis on helping local dealerships with their collision-repair needs, in addition to those of community members.
In the course of its near-century history, CCC has survived the World War II stipulation that car sales be limited to used vehicles, the energy crisis of 1973-74, a rebranding, and changing ownership. (In 1994, the long-standing H.O. Wilen Motors moniker became Cornforth- Campbell Motors following Wilen’s death; then, in 2010, Cornforth-Campbell Motors joined the CARSTAR franchise.)
Johnson, who became a partner in 2011 and now co-owns the business with his wife, Kathy, attributes the company’s attentiveness to customer needs as a principal factor in its long-term success.
“What differentiates Cornforth-Campbell CARSTAR from its peers is our customer service and willingness to go above and beyond for all our customers,” Johnson, who succeeds previous owners David Cornforth and David Campbell, said. “Our company’s slogan is, ‘Relax, we’ll take it from here,’ and we take this phrase to heart.”
Fostering connections with other businesses in the community is also key: CCC has, for instance, a partnership with the nearby Enterprise Rent-a-Car to ensure customers still can travel while their car is worked on.
“We have strong relationships and try to stay involved with other local businesses in Puyallup,” Johnson said.
Although this staple business doesn’t have any plans to change its model anytime soon, one ambition remains: to maintain the level of care and attention to detail it has become appreciated for since moving into its primary location in 1942.
“It is our goal to make every customer’s experience be as trouble-free and simple as possible,” Johnson said. “As soon as a customer steps through the doors, they are instantly greeted by a welcoming smile and a willingness to help.”