We feature some of the best columnists in the industry including Toby Chess, Rich Evans, Tom Franklin, Mike Causey, Dale Delmege, Walter Danalevich and Lee Amaradio.
We have contributing writers from different regions of the country: Ed Attanasio, David Brown, Chasidy Sisk and Rachael Mercer.
We also have guest columistslike Richard Steffen of the CRA, and David McClune from CAA.
Collectively they represent a unique perspective with hundreds of person-years of experience. Let us know what you think, by posting responses to their columns.
To read Lee's columns prior to last January search "Amaradio" on this site from the home page
David M. Brown is a native of Philadelphia who has lived in Arizona for 30 years. He writes about subjects he is passionate about, including the car industry. A father of two, he is mentored by his border collie/pointer, Haylie, who is much more concerned with thrown tennis balls than with a beautifully repainted Aston Martin.View items...
Walter Danalevich, AAM, has owned Santa Barbara Auto Refinishing in Santa Barbara, California, since 1979. He enjoys sharing his shop management tips with other shop owners and would like to hear about yours. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
See also his shop website: www.sbautobody.comView items...
The "Insurance Insider" is a corporate-level executive with a Top 10 auto insurer in the U.S.. Although he needs to remain anonymous, he will answer questions emailed to him in future columns. Got a comment or question you’d like to see him address? Email him at Auto.Insurance.Insider@gmail.comView items...
Rich Evans is the owner of Huntington Beach Bodyworks and an award winning painter and fabricator. He offers workshops in repair and customization at his facility to share his unique talents. He also appears on a new show on Speed Channel, Car Warriors. See his Twitter (left) and Facebook (right) feeds for more on Rich's active projects.
For contacts and design samples visit www.huntingtonbeachbodyworks.com
Larry Williams is an innovative, award winning parts manager who has been managing profitable parts departments for over 30 years. He recognizes the importance of OEM parts management to collision repairers and now works as a consultant to the industry. He can be reached for consultation at email@example.com.View items...
Business Beat is a new column launching May 2012 in Autobody News. It will focus on investment activities in the automobile and collision industry and will feature guest columnists on a regular basis. Opinions herein are strictly those of the author. Autobody News accepts no responsibility for investment actions taken or not taken based on this column.View items...
David Luehr is the owner of Elite Body Shop Solutions, LLC a collision business consulting firm based in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a 30-year veteran of the collision repair industry and has served on several industry association boards across the USA as well as leadership positions with companies such as Manheim and ABRA. David is an expert in Body Shop Operations and specializes in Lean and Theory of Constraints methods. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
A few years back I attended a management-training seminar put on by Kepner-Tregoe, Inc., a prestigious management consulting company based in Princeton, New Jersey. The principal speaker noted that the company had completed a follow-up survey to find out how many companies had implemented the costly plan and procedures they had developed for those clients. Sadly, they found that only about 20 percent of their clients had put more than a few of their recommendations to work, and many had simply put the entire package on a shelf and forgotten about it. This tendency to put new projects on the shelf is common to many kinds of business, and the collision repair industry isn’t immune to it.
Many autobody industry publications have had articles on body shop marketing for years, often describing spectacular business gains made by specific shops using one marketing strategy or another. And yet I seldom see these strategies put into action by shop owners that I know read the publications. I can only conclude that there are too many things on a shop owner’s “to-do-list” to allow him or her to focus on a new marketing strategy. There are only 24 hours in a day, and even less than that in a typical workday. Finding the time to introduce what might be a complicated new marketing strategy can seem nearly impossible.
Back around the year 2000, I heard another speaker named Al Secunda who had an interesting new approach to getting a difficult project under way. He had written a book entitled The Fifteen Second Principle (Berkley Books, 1999). Simply put, he suggested committing to spending at least 15 seconds on the project every day. When he spoke I thought that 15 seconds seems like a ridiculously small amount of time. What can you do in 15 seconds? At the very least, he said, you will find out if you care enough about getting it done to spend a few seconds, or you will find out that you don’t even care that much. And if you do care, even a few seconds are enough to focus on at least one step you can take to further the project.
Once into a marketing project, you will often discover that there are previously unrecognized reasons why you didn’t want to take on the project. For one shop, the idea to put up some new signs ran squarely into a city’s legal prohibition for certain kinds of signs. This meant working around the prohibited ones to find those that would be acceptable. Another shop owner decided to begin a prior customer-calling program to dig up some return business or referrals. This project flew in the face of employee resistance to phone soliciting and required some re-training and even recruiting new personnel. With a new project there is always the possibility of running into what can seem to be insurmountable obstacles, but without taking a few moments to consider it, nothing will ever be done.
Probably the most frequent barrier to getting a new project under way will be the resistance of people needed to do the work. A manager at United Health Plan once said, “Unless the pain of not doing something is greater than the pain of doing it, most people will choose not to do it.” Of course that suggests punishing people for not taking action, an unwise approach to getting those projects under way. But in the real world of many body shops competing for limited repair jobs, failing to implement better marketing strategies can subject one to the real pain of a lost job. Probably a better motivational strategy is to give the people expected to do the work the current repair volume numbers versus the potential jobs that can come from the marketing initiative, but this can’t be done in 15 seconds. So what can?
Many body shops in the U.S. are enamored with Toyota’s lean production philosophy, based on kaisen, the concept of continuous improvements. When focusing on continuous marketing improvements, small incremental steps may be best.
Marketing genius Jay Abraham, in his invaluable book Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got writes, “It’s amazing how few companies ever test any aspect of their marketing and compare it to something else.” Abraham suggests experimenting and always testing a small sample before committing to a major marketing expenditure. Just devoting those few seconds every day to evaluating a marketing initiative could save a shop owner a lot of wasted money and perhaps zero in on one that really brings in the business!
A good example is calling prior customers to see if there might be more need for repairs now, or perhaps a referral to a friend or family member. So what’s to test? A wrongly worded phone call could annoy the prior customer and do more harm than good. But some carefully planned test calls could reveal what approach works best. And an astute shop owner might put this test together in just a few seconds. It’s worth a try.
Environmental concerns have become a major priority in the collision repair industry along with removal and reutilization of recyclable material. The Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA) is playing an increasing role in this movement.
Since it was established in 1943, ARA has been the only trade association representing the automotive recycling industry. It is dedicated to efficiently removing and reutilizing automotive parts as well as seeing to the safe disposal of inoperable motor vehicles. ARA has expanded to represent approximately 1250 companies through direct membership, plus over 3000 additional companies worldwide through their affiliated chapters in 43 states and 14 other countries.
A while back several new shops opened in my area. When I asked what they were doing about marketing, almost everyone said Yellow Pages and 800 number first. Some had bought into advertising mailer packages and others local magazine ads. Naturally some were focused on putting together a presentation package to send to DRP coordinators in the hope of getting insurance work. Some were also going around taking business cards to agents. Almost no one was doing any direct solicitation to get immediate jobs in the door.
It occurred to me that many shop owners believe there is a general marketing setup that everyone should include right away. It seems no one takes into consideration how marketing should differ depending on the stage of growth and development of the shop. I’ve always viewed the development of a business much like the developing stages of a trade professional: Beginner, Apprentice, Journeyman, Professional, and Leader. At each stage, both professional procedures and marketing procedures must change too.
I know of one leading body shop that runs no ads, does no phone solicitation, has no program for contacting prior customers, and has no DRPs. It is allied with multiple dealerships and has an estimating office at many of them. It employs a full-time marketing professional to maintain optimum relationships with all of the dealership principals. A shop at a lesser level of development couldn’t survive this way.
A beginning—and even what I would call an “apprentice” shop—is also unlikely to do phone solicitation. If it is just starting out and has no customer base, it won’t have a program for contacting prior customers. And it is unlikely to have DRPs at this point. The beginning shop owner needs to focus on one target public at a time. Dealerships and DRPs may be great sources of volume business, but competition is keen for these sources of business and pursuing them can be a waste of time unless the owner has friends in high places who can help get a deal. A better use of time would be direct selling: Going to mechanical shops, commercial firms, government agencies, charitable agencies, and other organizations that use vehicles that will require body damage repair from time to time is much better idea. The key principle at this point is to concentrate financial and personnel resources on specific contacts that can bring in immediate, actual work.
I would consider a “journeyman” shop one that has survived the initial critical phase — that eliminates many beginners — and is now getting organized for the long haul. Building a base of repeat customers should be primary. Gathering in-depth information from each new customer opens the door to follow-up calls, mailings, special offers, and probing for referrals. Some limited ads may be appropriate but should not take financial resources away from commission or bonus plans that encourage estimator/salespeople to tap the customer database and referral sources for immediate new business. A shop at this point is not yet completely secure. Marketing resources can’t be wasted. Broad, long-term projects like a website and social media sites are necessary but should not take away from directly focused job-mining efforts.
The well-established professional shop is in a position to employ a wider range of marketing efforts. A steady flow of repeat customers and probable referral sources like DRPs and dealerships ensure sufficient cash flow to afford name-recognition marketing. A lesser shop would be foolish to waste money on ads that do little more than keep the shop’s name in the public eye, but at the professional level, it’s possible the owner is considering opening other locations. At that point name-recognition is essential. This might include radio and TV ads, sponsoring sports and other activities, and participating in professional groups like the Chamber of Commerce.
The leadership shop markets itself like any outstanding professional shop, but takes it a step further. The owner is likely to hold an officer position in an autobody trade association and be involved in making industry advances through CIC meetings and other venues. This is not to say that shop owners at earlier development stages shouldn’t participate in industry forums and activities. But the collision repair industry is highly competititve these days and marketing is a very costly activity. Ad salespeople with expensive promotional schemes are beating at the door all the time. Until a shop is very well established, every marketing move must produce a real job coming in the door. When enough of those jobs are sure to come, there will be plenty of time to play with those expensive ads and promotional schemes. But until that happens, it would be wise to recognize what stage of development a shop has really reached and employ marketing resources appropriately.
Anyone who has been involved in repair for any amount of time knows how frustrating it can be when insurers refuse to pay the full amount billed for a repair. Many repairers count their losses and move on to the next vehicle, but Mark Schaech Jr., co-owner of Mark’s Body Shop in Baltimore, MD, refuses to take this insult lying down. While he and his partner, his father, would prefer to avoid the necessity of taking legal action, he’s definitely “not taking it anymore!” Schaech knows this is a common problem that shop owners face, so he’s glad to share his experience and advice with collision repairers across the nation.
In May 2013, Schaech won his first short-pay lawsuit against GEICO for $392.95. Since then, Schaech won a case against State Farm when the insurer filed a replevin lawsuit (replevin is a legal remedy for a person to recover goods unlawfully withheld from his or her possession) against him, claiming his charges for storage were unreasonable and not competitive within the market area. Mark’s Body Shop was holding a car while awaiting payment, but when State Farm settled with the car’s owner and took title, they refused to pay Schaech. The repair contract was the deciding factor in Schaech’s victory, playing a huge role “like it does in any other case,” according to Schaech, who added that “it is so important that your documents are in line.” In addition to being paid the full amount owed, Schaech was also reimbursed for his attorney’s fees. He feels the victory was very important since a loss would have given State Farm, and possibly other insurers, precedent for refusal to pay on total losses.
Schaech credits the CCRE (Coalition for Collision Repair Excellence) for his knowledge of such legal actions, noting that “the first time I heard of a shop taking control of their business was at a CCRE meeting.” He followed that up by hiring an industry consultant, Barrett Smith, of Auto Damage Experts and a good Maryland attorney, Anthony DiPaula to support his efforts to take control of his own business. He is also grateful to all of the “attorneys fighting a successful fight.” His next case involved an assignment of proceeds, ammunition he obtained from industry lawyer Erica Eversman, but it doesn’t stop there! Schaech is currently pursuing numerous lawsuits, including one involving an older claim of two short-pays from GEICO and a similar suit against State Farm.
The lawsuits that Schaech is currently pursuing are older claims since he has not had any recent problems with GEICO, which he attributes to his successful case in May. Most insurers are paying his operation costs, though labor rates with insurers refusing to pay his full labor rate continue to be a problem. The one exception he notes is State Farm who always leaves a short-pay, but for now, the customers are paying the difference. Schaech is not taking any additional assignments of proceeds at this time as he has several in progress.
Schaech notes, “I would say that 90% of the time, insurers in our market refuse to reimburse our customer for their entire repair bill. These short pays are for reasonable and necessary rates and procedures required to repair our customers’ vehicles to pre-loss condition to the best of human ability. It seems that the larger the carrier, the worse the behavior. It seems like as opposed to fairly paying claims, these carriers would prefer to spend those dollars on advertising campaigns.”
Regarding what may cause him to hesitate before filing a lawsuit, Schaech admits that it can be expensive and time-consuming to sue an insurance carrier, especially when the short-pays are small amounts, but one way to combat that is to pile several claims into one case, making it more efficient. His ultimate goal is to handle these cases on his own; as he attends the trials, he is educating himself via his attorney in hopes of being able to handle future suits in small claims court on his own. “All I will have to spend is time which I’m more than willing to do in order to ensure my customers are being taken care of,” Schaech notes.
The short-pay lawsuit in May was the first that Schaech actually pursued to trial. Because these types of cases are new to the Maryland court system, “it takes a bit of educating the courts that we are contracted by our customers to provide a proper and safe repair and do not have any contract with any insurance companies. But the misconception is that, because the insurance company is paying the bill, they have a right to inject themselves into the repair process when this is simply not the case. Because we are the experts, we carry all of the liability associated with the repair. We are the ones who have to provide a warranty to our customers and stand behind the repairs. We are the ones who know our cost of doing business. Therefore, only a shop can know what to charge for a given repair. The duty of the insurance company, by contract, is to make the customer whole, not to control the price or dictate the repair methodology, all while not sharing in the liability for those repairs.”
Though most insurance companies insist that they don’t pay for certain operations or that a shop is overcharging, Schaech insists, “the collision repair community knows that these are word tracks that insurance adjusters have been trained to use for years, and in most cases, these carriers do pay for that, and the shops that are asking to be compensated are not the only ones asking for these operations and rates.”
Schaech was happy when the judge ruled in his favor: “It felt good that the Judge got it. I also feel confident that the courts will continue to find in our favor as courts are in many other states all over the country. It takes a close look at the law and the insurance policies to realize that determining the cost of repairs and the repair methodology is not the business of insurance. In many policies, the insurance company has the option to take the customer’s vehicle and repair it themselves, but if they chose that option, they would have to accept all of the liability that goes along with the repair which is why they do not select that option.”
As a proud member of CCRE and SCRS, Schaech strongly encourages other collision repair experts to stand up for their rights. “I would encourage other shop owners to know their state laws and get a good attorney to work with. There are many shop owners across the country who have been forced to go legal, and these repairers have been an inspiration and have always made time to answer my questions and lend advice. There is unbelievable support available to those who want to learn.” Schaech’s desire to become more involved has also led him to become involved with the Washington Metropolitan Auto Body Association (WMABA) where he sits on the Board of Directors.
Schaech also assures other shop owners that the trial itself was not very difficult. “It was easy for us to explain who the expert repair professional is and who decides what the Final Bill should be, and the judge agreed that because GEICO doesn’t know our costs, they cannot possibly determine what we are able to charge.”
It is also important to note that Schaech’s lawsuit has not really affected his relationship with GEICO or any other insurers. His problem isn’t with the individuals that he deals with but the company’s policies on handling claims.
Schaech also takes issue with his state’s laws regarding insurance companies breaching contracts and how this affects consumers’ rights.
“If a Maryland Insurance Company breaches their contract with the policy holder, and the consumer wants to hold them accountable in a court of law, the consumer is not able to recover attorney’s fees in our state. This really inhibits consumers from taking action, even when it is obvious that they are in the right… I wish the carrier would spend some of those billions of dollars they spend on marketing to properly compensate consumers for quality and safe repairs. I see a lot of poor repairs that have been completed in shops who were not properly compensated for repairs, and this is a consumer problem, especially as it relates to consumers’ safety and the value of their vehicles.”
When asked what measures should be enforced to prevent the necessity of short-pay lawsuits, Schaech notes, “If insurers would get back to the business of insurance, selling policies and paying claims, and stay out of the collision business, we would not have to go this route. The reality is that, by law, consumers have the right to choose the body shop that they feel will do the best job, and by contract, the insurance company is supposed to indemnify the policy holder when there is a loss. So, I say ‘just pay the bill Mr. Insurance Company.’”
In 1975, Schaech’s father opened Mark’s Body Shop in a two-bay garage. After six years of refinishing cars through high school and college, Schaech managed the family business from 1999–2002 when they moved into their current 17,000 square foot facility. At that point, Schaech Jr. became his father’s partner.
Though Mark’s Body Shop repairs approximately 1000 cars annually, grossing around $3 million in sales, they do not participate in any DRPs, but that wasn’t always the case. “There was a time when we participated in as many as five DRP programs, but over the years, these programs developed into bargain basement repair programs. We were asked to use more aftermarket and junk yard parts which we find to be a lower quality alternative to new OEM parts. We were instructed to utilize remanufactured wheel and junkyard suspension components which we believe to put our customers in harm’s way. Finally, we were asked to work so cheaply that it became difficult to invest in new equipment and training which is imperative to repair today’s modern vehicles.”
To shops that are currently facing difficulties obtaining full payment on repairs, Schaech offers the following advice: “There are numerous organizations and individuals in our industry who really care about consumers and repair facilities. These leaders are only a phone call or email way and willing to provide sound advice when a shop owner or consumer needs some sound advice.”
“The reality is not all shops are the same; we all have different costs, different levels of quality, different equipment and training, different certifications, and different fixed costs. It just doesn’t make sense that we can all work for the same price.”
Mark’s Body Shop
4025 Mortimer Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21215
A proposal was introduced at the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) in Denver to develop a third-party evaluation of how shops are reimbursed for refinish and other materials.
Steve Nadler, the owner of Painters Supply Company in Denver, distributed a 2-page memo suggesting that a national certified public accounting firm be hired to study the materials reimbursement issue. Nadler said this study could address the accuracy of such practices as basing materials reimbursement on paint labor hours, and establishing “ceilings” or “caps” on material charges.
No data has been identified that can be used “to support the present reimbursement methods,” Nadler’s memo states.
He suggested that a CIC subcommittee be formed to develop a request for proposals for the study from the nation’s top CPA firms. Nadler said that this step would provide the industry with estimates of the cost of the 1- to 2-year project.
“I could say it’s not going to be $5,000. I don’t think it would be $500,000,” Nadler said when asked for some projection of costs. “On a full-fee basis, it might be anywhere from $100,000 to $150,000. But that’s purely speculative on my part, and depends on the scope of the project.”
Joe Landolfi of Kemper Insurance said the study may put to rest an issue that has been hotly debated in recent years.
“We have listened for quite a while about paint materials reimbursement practices,” Landolfi said. “This may be a chance to finally (establish) some definitive explanations and patterns.” But Rick Tuuri of ADP said his company is all too aware of the expense and risk of undertaking such a research project. ADP completed a massive revamping of its paint labor system several years ago, only to meet with unprecedented industry resistance.
“This is just my personal opinion, not the ADP company line, but it just seems to me that you can spend an awful lot of money studying something to find an answer that nobody really wants to hear,” Tuuri said.
- The project, at least how Nadler outlined it, does not appear to have ever moved forward.
Jack Gillis of CAPA perhaps best summed up a demonstration of non-OEM parts at the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) in October when he said, “Not one of our better days.”
The demonstration, arranged by the CIC Parts and Airbags Committee, involved installing several non-OEM parts, including a hood and fender that bore the CAPA-certified sticker, on an undamaged 1994 Toyota Camry. Fit and other problems with the parts were obvious, and after the demonstration Gillis said neither of the parts would be listed as certified in the next Certified Automotive Parts Association (CAPA) directory.
The fender, he said, had been decertified earlier in the week because of more than 20 complaints, including one the week of the CIC demonstration that was the second complaint after the manufacturer had supposedly fixed earlier problems with the part.
—Test fits of parts continued at CIC meetings over the next two years; OEM parts generally were found to score higher in attendees’ evaluations of fit and finish, but occasionally non-OEM parts were rated as equal to—and in one case, better than—the OEM.
In a special 2-year study of the autobody repair industry, the California Department of Consumers Affairs’ Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) documented that, in nearly half the transactions it studied, consumers were charged for parts and labor they didn’t receive.
The BAR inspected 1,315 vehicles that qualified as part of a pilot program mandated by legislation. Of those, 551, or 42 percent, had parts or labor listed on the invoice that were not actually supplied or performed. The average dollar amount of overbilling was $811.93.
“We’re disturbed by the pattern of problems we found in some shops,” said BAR Chief Patrick Dorais.
– As reported in Autobody News. While the “42 percent” statistic received a lot of attention, the National Auto Body Council (NABC) noted (in the article) that the vehicles inspected were not randomly selected among all those repaired in California but rather were vehicles brought to the BAR by owners concerned about possible fraud. “Considering the way the sample was skewed by the BAR’s methodology, it is more surprising that 57 percent of the repaired vehicles showed no problems at all,” Chuck Sulkala of the NABC said at the time.
At least six shops in the Temple, Texas, area (about 70 miles north of Austin, population about 60,000) each notified State Farm they no longer would participate in the insurer’s Select Service program.
Mark Holladay, manager of the Don Ringler Chevrolet body shop, said the final factor contributing to his decision was what he viewed as State Farm’s unwillingness to postpone a training class (on how to process total losses for State Farm) that the insurer was requiring the shops to attend at a time when Holladay and his five technicians were working 60- and 70-hour weeks repairing vehicles damaged in a recent hailstorm.
“All we asked from the very beginning was that we be allowed to postpone this (class) for a month or two until things kind of got worked down after that hailstorm,” Holladay said. “We were all just at our max. We were told straight up, it was just, “No.”
He said he has not seen any significant change in the amount of State Farm work the shop is doing. “I think it was a good decision,” Holladay said.
Gene Sneed, who along with his wife Barbara, owns and operates B&G Collision and B&G Paint & Body in Temple, also removed his two shops from the Select Service program. This summer, he and about eight other shops in the area began jointly sponsoring newspaper ads urging consumers to use the shop of their choice.
“They will promise you the world in order to persuade you to go to one of their direct repair or network shops,” one of the ads states about insurers. “Don’t be steered wrong.”
—from CRASH Network (www.CRASHnetwork.com), October 6, 2008.
Even though the Internet is continuing to explode and cable TV advertising is flourishing, radio is still alive and well and more body shops are using it, according to people who know—such as: advertising agencies, media buying companies, radio stations and body shops themselves.
According to Kantar Media, there are nearly 5,000 AM stations and roughly 9,000 FM stations in this country and last year radio advertising dollars increased by 8 percent at the national level and 3 percent locally. While the collision industry is always looking for new forms of advertising and marketing, the word out on the street is that good old broadcast radio is still a viable form for body shops, both MSOs and independents.
Phil D’Angelo is a sales manager for three radio stations in northern California (KUIC, KKIQ and KKDV) and has seen how radio advertising has worked well for body shops in his regions. “We currently have five body shops advertising on KUIC in Vacaville, CA, and they’re happy with the results,” D’Angelo said.
“Radio is more popular now, because it offers so many options for companies of all sizes. For regional companies, you’re going to get more bang for your buck with radio, as opposed to other forms of advertising or marketing. People wake up in the morning with the radio; drive to work with the radio and listen to the radio all day at work, so radio travels everywhere and some people listen to it 8–10 hours and more every day. Also, we’ve discovered that the Internet and broadcast radio work hand-in-hand, because radio creates demand and the Internet fulfills that demand. If they hear you on the radio and then see you online, there’s a good chance you’ll get them as a customer.”
D’Angelo had to learn the collision game in order to better serve his body shop clients, he explained. “When we started working with body shops, we discovered that their business model is unique, because from what they’ve told us, 80% of all the work comes through the insurance companies. So, the advertising we’ve designed for them conveys a specific message, but branding is also a big part of it. We want the body shop’s name to be in the listener’s head.
In the radio business, we call it the consumer’s ‘top-of-mind awareness,’ and it’s very important in the collision repair industry, because getting your car fixed is not an impulse buy. So, when people do get in an accident, they’ve already heard the shop’s name over and over on one of our stations and that’s who they will mention it to their insurance agent.”
Chuck Jessen is the owner of PreFab Ads in San Francisco, a company that licenses professionally-produced TV spots to body shops on an exclusive-by-market basis. These commercials have appeared on 260 local television markets throughout the country and several have won international advertising awards and have been featured on such national TV programs as “Reel TV” and “World’s Funniest.”
Jessen is currently producing a series of radio ads to add to his menu of offerings, because his clients are asking more and more for 30 and 60-second spots they want to air on local stations. “Some body shops are switching from TV to radio, so that they can target their customers more specifically,” Jessen said.
“In the bigger markets, the cost of TV advertising is prohibitive for many independent body shops with modest advertising budgets. If you’re paying to advertise to a certain market and a large majority of it is out of your area, it doesn’t make sense for any regional business to advertise outside that area. With radio, body shops can get more saturation and coverage in smaller to mid-size markets, so it’s ideal for body shops that draw customers from no more than 10 miles away.”
Radio has a captive audience and Jessen knows from his 30 years of experience what types of radio ads will work in any market, he said. “People are in their cars a lot and commuters aren’t going away any time soon. We’re producing several different types of radio ad, including humorous and instructional. With our TV ads, we already know humor works and community service type themes are always well-suited for the collision industry. We produced a radio ad that conveys an anti-texting message and it gets good reviews, because it’s a warm and fuzzy type of ad that listeners will find useful.”
Sharon Wicks is the president of Silicon Valley Media Consulting in San Jose, CA and has seen a recent spike in her clients’ interest in buying more radio advertising time, she said. “Radio is thriving, because it just makes sense for regional businesses that can’t afford a heavy television advertising schedule. Radio has gone full circle and now it’s back in a big way, especially for companies that value a highly targeted approach.”
Wicks has seen more and more of her clients asking about Pandora Internet Radio, an automated music recommendation service that plays musical selections of a certain genre based on the user’s artist selections. The user then provides positive or negative feedback for songs chosen by the service, which are taken into account when Pandora selects future songs.
“Advertisers like Pandora, because it is more targeted than conventional radio,” Wicks said. “Pandora has specific demographic information about every one of its users, so you’re getting exactly who you want to reach. When your ad runs, it appears in a pop-up banner-type ad with audio that can be either 15 or 30 seconds in length. Either way, it’s less invasive than a 60-second radio ad and of course, it’s paired with a visual, which gives it more impact.”
Rich Villanueva is the marketing manager at Michael J’s Body Shop, Inc., with three very busy locations in San Jose, CA. After much planning and research, Villanueva decided that radio was the best plan for this burgeoning regional MSO, for several reasons.
“We found a local FM station (KEZR) that offered a package we were very comfortable with, so we hired an advertising agency (Kilburg & Associates) that does ads for the San Jose Sharks NHL hockey team,” Villanueva said. “We decided to go with humorous ads and almost immediately we received a lot of positive feedback. We’re basically doing branding with these radio spots, rather than doing promotions. Since this is our first radio schedule, we want to get the name out there and connect the dots with our audience.”
Michael J’s had their agency produce seven different ads to run in rotation on KEZR and is now going to create more ads to leverage the fact that one of their owners is a woman. “We’re targeting women with these new commercials, because they represent a large portion of our customer base,” Villanueva said. “Jamie Ryan is one of our co-owners and she’s a great spokesperson for what we’re trying to do. In these ads, we position her as an expert and an advocate, especially for our female market. The message is we will treat our customers well from beginning to end, by providing them with a stress-free, non-threatening environment when they bring their car to Michael J’s.”
It wasn’t so long ago that all shops were created equal. If you had tools, four walls and a sign, you could be a body shop. Actually, I should remove “four walls” from the list; there were many “shops” repairing cars that didn’t have one wall, let alone four.
At any rate, the qualifications to repair a car didn’t include special equipment or training. Starting a body shop business required not much more than proclaiming that you were a body man.
At that time, thankfully, direct repair programs were virtually non-existent. I can’t imagine what we would have done during that time period if direct repair programs were prevalent. How would an insurance company identify which shops to refer their customers to?
Even though shops have evolved significantly since that time, the same dilemma exists for insurance companies today: Which shops do we refer our customers to? Without having the intimate knowledge of your shop or your competitors, finding the most qualified shops in a market is as about as easy as developing a national health care plan.
Why does an insurance company care where their insureds have the vehicles fixed? There are a lot of reasons. The cost of the repair is a motivating factor in finding the right shop, although it no longer is the most important. Back in the early 1980s when there were more than 70,000 shops in the United States, price was the biggest concern. Customer service wasn’t even on our radar. The quality of the repair was assumed to be no better or worse at one shop than at another down the street. In fact, the biggest concern I had with a shop was determining whether or not the dog in back lot was chained up so I could write my estimate. Everyone was assumed to be able to perform a proper repair.
For the younger generation reading this, it’s probably difficult for you to understand what I’m talking about. To put it in proper perspective, some shops would need to wet down the dirt floor before painting a car. It wasn’t uncommon to see shops pulling full-frame vehicles with anything that was stationary. And one of my personal favorites was watching the old-time body men use a torch. A torch in the late 1970s and early 1980s was about as useful as duct tape.
The industry has changed dramatically over the past few decades and the unprofessional, uneducated shop owner has been replaced. Professional, educated and astute operators have taken the industry to the next level.
Now customer service is religiously the topic of conversation. Insurance executives are facing increased scrutiny and pressure to improve customer service scores. Policyholder retention is the lowest the industry has seen. Insurance has become a commodity where price is the single most motivating factor to consumers. There are intense battles happening between the Top 10 carriers for policyholders, as evidenced by the marketing dollars being spent.
Ironically, our biggest challenge isn’t finding new customers; it’s keeping the ones we have. Retention is directly correlated to customer service. Unfortunately, the collision repair facility and insurance company typically share a common fate relative to customer service. If the customer likes the shop, more often than not, the customer will like the insurance company. Conversely, if they don’t like you, they don’t like us. Thus, the importance to us of finding the right shop to repair our insureds’ vehicles.
Repairing vehicles today poses a significant challenge to the collision repair industry as well as the insurance industry. Collision repair shops need to make significant investments in training to remain current with the latest technology and repair methodologies. We recognize that this is critically important to a safe and proper repair. There are still over 40,000 shops in the U.S. How do we find the shops that are the best trained and have invested in their people?
The new and specialty equipment required to properly repair many of today’s vehicle should help foster a reduction in the number of shops in the industry. The days of opening up a shop with a tool box and a sign in front of the building are a distant “bad” memory. The challenge is eliminating those shops from the marketplace. We don’t want our insureds’ vehicles in shops that are ill-equipped.
Collision repair shops need to work closely with insurance companies and state and national regulators to eliminate the “haves” from the “have-nots.” Those that have the equipment and training must survive while those that “have-not” should not. The insurance industry can’t do this alone. We need help identifying the “haves.”
The industry continues to evolve and the upper class of the industry is growing exponentially. The middle and lower tier shops are shrinking. It would be our desire to increase the pace of this, with the thought that the surviving shops would be better trained and equipped. The sooner we eliminate the “have-nots,” the better it will be for everyone in the industry.
The Insider is a corporate-level executive with a Top 10 auto insurer in the U.S.. Got a comment or question you’d like to see him address in a future column? Email him at .
Over the past six years, the age of the average collision repairer has increased to 38.7 years old, which means many repairers will be retiring in the near future. In turn, this creates a dire need for entry-level repairers, and in anticipation of this crisis, the Collision Repair Education Foundation has taken the proactive step of supporting training programs for future repairers. Brandon Eckenrode, Director of Development, believes this is imperative because “the more actively engaged the industry can be with the high school and college collision programs, instructors and students, the brighter the industry’s future will be.”
to read a PDF of this story with photos go HERE
Established in 1991 to develop, promote and distribute a curriculum program to ensure entry-level employees received training on needed skills, the Education Foundation continued to sell curriculum and provide educational support through various programs, such as CRIN and the Training Alliance, until 2008 when curriculum sales and support moved to I-CAR, allowing the Foundation to focus exclusively on acquiring and distributing donations to schools and students in the form of scholarships and grants. Now, the Foundation is a purely philanthropic organization with the sole purpose of raising money to support and educate future collision repairers. Though I-CAR still plays a key role in allowing the Foundation to operate as a four-person organization, they changed their name in 2010 to distinguish their organization from I-CAR as a way of clarifying that I-CAR training tuition fees do not support the Education Foundation.
Their mission is “to secure donations that support philanthropic and collision repair education activities that promote and enhance career opportunities in the industry.” According to Eckenrode, “it’s a full circle from support to staff- the collision industry provides monetary and in-kind donations to the Foundation, which are then distributed to high school/college collision programs, and these donations help assist in providing the best technical education possible for the students, and then these students are ideally hired into the industry.”
The Education Foundation’s current goal is to educate the industry on who they are and who they support, in addition to getting more industry members involved in order to raise the level of support they provide. Eckenrode hopes that they will help place entry-level students in a more organized way in the future, in addition to providing a higher level of financial support. They’ve already begun to educate guidance counselors on the industry, teaching them about the great career opportunities students can find in the collision repair industry. According to Eckenrode, “through an increase in support, specifically with monetary donations, we can fill in the gaps within these instructors’ collision budgets and ensure that they have all of the proper tools, equipment and supplies needed to teach the students.”
Eckenrode is the sole full-time fundraiser for the Education Foundation, focusing his efforts on locating supporters within the industry as well as working in communications to inform the industry of the Foundation’s efforts. When asked if his work is rewarding, Eckenrode notes, “Rewarding doesn’t fully describe the work for me. I believe we are ‘facilitators of this industry’s generosity,’ and when you hear instructors get choked up because you were able to send them a box of safety glasses for his/her students or get to inform a student that they are the recipient of a $5000 scholarship, it makes you proud of our industry for making that possible.”
Eckenrode fondly recalls their Cintas technician shirt project when they provided promotional shirts to students attending NACE several years ago. The project led to the distribution of nearly 10,000 shirts, and he has been amazed to hear how this “uniform” has transformed students’ attitudes, giving them a sense of professionalism and pride. As such, he hopes to expand the program even further.
Melissa Marscin serves as the Foundation’s Director of Grant Programs, distributing the donations received, whether those donations are in-kind product donations, school grants or scholarships. Distribution plays a vital role in their mission as they strive to ensure that received support is distributed where it is most needed; their application process is critical in providing information on where support is needed and what exactly the need is.
Marscin says, “I have the best job in the world because I am able to give out scholarships and grant funds to deserving schools and students. And the best part is that I am able to directly see that my work is helping to improve the collision programs which, in turn, help to produce better entry-level technicians for the industry. It is extremely rewarding to have a student or instructor call me and say ‘thank you’… you really never realize how much of a difference you are making until you receive those notes and speak to the instructors or students in person, and then hear how the Foundation has changed their life.”
When Marscin was asked for an example of a rewarding experience, she said, “my favorite story is one about a recent $3 million donation to the schools which included basic things like sandpaper. The donation came late in the school year, and one of the instructors who received the items said he literally had no budget left for supplies this year, and he was worrying about how he would finish out the school year. Then, this box of materials showed up, and he said he felt like he won our $50,000 grant! It’s amazing what a difference a small item like sandpaper means to schools, especially with their budget challenges. The Education Foundation has been called Santa more than once, and it is always a great feeling to see that we are making a difference.”
The Collision Repair Education Foundation receives donations from industry supporters nationwide, and both products and monetary donations are then distributed to high schools, technical schools and college collision programs, instructors and students in all 50 states. All segments of the collision repair industry, and any outside entity as well, are invited to donate products and scholarship money to the Foundation. Eckenrode encourages such donations; “donated tools, equipment, supplies, and other materials greatly assist collision school instructors who are working with very minimal budgets. In 2012, we raised a record $4.9 million, and we are tracking slightly above (3%) that amount half way through 2013 so far.”
In 2013, 126 schools applied for the Foundation’s “Ultimate Collision Education Makeover” grant, a huge increase from the 72 applications submitted last year. Marscin believes this grant is very important because “as school budgets continue to decrease, schools need a way to supplement their budgets, and the Makeover is a perfect solution to this. The winning schools get $50,000 worth of tools, supplies, and equipment for their collision program, and we have hundreds of smaller prizes to help schools get supplies to better teach their students. Every school that applies does get some donations out of this program, so it is beneficial for every collision school to apply!”
Any school offering a collision repair program is eligible for grants by filling out an annual survey that helps the Education Foundation collect important data on trends and statistics within the industry.
According to Eckenrode, “the Collision Repair Education Foundation plays a vital role within the industry as we are supporting its future professionals. The more actively engaged the industry can be with the high school and college collision school programs, instructors and students, the brighter the industry’s future will be… Supporting the schools, instructors and students is vital, but we also need to collectively do a better job in showcasing this industry as a great career choice to students/ parents at an early stage in their education.”
It’s easy to make a monetary, tax-deductible donation or in-kind product donation. Simply visit the Foundation’s website, or email Eckenrode who invites “any and all industry members to reach out to us to help them find a collision school program in their area and get involved. The industry taking an active role with their local schools assists in these students being able to graduate as efficient, productive entry-level workers.”
Why would a collision repair facility want to support the Collision Repair Education Foundation? Eckenrode’s answer is simple; “to donate to the Foundation is a re-investment in the industry’s future.”
Collision Repair Education Foundation
5125 Trillium Boulevard
Hoffman Estates, IL 60192
I received a fair amount of feedback from devout readers about a previous column on parts and materials. For those who didn’t read (or don’t recall) that column, I addressed shops’ profit centers. I said shops need to quit whining about State Farm and PartsTrader and instead focus on the profit centers they do have control over. (Go Here for previous story.)
Because I’m not solely focused on pointing out the obvious, I also added a few tips as to how shops can improve their profitability on paint and materials. One suggestion, for example, was to reduce the amount of theft in the shop.
Apparently, my tips for success were not welcomed by all readers. In fact, a few readers took me to task in e-mail responses to the column. Although they were upset with my comments, they also were astute enough to ask for help. I appreciate them taking the time to write, and I offer the following suggestions in response to some of their questions.
Here’s an excerpt from “Laura,” who wrote from a shop in a Mid-Atlantic state. “Our rates for paint materials and labor that insurance companies pay us haven’t increased in 10 years or more,” Laura wrote. “As you know, paint and material prices have increased tremendously over that period of time. What are your thoughts on this? What are our rights against insurance companies so that we may protect our bottom line?”
Your situation is one that is very familiar to shops around the country, Laura. There are a number of markets across the United States that haven’t seen a labor rate or paint and material increase in years. These areas are usually in states with regulatory issues that create barriers to increased shop unity. Unfortunately, if your shop is one of only a few in these areas requesting an increase, you will NOT get one. If you are in a market populated with unknowledgeable shops that are still operating as if it’s 1980, your shop will suffer.
There a few solutions to your problem. You can choose to remove yourself from any direct repair programs and charge whatever rate you believe is fair. Since that can be a risky endeavor, you can take a different approach. I would recommend requesting rate increases in a professional manner. Request a meeting at your shop. Explain why the increase is necessary. Show the insurer the investments you’ve made in your shop and employees. Last but not least, show them the “product” and service your customers receive that they can’t get down the street for the same price.
“Tom,” from a dealership in the Northeast, also wrote to me after my paint and materials column.
“How do insurance companies determine when the paint and materials reimbursements need to be raised on the estimates they provide” Tom asked. “Every time 3M or DuPont or PPG sends a notice that they are raising their prices, I ask them (by email or, if I can reach someone, by phone) to make sure they let the insurance companies know that they are raising their pricing.”
Insurers, Tom said, will in turn only honor a shop’s higher rate “after much complaining,” and many shops complaining. Then the insurers make it appear they are doing the shops a favor by raising the rate at a later date, all the while ‘complaining’ that THEY are losing profits. Is this how it works, in your professional opinion? It seems that the real theft here takes place from the time of the (supplier) increases to the time the insurance companies raise rates. They seem to be the thieves, not our employees, as you seem to think the problem is.”
Well, Tom, insurance companies determine the paint and material reimbursement rate by using an algorithm developed by an engineer in mathematical computations. Not! Of course I am joking. Sadly, most if not all insurance companies only raise their rates when shops “complain,” as you state above. That isn’t a joke. We aren’t in the business to give money away. Unless you ask, you aren’t getting.
We don’t receive any documentation from the paint companies. I’m sure they would provide it upon request but we really don’t care. Years ago when gas and paint and materials prices were rising like the tide after a tsunami, we watched from afar as those near the beach were swept away. Unfair yes, but it’s not our problem. We see those increases only when they are reflected in the rates shops say they need to charge us. Unless a large number of shops in a geographic market submit for an increase, we aren’t increasing our reimbursement rate.
I concur, Tom, with your assessment that we revert to pointing to employee theft or waste as the reason you aren’t profitable. Old habits die hard, but there also is a lot of truth to that statement.
My first glimpse of malicious competitors was seeing a runner for one body shop remove a competitor’s business cards in an insurance agent’s office, and replace them with his own. In a highly competitive market, some shops may be striving to steal other shop’s business when the number of jobs in the area is declining. In addition to the straightforward attempts to push a shop out of a dealership deal in order to gain the authorized repair center designation, I’ve seen some shops stoop to discrediting a competitor in every way possible. Sometimes signs are defaced, taggers sent to put an ugly image on a shop’s fences and exterior, and more. If you spot someone taking photos of your shop or vehicles parked in your lot or in the vicinity of your shop, get that person’s name and file a police report at once.
These days a common malicious practice is placing phony complaints against a shop on Yelp and local referral websites. One shop suspected a competitor of having a vehicle brought into his shop and deliberately sabotaged to create an insurance company and Board of Auto Repair complaint and a vicious story to be sent to the press and put on-line. The shop owner suspected he was under attack when an anonymous tip also sent OSHA inspectors into his shop for supposed code violations. Anonymous complaints are most difficult to defend against, but even a complaint by someone giving his or her name could still be someone connected to a competing shop. One shop that was broken into resulting in the loss of numerous radios, GPS systems and more, suspected a competitor of either arranging the theft or at least providing information on how to get into the shop at night.
How far will a malicious competitor go to undermine a shop he wants out of the way? In the famous fictional industrial espionage tale, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” author Roald Dahl has the evil Slugworth trying to steal Wonka’s secret recipes by bribing young visitors to get them from the Oompa Loompa sweets maker. Do body shop owners have trade secrets? Could a competitor squash a shop’s marketing strategy efforts if he knew them in advance? Hacking into a company’s computer system may be the most modern way to steal trade secrets, but experts say most thefts still occur the old fashioned way, by sneaking into a company’s offices and making off with classified information.
Ira Winkler, a top corporate security analyst, in his book “Spies Among Us: How to Stop the Spies, Terrorists, Hackers, and Criminals You Don’t Even Know You Encounter Every Day,” Winkler estimates American companies lose as much as $300 billion a year to pirating, counterfeiting and other corporate theft. He says inside jobs are another tried-and-true method. We just saw an example of that when several people were busted as they attempted to sell Coca-Cola secrets to rival cola giant, Pepsi. Could a competitor pay off an employee in his target body shop to report on planned marketing activities? How could a shop owner defend against a devious attack of this nature?
One news article reports that experts say the best defense against corporate theft is to thoroughly vet employees who have access to sensitive information. Then make sure that that information is secure. If a breach occurs, report it to law enforcement as soon as possible. Corporations often hire a security analyst to perform simulated espionage to test the company’s security system. While few shops have the kind of sensitive information that a competitor might try to steal, there are many more basic ways to mess with a shop’s marketing and to try to discredit their image.
Where it is still common for accident victims to try to get three estimates, I’ve heard of a shop owner deliberately sending a prospective repair customer to the worst two other shops he could think of, where he could be sure the customer would get a high or faulty estimate. Some have mastered the fine art of tactfully bad-mouthing the competition to instill enough doubt about their integrity and reliability to eliminate them from the running.
A shop owner I know was stunned when he lost a couple of dealership deals he had for many years. He simply wasn’t prepared for the aggressive attacks on his quality that were made. Just running a shop is a full-time job and that doesn’t leave a lot of time to be policing business relationships and marketing maneuvers. But in a highly competitive business environment, it’s naive to assume all competitive moves will be honest and above board. Thomas Jefferson said “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom,” but, in a body shop, constant vigilance may well be the price of survival.