Autobody News - Items filtered by date: October 2011

by Vincent Romans, Romans Group

A half decade has passed since we started tracking collision repair organizations that generate repair revenue of $20 million or greater annually. During these past five years we have seen a remarkable amount of change, not only within the collision repair and auto physical damage aftermarket industries, but also with our U.S. and world economies.

To view a PDF of this article with photos please click HERE.

July 2010 marked the “official” start of the recovery from the 2007 to 2009 recession, but it feels like a recovery in name only for many people. Our economy has been described by many economists and media pundits as being in a “soft patch.” A growing number of forecasters believe we are at risk of a double-dip recession due to the sluggish economy and a broad spectrum of increasing dynamic, complex U.S. macroeconomic and global downdraft variables that continue to influence fundamental structural change within our business, financial and government institutions with some currently identifiable and still indeterminable impact on the collision repair, property and casualty insurance, and OEM and aftermarket auto physical damage segments.

Who will lead the collision repair industry and how those leadership companies will influence the collision repair, property and casualty insurance and related auto physical damage business segments is an evolving story that is playing out at this very moment. This evolving story can be summarized by viewing it as part of a long-term continuum involving three simultaneously active industry changing phases: Contraction, Consolidation and Convergence. We have seen both long-term historical and real time contraction within the auto repair and affiliated industries. Collision repair industry contraction is due to an increasing number of complex dynamic macroeconomic and industry-related variables including, but not limited to:

by John Yoswick

More than 400 shops were represented on a panel discussion at this year’s 2011 International Autobody Congress & Exposition (NACE) – but only four chairs were needed on the stage.

To view a PDF of this article please click HERE.

That’s because the four speakers were representatives of some of the largest multiple shop operations (MSOs) in the industry, which combined have more than 7,200 employees and annual sales topping $1.26 billion.

The four were speaking at a new forum held for the first time at this year’s NACE in Orland, Fla., a day-long session aimed at (and open to) only MSOs. Much of the content of the panel discussions during the symposium, however, could have been equally of value to the single-location shop owner who wants to expand his or her business.

During the “Lessons Learned From the Big Four” panel discussion, for example, Cathy Bonner, the president of the 47-shop Service King chain in Texas, was asked what role social media plays in her company’s extensive marketing efforts. Bonner said she thinks it’s a stretch to think that people want to “socialize” with a collision repair shop, and that measuring return on an investment in social media is difficult given how infrequently the average driver needs a shop’s services.

I mentioned social media to a body shop owner recently and, to my surprise, he was almost hostile to the concept. There seems to be a very localized group in the collision industry that really understands social media and this guy was not one of them.

To view a PDF of this article please click HERE.

“Why would I put my shop on Facebook?” he said. “I don’t have a lot of customers who are teenage girls!” I told this gentleman that Facebook and most other forms of social media aren’t being used exclusively by teenage girls. Facebook’s 800 million members aren’t all teenagers, and they certainly aren’t all girls.

Last month’s NACE meeting featured a keynote speaker, Chris Brogan, who’s a social media guru accustomed to talking to large automotive groups like those attending NACE/CARS, and the GM Dealers of Canada, for example.

What’s going on here? Why would some shops and associations spend valuable time instructing on social media while others can’t run away from it fast enough?

David Moore, the owner of CollisionBuilder.com, a company that designs web sites and develops social media plans for body shops and related businesses, has seen a recent spike in body shops getting involved in several forms of social media.

State and regional associations—that together represent more than 2,000 body shops—participated in the sixth annual “Affiliate Leadership Conference” organized by the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) and held near Chicago in mid-September.

To view a PDF of this article please click HERE.

SCRS Chairman Aaron Clark said the event is designed to help the national association gather input from its state affiliates on its direction and efforts, as well as to help those groups work with one another and with the national organization.

The affiliate groups reported on their recent and upcoming legislative efforts, their interactions with shop and insurer regulators, and other activities and issues in which they have recently been involved.

In Montana this past spring, for example, Governor Brian Schweitzer signed into law a bill, sponsored by the Montana Collision Repair Specialists, that prohibits a insurer from “unilaterally disregard(ing) a repair operation or cost identified by an estimating system” that the insurer and shop have agreed to use to determine the cost of repair.

Bruce Halcro, a Montana shop owner and president of the association, said getting the state auto dealers’ association involved in backing the legislation was part of what helped push it through the legislature, where it narrowly failed just two years earlier.

The Montana association this year had also backed a bill that would have allowed body shops and others – rather than only consumers—to file complaints with the state insurance commissioner’s office. That bill was overwhelmingly approved 97-3 by the Montana House, but died in a Senate committee.

West Coast Collision in Cape Coral, FL, focuses on customer service by striving to make customers feel at home and answering all their concerns and questions. They also focus on  informing customers about their environmentally friendly habits. They say they were the first—and to their knowledge—the only shop in Southwest Florida to only offer waterborne paints exclusively, emphasizing the importance they place on lowering harmful emissions as well as exploiting the other well-known benefits of waterborne.

To view a PDF of this article with photos please click HERE.

West Coast Collision was originally founded in 1981 by Kevin Eck, but current owners, Chuck and Brenda Romano, purchased the business in 2008. Chuck Romano had previously run a shop in the Philadelphia area for twenty-five years, and when the opportunity to buy the West Coast Collision name arose in 1998, he jumped at the chance since it had a very similar history to his previous business which he had sold to a consolidator in 1997.

After acquiring the new business, the Romanos relocated to a more convenient location two blocks away and invested nearly $1,000,000 in new equipment, remodeling and renovations. They fully computerized the office, adding CCC One as a management system, and they created an internet presence through social networking, creating a logo and creating a brand tag line, Cape Coral’s Leading Collision Repair Center. Their website informs customers “At West Coast Collision, we want you to know that your car is as important to us as it is to you.  We treat every car as if it were our own”.

What could a customer expect from an auto body shop that is open seven days a week?  For some customers it’s enough to know such a shop exists!

To view a PDF of this article with photos please click HERE.

Baugh Auto Body in Richmond, VA, is the only shop in the area that’s open seven days a week from 8am to 6pm Monday through Friday, with the added convenience of being open on Saturdays and Sundays from 8am to 4pm. The shop also offers on-site car rentals on weekends. Customers do not need to schedule an estimate, but Baugh Auto Body will schedule specific times to provide an estimate if the customer prefers.  Baugh Auto Body’s mission is to treat every customer like a member of their own family, and they guarantee their work, including paint, for as long as the customer owns the vehicle.  According to Ashley Baugh, Customer Service and Marketing Coordinator, “Baugh Auto Body is a leader in the industry and has been ranked in the top GEICO national and regional shops for customer service and cycle time.”

As part of his quality guarantee, owner Gerry Baugh oversees daily operations and is available to speak to clients personally.  When he is not available, his daughter and Ashley Baugh, ensures that customers are treated with respect and the assurance that their vehicle will be taken care of.  Gerry Baugh established the shop in 1982 when the current space became available, but he first became involved in the collision repair industry when he was only sixteen years old.

Though Baugh Auto Body has been in business for nearly thirty years, they decided to spread the word about their quality and convenience to customers in the Richmond area in a more proactive way back in 2009.  To do this, they hired Lythos Studios, an advertising company, to assist in making their website more appealing to potential customers and to help promote their business. Lythos Studios was hired in the summer of 2009 to revamp the shop’s logo and their website, but ultimately provided much more. Lythos Studios helped with branding the business and pushing brand recognition, thus helping to position Baugh Auto Body as one of the top shops in their community.  Though the changes proposed were not very difficult to implement, Lythos Studios’ marketing plan has greatly affected Baugh Auto Body’s business, and it took only a month or so for the shop to see returns from the marketing strategy.

As a paint manufacturer’s rep, there is not a single month that goes by without being put in the middle of collision repairers and insurers; expected to chime in on a dispute about what is necessary for a proper repair. In the July 2010 edition of Autobody News, I wrote an article on the debate about Color Match, Blending or both and no matter how many industry experts since then have expressed a similar point of view—this debate never seems to loose momentum.

To view a PDF of this article please click HERE.

While arguing my point a month ago, I realized that we could end this debate once and for all. For a moment, let’s assume that in 2011, all parties involved in collision repair have come to the conclusion that blending is not only an option, but a necessary and required part of a quality repair process. I like to compare this to the restaurant experience. If you go out for an expensive dinner and the restaurant simply slaps the food on your plate, without creating a pleasant arrangement, the food will still tastes the same. Chances are the customer will not consider this a satisfying experience, or be a repeat customer at this establishment. Just like the owner of a restaurant, collision repairers and insurers want the same thing to maintain a successful business. We need happy vehicle owners that give us high CSI ratings and long-term customer retention. Blending is for collision repairers and insurance companies, what arranging the food is to the restaurant business. It is a must have in today’s business world.

So let’s assume we all agree on the point of blending, where does this leave the color match portion of the estimate? During my last conversation I had with an insurance representative, I noticed clearly why we go around in circles on this issue. It is the classical case of misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the term color match.

Chrysler’s Southeast & Southwest Service & Parts Business Conference was held at the Disney Contemporary Resort in Orlando from October 12 through 14. More than 375 dealers, parts managers, and service managers enrolled in the conference; representing over 240 of the highest volume dealerships in the country.

To view a PDF of this article please click HERE.

The 3-day conference provided numerous educational sessions specific to dealer principals, service managers and parts managers as well as a vendor expo. This is the third year that the show has combined representatives from their southwest and southeast regions into one show—previously each region had separate shows.

The first day of the conference was kicked-off by Frank Lasater, SEBC Service and Parts Manager, and Bill Harry, SWBC Service and Parts Manager. Rolf Assmuth, V.P. Technical Service Operation, followed with a Service Operations Update and a Mopar Parts Update by Jim Sassorossi, Director, Mopar Field Service & Parts, concluded the morning.

The afternoon sessions included Mopar Brand Vision by Trish Hecker, Director Mopar Marketing, and Disney’s Approach to Business Excellence by Jeff Noel from the Disney Institute.

The second day of the conference provided over twenty Service, Parts and Dealer Principal break-out sessions for the attendees to choose from. This year's conference offered more flexible and diverse education sessions as a result of attendee feedback from the previous years. This allowed attendees to better adapt their sessions to their individual needs, resulting in more dealer principals and managers in attendance than any previous conference.

There was also a Vendor Expo Thursday night with over 100 vendors participating.

The conference wrapped up on Friday with various presentations by industry experts and closing remarks from Frank Lasater, SEBC Service & Parts Manager.

Unless specifically recommended by the vehicle maker, parts with a tensile strength over 600 MPa should only be replaced at factory seams. This is just one of the “best practices” identified at a Repairability Summit hosted by I-CAR earlier this year. Summit attendees consisted of subject matter experts from vehicle makers, tool and equipment makers, collision repair facilities, insurance companies, and the American Iron and Steel Institute.

To view a PDF of this article please click HERE.

The primary intention of the summit was to identify best practices for working with ultra-high-strength steels (UHSS) and the new construction methods found on late model vehicles. In February 2012, I-CAR will premiere its Best Practices for High-Strength Steel Repairs (SPS09) course, highlighting issues covered during the Summit and other best practices.

While vehicle maker recommendations should be followed first and foremost, these best practices can be leveraged where none exist. For example, while there’s a lot more information on steel strengths in the vehicle service information with each new model year, sometimes the information is not there. Summit attendees discussed various tests the technician can perform in the repair facility that help identify if the steel is mild, HSS, or UHSS (see Figure 1).

The newest member of the Autobody News Distinctive Dealerships Group is Audi-Mission Viejo in Southern California. A relatively new dealer, only seven years old, Audi-Mission Viejo has managed to thrive by always putting quality first.

To view a PDF of this article please click HERE.

Quality is in all areas of the parts department. Justin Stinnett is a parts director who knows how to make quality pay off. Justin began only two years ago, with a bloated inventory and untrained personnel. He needed all of his twenty years experience to change that. Since then, there has been a steady rise to the top and is one of the best Audi parts departments in the region. His secret has been to insist on quality. Quality means the newest and best available technology for his department, and the best employees he can find.

Justin’s investments in technology include state-of-the-art inventory control, and a simple and easy internet order system. Audimv.com is a good example of how to set up a simple online parts link. A well organized department holds over a half-million dollar inventory, and a modern communications system completes the basics.

Justin has four quality countermen, led by Armando with twenty years experience, then Henry and Robin with eight years, and Mario with six. A bilingual crew works well in the southern California market, language issues are no problem. This team works together with common goals, to keep their department the best in the region. Their efforts have been rewarded, their wholesale business has tripled!

Customer service is the standard here, promises are kept, and orders are always completely filled. Such service creates the friendships and loyalty so necessary to success in these times.