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Thursday, 08 May 2008 11:15

California SB 1059: Consumers to the Rescue

Written by Richard Steffen

While I can load up with reasons why Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger won’t okay collision repair legislation opposed by the insurance industry, I’d prefer to focus on what it would take for him to overturn the wishes of insurers who do business in California. The short answer is “consumers.” And while I’m at it, let me add that “consumers” are the answer to stopping unfair insurer practices in collision repair settlements.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008 13:59

Steffen --- Steering Wars

Written by Richard Steffen

Insurers, including their lobbyists, excel at steering. Insurance agents send claimants to DRPs while insurer lobbyists direct “neutral parties” (legislators and staff) to points of law that have nothing to do with the harm caused by steering. For example, I recently spoke to a consultant for a state legislator who asked me why the CRA would sponsor a bill (SB 1167) that was unconstitutional. When I asked her how she arrived at her legal opinion, she cited a United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that struck down a Texas law that she was told was similar to SB 1167. Her source of information was an insurance lobbyist. She’d been steered by one of the best.

Monday, 18 February 2008 12:11

Steffen -- The CRA Sets a Course of Action for 2008

Written by Richard Steffen

The Collision Repair Association of California’s sponsorship of a proposed new state law on aftermarket parts (see cover story this issue) is the latest in a series of actions aimed at helping repairers throughout the state in 2008. The bill, SB 1059, by State Senator Carole Migden (D-San Francisco), simply makes it an unfair business practice for an insurer to require installation of aftermarket parts on a vehicle under factory warranty.
But, as with any CRA effort, there is much more than words on paper. In brief, SB 1059 is part of the association’s strategy to restore contract power to the repairer.
I like the perspectives of CRA board member John Tyczki, J&M Auto Body, San Diego, who says “If a majority of policyholders knew they had the right to select their own repair shop and if they understood that some shops practice quality repairs while others are forced to meet lower standards, the high quality shops would do well.”
I talk to legislators and their staff three to four days per week. Their insights, or lack of them, are eye-openers when it comes to the collision repair process. Some of them believe the repair contract is between the policyholder and the insurer — the repairer simply does the work as dictated by the insurer.

Thursday, 12 March 2009 17:22

McClune---California Autobody Association Board Meeting Kicks Off 2009

Written by David McClune

The California Autobody Association held its first quarter board of directors meeting on Saturday, February 21 in Buena Park, CA.

Monday, 03 March 2008 16:54

McClune --- CAA looks forward in 2008 - The CAA Annual Legislative Day

Written by David McClune

The California Autobody Association (CAA) is coming off a very good year and is ready for the challenges of 2008. Already we have seen that this year will be just as active as last year. 2007 was a year that the CAA met our membership goals of over 100 new members and we are projecting that 2008 will be an even better year for membership and accomplishments. One of the most important parts of our association is the hard work our volunteers dedicate to the success of our state chapters. The CAA currently has nineteen active chapters throughout California which includes three new active chapters, Bakersfield, Ventura, and San Fernando Valley. Our chapters hold regular meetings that include updated information and presentations on our industry that is vital to the success of these businesses.
  

We never had DRP relationships and have heard horror stories about them. But some days it seems we need to become a DRP shop just in self-defense. How do you make the decision?

Thursday, 28 January 2010 11:52

Bottom Shocker: True Mechanical Humor from Gonzo Weaver

Written by Gonzo Weaver

Here is a true story from my book, HEY LOOK! I FOUND THE LOOSE NUT, that might spark your interest.

A customer called [my auto electric shop] and said he just purchased a car from the police auction, but it had some sort of strange noise coming from the driver’s side electric seat. It seems every time he moved it there was a strange electrical sound. He thought there was something wrong with the seat motor.

He was coming to me, an auto electric technician, to get it fixed.

“Sure,” I said. “What kind of car is it?”

“It’s a Peugeot,” he answered.

I’m not much on Peugeots, but I told him I could take a quick look at it and see if I could do anything for him.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009 09:12

White --- Dealing with a Business Slowdown

Written by Rick White

In the current economy you have two basic choices. You can agree with the naysayers and believe that there will be a couple years of recession to ride out, it is going to get worse, and there is nothing you can do—or you can decide to ignore the recession and take positive steps to maintain and grow your business. That’s right, I said ignore the recession… let me explain why.
    When you started your business how many people told you it wouldn’t work, you shouldn’t do it? Did you listen to them? NO! You rolled up your sleeves and built a business of which you are very proud. It’s time for you to revisit the basics.

1. Metrics

a. Know Your Metrics
A metric is an indicator of how your business is progressing. Some great indicators are number of calls, invoice count (car or unit count), sales, gross profit, hours per repair order, parts to labor ratio and customer satisfaction.

b. Monitoring Your Metrics
Monitor your metrics more frequently and review your progress more often than usual. Think of it as zooming in on the detail. Look at things by the week instead of the month or by the month instead of the quarter. Don’t wait for the results to play out, look early and often to allow for proactive course corrections to keep your business on target.

2. Customer Service

Now more than ever, provide excellent customer service. Who determines the level of your service? Your customer does! Ask them how you are doing and what can you do even better to help them during this difficult time. And then respond accordingly within reason to meet their concerns. By all means let all customers that gave you feedback know what changes you are making to help them out.

3. Employees

We are seeing more and more questions about employee engagement during this economic downturn. People are nervous, scared and unsure right now, including your employees. It is your job to keep your employees positive, helpful, focused on the customer and results oriented. No matter how hard you plan, layoffs may be necessary but don’t make the mistake of laying people off too soon. Remember that this recession will end and people are hard to find, especially trained people who know your business. Instead entertain the idea of temporarily cutting back on wages and/or reducing hours per week with the entire staff (including you).

4. Be Profitable

Make sure your business model is a profitable one now! Too many times we start coaching a client to find that their business is geared up for a level of business they haven’t yet achieved causing them to make at best minimal profit and more likely lose money. Don’t grow to profit…be profitable now! Review your business model and staffing to ensure profitability at your current level of business. Then develop a plan to increase your volume and add staffing as volume requires.

5. Cash Flow

Cash is king! Make sure you’re not spending more than is coming in. Take your fixed costs (expenses plus technician wages if paid hourly or salary) and divide the amount by the number of days open in the month. This is your daily breakeven amount. You need to generate at least that amount in gross profit every day to stay positive. It won’t take long when you dip below your breakeven amount to start losing capital and, if unchanged, possibly going under.

6. Marketing

“Good times, bad times, there will always be advertising. In good times people want to advertise; in bad times they have to.”
 —Bruce Barton (1886–1967)

The first expense cut is typically the marketing or advertising budget. This is the worst place to cut back. In the short term there is no adverse effect, in the long term it is disastrous. We recommend reviewing where the marketing budget is being spent and measuring the results. Every piece of marketing should include a call to action; small businesses shouldn’t be trying to build a brand. Marketing that isn’t bringing in an acceptable return should be reworked or scrapped in favor of other avenues. Your marketing budget should be 8% of sales minus rent to maintain your current volume of business and 10% of sales minus rent to grow your business.

7. Think Outside the Box

Don’t follow the herd mentality and wait for outside circumstances to change your business. After speaking with customers, use their feedback to improve your operation (within reason of course). Separate yourself from your competition, making it a no-brainer knowing where to bring a vehicle for repairs. Is a dealer closing in your area? Prepare an ad that positions you as the repair solution for that particular carline. Is an independent closing? Call the owner and offer to purchase his customer list and develop a letter together you can send to his customers. Create non-competing strategic alliances. Is there a business that you frequent that has customers that would value what you have to offer? Would your customers value what he has to offer? Develop a letter that he sends to his customers recommending you with some type of offer extended. Return the favor by sending a letter recommending him to your customers.
    Look at other industries for ideas that can add value and help build your business. The best advice that I can pass along to you is that you should develop a plan with a crystal clear desired result and then ACT on it! Don’t get stuck on working the original plan until it produces the results. The plan may need to be modified along the way to get the desired result. But the result stays the same. Waiting until you have the “perfect” plan is not possible and ill-advised. You will never think of everything. As Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “The plan is useless, but planning is essential.”

8. Attitude

Attitude is so important, especially now. It is vital to your business that you stay positive. Be realistic but don’t let fear take hold. With steadfast determination you will get through this current season of challenge and come out on the other side stronger. You need to feed your attitude daily by reading books on positive attitude.

9. Get Help

There are times when a business owner can’t see the forest through the trees. A business coach can be a great investment providing an objective viewpoint, help ground the owner focusing him on what is important and developing next action steps. This process allows you to determine your goals and needs and then build an action plan for getting to your desired results.

Rick White is a managing member of One Eighty Business Solutions (180BIZ), a Virginia based coaching and business solutions provider to the automotive and truck repair industries. For more information, email info@180biz.com or call (540) 833-2014.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009 09:09

Momber -- Win Customers And Influence People With Some Website Extras

Written by Joe Momber

Web sites can be a very powerful tool to help customers say YES to your businesses. More and more people make buying decisions as a result of research done on the Internet.
    You don’t have to look beyond the attention given to automotive spending by companies like Google to see how important web presence is to automotive-related consumer spending. Automotive was, by far, Google’s best performing category in the third quarter of 2009, largely on the back of the government’s “Cash for Clunkers” program.
    Nikesh Arora, Google’s president of global sales operations and business development, said he still believes U.S. auto spending is poised for growth, largely because of the age of U.S. fleet and the shift of dollars to the web.
    But many collision shops still don’t have a Web site at all, which is a huge mistake, says former shop owner David Moore, founder and president of CollisionBuilder.com, a Web site design firm. According to Moore, more than 80 percent of consumers between the ages of 33 and 54 research online before they buy a product or service, so if you have no online presence you could be missing opportunities.
    “They don’t realize how vital a Web site is,” Moore says. “I consider the Web site to be the foundation of any good marketing program.”
    If you own a colision repair shop and plan to be in business 5 years from now, you need to invest time creating or reviewing your business website. You should also check out business websites outside of the collision repair industry because you’ll get fresh ideas.
    Also, just because the web is a relatively new tool, doesn’t mean you don’t need to remember time-tested basic principles of marketing. Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People is one of the bestselling self-help books ever and is just as useful today as it was when it was first published in 1936. It has sold 15 million copies globally. Cargengie’s book and courses teach basic common sense techniques to help people win friends and influence others. The same techniques apply to the web today. Your website can use the same simple and common sense approach to make it easy for potential customers to say YES to your collision repair shop.
    Few people take the time to research a collision repair shop in advance. Your web site must gain the trust of visitors, quickly and easily. How might you get some great ideas and exposure at the same time?
    Look around. High school students are very web savvy these days. Invite some students and their teachers to help you. Give them a tour of your shop explaining the entire process of repairing a car. Show them your equipment and how it works. Explain how the procedures your shop takes to be environmentally friendly. Explain the challenges with aftermarket parts vs OEM parts. Explain the challenges you encounter with insurance companies. Invite the students to bring their high tech cameras and video recording technology so they can then share the information with others so as to allow input from lots of people. Most high schools have a student newspaper and of course they would be invited to cover the event.
    You might invite the students to find a worthy cause to help in this project. Possibly there is someone in the community such as a wife and family of a veteran in Afghanistan and they have a car in need of repair. Possibly there is someone in the local community that is experiencing a financial hardship and their car needs some dents fixed and a paint job. If you invite some enthusiastic young people to get involved in a project that will help someone in their local community, there will be payback.
    Figure out a way for everyone to win. As the project progresses post the progress on your site. Include lots of photos of those helping you.  With a little imagination and enthusiasm you can see how someone can take an idea like this and position themselves very favorably in the community. Doing so will result in terrific exposure for your business. Your employees will be excited and proud to be part of the experience.
    Some good sites I’ve come across that might serve as examples are the following: Joe’s Collision, Body Work & Detailing in Dallas, TX has a great looking site. One look at it gives an immediate impression of high quality professional work. It’s easy to read. It’s got a great colors and powerful testimonials with very professional photos. Check it out at www.joescollisionanddetailing.com.
Len’s Auto Body in Oceanside, CA,  has an impressive site with logos from equipment manufactures as well as I-CAR and ASE giving visitors a feeling that it’s a shop that can be trusted to do high quality work. When a visitor clicks on “Shop Tour” a slide presentation begins and shows a variety of photos of his shop and equipment. He also includes a photo of his custom PT Cruiser advertising his shop which is another very creative method of gaining additional consistent exposure. He’s taking advantage of the popularity of that vehicle plus the custom paint job to draw attention to his business. His web site is a nice clean easy to use site that creates a favorable impression to visitors. Visit his site at www.lensautobody.com.
    Daland Body Shop of South San Francisco is another excellent example. This website also has a video that begins playing as soon as the site is clicked on. I tend to favor site that use the video technology.  Video is the next best thing to an owner telling a potential customer the selling points. The thing is though a video never has a bad day, it’s never tired and it’s available to give that same enthusiastic and professional message 24 hours a day. Visit this site at: http://daland-autobody.com
    Don’t overlook the importance of appealing directly to female customers. There’s good evidence that women are in the majority of collision repair customers. Certainly they control the largest share of a family’s budget. There are companies that cater directly to shops by helping to make them more female friendly, such as AskPatty.com, which brands sites as female friendly. See http://femalefriendlydealer.askpatty.com/?d=Js_Auto_Body, for example.
    “Up until now, like many automotive businesses, we thought the obvious goal was to ensure that women were treated the same as men. Through the AskPatty program, we’ve learned that treating women the same as men does not necessarily yield the [best] experience for women. This may not sound profound, but with an increased awareness of what elements women seek in a positive automotive servicing experience, our service centers are better prepared to meet and exceed the expectations of our female customers” stated Mark Kim, Operations Manager, J’s Auto Body, in Lanham, MD.
    With just a little imagination it’s easy to see how a project like this could be a lot of fun for everyone involved. Above all, don’t be afraid to experiment.

 

It’s very easy to be negatively influenced by the news—if you don’t have a plan to remain positive. I used to look forward to watching the nightly news. I used to listen to the news while driving my car. I used to watch the news before going to sleep. But for quite a while now, I’ve made a conscious decision to listen and watch less TV and radio news. I simply will not watch the news before going to sleep. I know that whatever is on my mind before I drift of to sleep is what my subconscious mind focuses on.
    I’ve also learned to develop strategies to interrupt myself when feeling stuck in my daily activities. For example, I’ll tell myself “Inch by inch it’s a cinch. Yard by yard is sometimes hard.” This message reminds me that sometimes it’s helpful to slow down and accept that progressing slowly and consistently is better than trying to force quick and instant results. When I say this to myself I generally smile, lighten up, let go, and feel better. When I feel better I’m more optimistic and more inclined to persist.
    I grew up on a farm and driving tractors. When I was plowing a field in preparation of planting crops a lower gear was used to maintain a high rpm rate.
    Planting the crop required far less power so the tractor was always in a higher gear with lower rpm. Just reminding myself of this helps me readjust my focus to a more optimistic state.
    I find it helpful to have funny stories in my memory. For example I remember reading a story about a therapist who would often listen to people talk in length about their problems. He would offer a solution and often the response to his solution was “Well, that just wouldn’t be me.” After hearing this response numerous times over the years he decided he had to come up with a response that would interrupt the patient’s pattern and kind of shock them into action. Finally he came up with something he felt confident would do the job.
    A person he’d been seeing for a few months told the same old familiar story. The therapist suggested a solution. The patient responded with “That just wouldn’t be me.” The therapist calmly replied with “Why be yourself when you could be somebody really worthwhile?”
    Now I don’t recommend insulting patients, clients, or customers to improve your business, but the point is that interrupting your pattern is a way to break out of an old and destructive habit.             When I read that story I could relate to the patient. The response from the therapist caused me to smile and realize that whining and making excuses cheated me of the opportunity to grow and mature. I like to use as much humor as possible to cause growth and improvement in my life. Life is too short to take it seriously.
    Then there’s the story of the young man who traveled far into the mystical mountain in search of a guru to get advice. After many days of walking and climbing mountain trails he finds the guru.
    He asks the guru “How can I find enlightenment?” The guru responds by telling the young man to follow him to the river. When they get to the river the guru tells the young man to bend over and then proceeds to push the young man’s head under water. Immediately the young man begins to run out of air and begins to thrash about. The more he thrashes about the more forcefully the guru holds his head under water. Finally, after what seems an eternity, the guru lets go of the young man’s head. The young man lifts his head out of the water gasping for air with a look of bewilderment on his face and asks the guru why he held his head underwater for so long. The guru responded by asking the young man what he desired most when his head was held under water. The young man replied “Air.”
    The guru replied “When you desire enlightenment as much as you desire air, you’ll have it.”
    We all have enough stress and adversity in life. Developing fun ways to lighten up and laugh at myself works for me. If anything I’ve shared works for you please use it.
    One last thing….do you know how to spell guru? Gee You Are U!