On a recent Saturday my brothers and I and our families did some serious catch-up on Dad's place. A widower of 88 years, until severe osteoporosis limited his activities he kept his place prim and proper. Lawnmowers, pruning shears, and the like over a four-hour period, though, pretty well brought it back to its former state. In the process we also cleaned out a rag-tag accumulation of junk overhead in his garage. Among the clutter, an empty dynamite box dated 1953 brought back memories of a time soon after WW2, in which tractors were scarce and dynamite was relatively cheap, when we'd watch Dad blast stumps from our 20 acres. He learned the art of using the right amount and correct placement of dynamite while mining in his late teens.
Ever seen a Fiat Panda or Punto, or a Nissan Sunny, or an Opel ECO? How about a Hyundai Atos, a Datsun Cherry... or Fiat, Citroen or Peugeot pickups? These and other fuel-efficient looks-challenged automotive anomalies at times jockey for street space with bicycles, mopeds and motorcycles in western Cretan cities in a crazy, somewhat synchronized slow street dance. Older, less fuel-efficient vehicles are scarce in this land where a liter of gas (from BP, Texaco, Shell, or EKO gas stations) presently hovers somewhere over .80 Euro (around $.73). The stubbiness in body design of this new genre of autos coursing European streets would cause one to believe their designers went to lunch when they got to the center of these vehicles, and never came back.
Mark Olson, owner of Future Forensics (www.futureforensics.com), a business specializing in automotive damage investigations, was a recent guest speaker at our industry association meeting. His intimate knowledge of both the collision repair and insurance industries is gleaned from 15 years of collision shop experience and two years insurance company employment before establishing his collision damage investigations company, Future Forensics.
In two recent articles, I spoke with Mark Olson, owner of Future Forensics www.futureforensics.com, and part owner of Verifacts Automotive, businesses specializing in automotive damage investigations. Olson exposed a number of common mistakes that could easily land shops in legal hot water, even bankruptcy. Olson keeps up on the latest changes from manufacturer service bulletins, and knows first-hand, having supplied "expert witness" testimony at many auto-related court cases, how juries, unfamiliar with the intricacies of collision repair, render judgment. So, when Olson (an I-CAR instructor, former insurer representative, and former shop owner) offered to take a critical look my shop's repairs in progress, to point out what we're doing right and wrong, I accepted.
In last month's column, you read a candid review of our shop operation on Banbridge Island, near Seattle, Washington. The review was conducted by Mark Olson, owner of Future Forensics (www.futureforensics.com), and co-owner of Verifacts Automotive. Olson specializes in auto damage investigations and supplying "expert witness" testimony in auto-related court cases.
Bill Mauldin, the pen behind the "Willie and Joe" cartoons in WW2-era editions of the Army's Stars and Stripes, died recently. Following the war, Mauldin published his cartoons with explanations of the incidents that inspired them in Up Front With Bill Mauldin, the first of two Pulitzer Prize winning books. Mauldin, whose characterizations have evoked more cheers and scorn than possibly any other war cartoonist, could empathize with the quandary of battle-weary Army infantrymen because he was one of them.
In last month's article, you read candid opinions straight from the keypads of skilled techs, describing what they see wrong with business-as-usual collision repair and their views on what good employers should do if they want to keep them with their shops.
If you can imagine Big Bird settling into a cozy yet busily productive henhouse - the aloof behemoth arrogantly fluffing its plumage as it wiggles its super-sized rear into a comfortable nesting spot, destroying everything the residents spent years producing, you can understand why thousands of productive small businesses become alarmed, outraged, even militant when Wal-Mart barges into their market area.
Clout is generated and precedents are put into play when shops work together with repair organizations that really have a heart for the concerns of the collision industry. But even more favorable results are possible when consumers are willing to go to bat for their rights, and for those of shops that encourage them to take a stand.
An independent (non-DRP) shop owner-friend recently told me their local shop association hosted a meeting to discuss the proliferation of Sterling shops in their area. He wrote, "A lot of major DRP shops showed up to voice very strong opposition to insurance company ownership of shops. What's interesting is the number of 'scared DRP shops' who think Sterling's arrival is the 'beginning of the end' for their businesses."
"Looking at your X-rays, your right hip is pretty shot… must be painful." I couldn't help noticing the way Dr. Jack looked at me sideways, sizing me up, a few gold crowns gleaming through a cryptic Rhett Butler sneer that, lacking only a cigar, would have pegged him a dead ringer for a used car salesman, not a surgeon.
The more I read about Wal-Mart - the world's largest retailer with its nearly $250 billion-and-rapidly-growing gross sales last year, and in its third year as #1 on Fortune 500's list - the more like the insurance industry they appear to be. In fact, one might wonder whether Wal-Mart is taking its cues from the insurance industry or vice versa.
Nothing makes me cringe - physically turning my insides to mush - like the squeal of tires in that desperate, futile, out-of-control second before an inevitable collision. Having cleaned up too many blood-splattered cars, I'm in favor of anything that would assure deathless, injury-less accidents. Collision Avoidance Systems, devices currently being developed and fine-tuned to minimize the frequency and severity of auto accidents promise to drastically change the way we drive. These will also greatly change the collision repair landscape.
As a guest speaker at the North Dakota Auto Body Association Annual Convention and Trade Show recently, it was humbling to note that North Dakota, with a fraction of my state's population and one-forth of its collision shops, had better attendance than did the state of Washington. I found these shops refreshingly positive about their future. I spoke about why shops should seriously consider getting off the DRP-train, and how to do it. Here are some of the highlights of that presentation.