Welcome to the first of what will be a series of articles on one of the hottest topics in the collision industry today: OE shop certification programs.
For our first one, we spoke with Rossana Alvarez, Assistant National Manager for Collision Parts Marketing for American Honda.
ABN: Does your program have a specific name?
American Honda: The full name is ProFirst Certified Body Shop program, more often referred to as simply “ProFirst.” The program was introduced at the Northeast Trade Show on March 18, 2015 but the official launch date was April 1, 2015 to coincide with our fiscal year.
ABN: What is the main purpose of the program?
American Honda: As stated in our program term and conditions, the purpose of the ProFirst Certified Body Shop Program is three-fold:
- *Promote the correct, complete, and safe repair of Honda and Acura vehicles.
- *Provide support to those collision repair businesses who have demonstrated a commitment to a high level of customer care and satisfaction.
- *Provide Honda and Acura owners with a high level of confidence that their collision-damaged vehicle will be repaired in a complete and safe manner
ABN: What are the program requirements?
American Honda: First and foremost the shop must be an I-CAR Gold Class shop or, as an alternative, be a VeriFacts VQ or Medallion shop. About 90 percent of our shops are Gold Class, about five percent are VeriFacts shops and five percent are both.
We also have some OE-specific training that must be completed and maintained. This includes six on-line classes, developed by Honda and administered by I-CAR that must be completed by at least one estimator, and two steel-structural technicians or one steel structural and one steel non-structural technician.
We have a rather lengthy tool and equipment list that the shop must have. However, we do not specify a brand of equipment, only that whatever the shop has meets our specifications.
The shop must have a CSI system although we do not specify the provider. We know there are several out there and some of our dealer-shops have their own and I know some of the MSO’s have their own. We simply feel that the shop owner or manager must be aware of how his customers feel about their experience with the shop.
We don’t have specific facility requirements but we expect the shop to be clean and professional looking and customer-centric where it needs to be.
ABN: What are the program benefits?
American Honda: Each shop receives the following:
- *Wall plaque which is replaced each year* Outdoor metal sign
- *Use of the ProFirst logo on the shop’s website and social media sites
- *Free access to Honda/Acura repair information
- *Free access to Honda/Acura parts catalogs
- *Their shop’s name listed as a search result on American Honda’s ProFirst Shop Locator, which is located on American Honda’s parts and service consumer web site (owners.honda.com/parts-service/), and American Honda’s collision web site (collision.honda.com)
- *Free access to a technical help line which will go all the way to Japan if necessary
- *Honda and Acura owners can have their collision-damaged car towed free to a ProFirst shop if the vehicle is still under warranty and under the Roadside Assistance program
- *Shops receive several free collateral advertising items including consumer-targeted brochures, a poster, and window-clings* Shops have exclusive access to a Los-Angeles based vendor who can provide various promotional items emblazoned with the ProFirst logo and the shop’s name.
- *Each shop receives the ProFirst Quarterly magazine free
As an adjunct benefit, for about two years, American Honda has been promoting ProFirst shops in two of the insurance industry’s leading magazines.
ABN: What shops are eligible?
American Honda: Both dealer-owned and independent shops are welcome as long as they meet the program requirements.
ABN: Must an independent shop be sponsored by a dealer? (If so has that caused any problems?)
American Honda: We went that route with a prior “recognized” program and yes, there were problems so we chose not to do that again.
ABN: Are any shops specifically ineligible?
American Honda: Our program is limited to US shops and dealers. We occasionally get calls from shops or dealers in Canada. Honda Canada has their own program, also called ProFirst, but it is under their own auspices. Other ineligible shops include those that cannot or will not meet Honda’s requirements.
ABN: What is the fee for the program? / Does the program run on an annual basis?
American Honda: The annual fee is $2700. It is the same for both dealer and independent shops.
ABN: Do you inspect every shop and if so, who does the inspections?
American Honda: Every shop is inspected on an annual basis to ensure program compliance. Some shops question the need for an annual inspection. However, managers change, technicians change and so maintaining compliance is an on-going issue.
ABN: Is there an optimum number of shops you want to have and if so, how close are you to reaching that number?
American Honda: Based on our calculations and the number of Honda and Acura units in operation, our ideal number is 1,200 to 1,250. We have been at that number for several months. We are still adding a few here and there but their placement is very strategic. Mostly, when shops call or email us and want to get on the program we ask where they are and if they are Gold Class or a VeriFacts shop or not. If they are Gold Class or VeriFacts but we don’t need a shop where they are located, we will likely put them on a waiting list.
ABN: Have you had any shops drop out and if so, why?
American Honda: Yes, a few have dropped out. Some left because of a management change or ownership change. Some left because they joined the program for the wrong reason, thinking ProFirst was a DRP program. And some just could not or would not maintain their Gold Class status.
ABN: Does Honda provide their certified shops with any brand-specific training?
American Honda: As stated above, Honda provides six one-hour, on-line classes administered through I-CAR. More are planned for a later date. The current classes include:
- *HON10e – Honda and Acura Service Information
- *HON11e – Honda and Acura High Strength Steel Repair
- *HON12e – Honda and Acura Restraints Collision Repair
- *HON14e – Honda and Acura Electrical Collision Repair
- *HON15e – Honda and Acura A/C Collision Repair
- *HON16e – Honda and Acura TPMS Collision Repair
ABN: Does Honda provide shops with any marketing or promotional materials?
American Honda: Yes as stated above. And we will soon be introducing promotional videos that shops can have custom made with their own shop name, logo, and message to be run on their web sites or social media sites.
ABN: Does Honda have a field staff dedicated to this program? If so, what is their focus?
American Honda: We have ten field personnel spread across the US. Their main focus is to on-board new shops, provide support to existing shops, and provide administrative support for Honda’s national office.
ABN: Does Honda provide a magazine or other printed materials for their certified shops?
American Honda: We provide ProFirst Quarterly magazine, containing technical articles as well as profiles on ProFirst shops and other helpful information.
ABN: What has been the biggest challenge in establishing the network?
American Honda: When we first got started, shops considered the “certified shop” concept to be the domain of the more exotic European marques like Jaguar, Mercedes or BMW. They didn’t see Honda and Acura as being “exotic enough” or using exotic substrates to a point that warranted a shop certification program. Eventually they saw which way the wind was blowing across the collision industry landscape, and jumped on board.
ABN: What has been the biggest challenge in maintaining the network?
American Honda: We notify the shop 90 days in front of their expiration date. Under normal circumstance, and if all goes well, this should give them plenty of time to do what is necessary to complete the recertification process. However, some shops fail to pay in a timely manner or have lost their Gold Class status or failed to keep up with their Honda-specific training. Many times when this happens, and the shop cannot rectify the situation in time, the shop expires and is removed from the program.
ABN: Do you have a website where consumers can find your certified shops?
American Honda: Yes, as mentioned earlier, our Shop Locator is on American Honda’s parts and service consumer web site (owners.honda.com/parts-service/), and American Honda’s collision web site (collision.honda.com) These web sites also serve as a platform to help educate consumers on the importance of proper vehicle repair performed by qualified technicians.
ABN: What do you see for the future of OE certification programs?
The collision industry is changing before our very eyes. Going forward, certification programs will need to adapt in a proactive manner to the new challenges before us.