Friday, 29 February 2008 09:00

Shop Owners With Ethics Must Stand Up For Customers

Written by Lee Amaradio, Jr.

Truth: Conformity to fact or actuality, A fact that has been verified.
Honesty: Freedom from deceit or fraud.
Integrity: Soundness of moral character, honesty.


Lie: A false statement made with the deliberate intent to deceive.
Deceit: Concealment or distortion of the truth.
Fraud: Deceit, trickery, sharp practice, or breach of confidence, perpetrated for profit, or to gain some unfair or dishonest advantage.

Working in the collision repair industry puts the core of my moral character to the test daily. Do I choose to tell the truth or shall I lie? What is the answer when one of my major insurers wants me to mislead my customers to save the insurer money. My morals are being tested and I’m not even reaping the benefits, when a particular insurer wants me to tell my customers that aftermarket parts are the same as OEM. When I told him I couldn’t do that, he went on to try to convince me to the contrary, saying that their guarantee was better so that made the part better. Of course, I disagreed and I still do.
    I will choose truth every time.
    The truth is that a knock-off Rolex may look like the real thing, but it is still not the same. I may be able to pass off a counterfeit $100 bill to a trusting customer but it would still be a moral crime.
    It is appalling just how far some insurers will go to save a buck by deceiving the poor, unsuspecting customer. It’s not about the aftermarket parts per se, but the deceit involved in defending the parts to the consumer.
    When discussing business ethics, I define words like “truth” and “integrity.” Have they really stooped so low that they will justify anything in the name of business? Worse yet, excusing themselves by declaring “It’s my job.”  I say,” If your job makes you lie and steal, then you should get another job. How can you lie to people all day and then go home and teach your kids to tell the truth? Every time you try to defend something that you know is wrong, you are sinking lower and lower into a place of no return. Soon you will believe your own lies.
    No adjuster has ever asked me to use aftermarket parts on one of their own vehicles. So why don’t we start telling the truth about aftermarket parts. Yes, they are less expensive, and invariably lower in quality. Insurers request them simply to save themselves money.

Guarantee all or none
Why do insurers bother to guarantee aftermarket parts at all? If aftermarket parts are so good, they shouldn’t need a guarantee. I have never had an insurer mention their guarantee on OEM parts. I wonder why?
    If aftermarket parts were the same as OEMs, then insurers would be advertising that they guarantee OEM parts also. They never do this because the OEM part is guaranteed by the manufacturer and shops rarely have a problem with them. I have never had an insurer pay me any extra to fit nor re-do an OEM part installation. Try it. Ask your adjuster for extra time to fit your next OEM fender and see what happens.
     Again common sense prevails.

    Do insurers really think that shop owners are that stupid? It’s like catching your kid in the cookie jar when he has cookie all over his face – and he still denies that he ate any cookies. Who are you going to believe – the kid or your eyes?
    Insurers have had their hands in the cookie jar for so long that they have enough nerve to call us the liars when they have cookies all over their faces. When will wrong be wrong and right become right again? I’ll tell you: when we stand up to the insurance companies and make them accountable for the deceit that they are perpetrating on the poor unsuspecting consumer. Remember the definition of “Fraud” I wrote above, who does that sound like?
    Our profits are diminishing because we have believed their propaganda. We believe that we cannot stand up to them. Many think I am committing business suicide because I am willing to speak out. Believe me, I am committing business suicide if I don’t.


Truth, Justice and the American way
As ethical businesspeople we need to tell the truth, not only to our customers but to ourselves as well. Our rates must be raised if we want to make a profit.. We need to tell the truth about aftermarket parts and we should never take part in deceiving a consumer no matter what we stand to lose.
    I have been in business for around 30 years. My shop, “Faith” Quality Auto Body, is a large volume shop. I’m not talking about survival, I’m talking about profit. In reality, I could lower my prices below my competition and survive for quite some time without any profit at all. But I’m in business to make a profit and the better I am able to run my business, the more profit I’m entitled to make. I want to build new buildings and continue to buy new equipment and have a nice office. Why is it that if a body shop owner is making great money and investing in the latest equipment he is looked upon as a thief?
    The mind set of the insurance company needs to be altered. Most insurance companies have nicer buildings than you or I have. If you have ever been in my private office, you know that they all have better offices than I have.
    I’m in the process of building a new building with 4,000 square feet dedicated just to the office. For the first time, I’ll have a decent office that will fit more than one other person besides me. Guess what? There is nothing wrong with shop owners earning enough money for nice facilities.
     Think about this: what more can they do to you that they are not already doing? Why wait until you are desperate or worse – out of business – to figure it out.
    The name of the game is “business” and profit is the star player. With truth, honesty, and integrity, what do you have to fear? Reread all the definitions above one more time and see where you fit in? The choice is yours!   

    In business for over 29 years, Lee Amaradio, Jr. is the president and owner of “Faith” Quality Auto Body Inc. in Murrieta, California. With 53 employees, he attributes his success to surrounding himself with good help, with some of the best office staff and techs in our industry. Amaradio has been in this industry long enough to see the handwriting on the wall. He feels that now is the time for us to unite as an industry before it’s too late. He can be reached by e-mail at lee@faithqualityautobody.com.