The Brevard Autobody Association is illustrative. It operated from 1989–2002, with approximately 35 active members. “We were probably the longest running association in the state of Florida at the time that we disbanded,” recalls Steve Long, whose Rockledge-based Long Wholesale Consultants has been serving the state since 1990. The Brevard association spun off from an Orlando association which operated approximately from 1989–1999.
Today, dissolution and distrust in Florida is patiently being replaced by unity and a commitment to longevity. Long is the treasurer of the new Space and Treasure Coast Chapter of the growing Florida Autobody Collision Alliance (FACA).
FACA comprises six state chapters centered by larger cities. Formed in August 2009, Long’s Space and Treasure Coast represents collision-industry members from Titusville south 100 miles or so to Stuart along the Atlantic Coast. The other chapters are FACA of Jacksonville, Mid-State (Lakeland), FACA of Tampa Bay, Central Florida (Orlando) and South Florida (Ft. Lauderdale). Approximately 200 members regularly attend regional meetings statewide.
This year, FACA plans to open chapters in the Miami, Ft. Myers, Pensacola, and other areas. hold a first state convention and hire a full-time executive director, says Dave McBroom, president of FACA and the Jacksonville chapter.
FACA is an affiliate of Prosser, Wa.-based Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) and the National Auto Body Council, headquartered in Princeton Junction, N.J.
McBroom notes that George Avery and Chuck Sulkala at NABC and Barry Dorn and Aaron Schulenburg at SCRS have been particularly helpful during the formative period. “We receive a lot of guidance and assistance from both those organizations,” he says.
The association started about six years ago. “I walked into a restaurant about the same time as a dealership shop manager and another new shop owner and asked if they would mind if we sat together. Two hours later, we agreed to meet again the following week,” recalls McBroom, owner of Jacksonville-based Sunbeam Autobody since March 2000. A retired Army major and helicopter pilot, he had moved to nearby St. Augustine from Colorado four years earlier and purchased Sunbeam.
The group met weekly for several months, joined by a fourth member, Steve Carey, an insurance re-inspector and local I-CAR chairman. They decided to meet regularly and discuss topics of mutual interest, McBroom says. He had been an SCRS member for a few years and asked then current executive director, Dan Risley, to speak to the group about the advantages of unity. In Jacksonville at the time, shop owners and managers didn’t communicate or work together, he explained. “We sent out invitations and, wow!, we had over a hundred in attendance for that meeting.”
For the next few years, the group met informally bimonthly. Vendors sponsored the meetings with meals, and McBroom secured speakers from the EPA as well as vendors, manufacturers and politicians.
Two years ago, two shop owners from the Fort Lauderdale area, Eddie Quintela, owner of Collision Concepts in Boca Raton, and Mike Pierro, owner of Ideal Collision in Hollywood and currently chapter president of the 50-member-and-growing FACA South Florida, called McBroom. About six months earlier, they had heard about FACA during a meeting in Pittsburgh, PA.
Inspired by the guidance on forming a local autobody association, they asked McBroom to visit and help them start a chapter. John Mattos, president of Pro Finishes Plus in Temple Hills, MA, Mike Anderson, owner of Wagonwork Collision, Alexandria, VA, and Aaron Schulenburg, SCRS executive director and treasurer of the Washington Metropolitan Autobody Association, also attended. “What a great meeting, with so many eager people wanting to be involved,” McBroom recalls.
Then, two weeks later, another call came in from George Mantzaris and others from the Tampa Bay area. FACA vice president Mantzaris, collision center manager of Toyota of Tampa Bay, is today also the Tampa Bay chapter president. David Hesser, owner of Gulf Coast Collision in Port Richey, is the chapter’s vice president.
In 2008, after contacting Risley at SCRS, McBroom invited the other two groups to meet in Ocala; they incorporated, wrote bylaws, elected a board, chose the FACA name and joined the national organization.
“It has been fantastic to watch their growth and development throughout the state in a very short period of time,” saidSCRS’ Schulenberg.
“I am continually astounded by how well they have done to bring together such meaningful and well-attended meetings, with members who are so driven to motivate positive change within the industry.” SCRS has more than 39 affiliate associations across the U.S. and Canada, representing 6,000-plus collision repair businesses and 58,500-plus individuals employed within the industry.
“Our chapter decided to join FACA because we felt we would have greater success being a part of a much larger state association rather than trying to go at it ourselves: Strength in numbers!” Piero says. He adds that this year’s chapter goals are to grow membership awareness about FACA and to promote regulations that will protect consumers when filing a claim.
Representing consumers is also important at the Mid-State chapter, where Michael Meisner serves as president. Coming together as a group helps them, the chapter members and the industry, he says.
“This is the best way for a customer to get the best repair possible,” says Meisner, whose Meisner Paint and Body in Lakeland is a third-generation collision-repair business. In 1942, his grandfather started repairing vehicles on the same street the business is now on.
“If shop owners are not ‘back-stabbing enemies’ but are instead associates, they are less likely to undercut each other for the job and do inferior work on the consumer’s vehicle,” Meisner says.
The shopowners benefit in various ways as well. For example, if the owner believes that an insurance company is not treating him or her correctly, the shop can call fellow members to see if they are being similarly handled. “This closes the gap that the insurance companies hold between shops,” he says. “There is still competition in our association, but healthy competition.”
Ray Gunder, owner of Gunder’s Auto Center in Lakeland (see cover story), agrees. “FACA has opened up communication between shops that never existed before in our area. The amount of ‘knowledge’ that is shared with a phone call or e-mail is tremendous. We are no longer on an ‘island by itself,’” explains Gunder, who started what is now a full-service collision and mechanical auto center 41 years ago. He is the sergeant at arms for the Lakeland chapter and, what McBroom calls, the “conscience of FACA.”
“We can now visit each other’s shops and be welcomed—instead of being leery —looking at a demo of new equipment together,” Gunder adds, noting that the chapter holds monthly lunch meetings at different shops. “We have all gained a new respect for each other’s business and have been able to ‘bury the hatchet.’”