Anyone who lived through the 1960s knows what a turbulent time it was politically, socially and culturally. There were some profound changes in the collision repair trade as well.
Born in the mid-1940s, the industry was starting to “come of age.”
Unlike today in the 21st century, when industry metrics are plentiful and easy to find, it was difficult to find accurate numbers on anything in the 1960s. The number of shops had been growing almost unabated since 1946. By 1969, there were an estimated 75,000 body shops in the country, but nobody had a figure on their size in terms of either square footage or number of employees. Earnest Rowe, then marketing service manager for DuPont Automotive Refinish Division, surmised that despite the great number of shops, most were very small operations, and most overworked. The universe of shops consisted of independents and a few dealer-owned shops, and none of them had to go begging for work.
Back then, the average hourly labor rate for collision repair was $4.50 to $5.50 per hour. In a trade magazine article, a shop owner noted labor rates had only gone from $4 to $5 per hour in 1951 to $4.50 to $5.50 per hour in 1963. Yet, insurance company adjuster salaries had gone from $225 per month to $450 per month. He questioned why labor rates had been frozen for so long. Another unidentified shop owner was quoted as saying, “…problems have existed in this business for a long time. We have been talking about them, but what the heck are we doing to correct them!”
Part of the change that the collision industry experienced in the ‘60s was the almost simultaneous emergence of three key elements.
The first was the evolution and proliferation of auto body associations. Smart shop owners saw the industry becoming more complicated and knew that they had to band together.
The second was emerging leaders. With any organization, especially those operated by volunteers, leaders eventually emerge. And thus, certain people within the industry began to stand out and assume leadership roles, bringing elements of the industry together.