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Friday, 31 May 2019 19:30

In Reverse: The 1970s - Trade Associations Become a Driving Force

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Auto body associations had been around since the 1940s.

By the 1970s, like the rest of the industry, the associations were “coming of age.” During the 1970s, auto body associations were working even harder to improve the industry.


An article in the July 1970 issue of a national trade magazine notes the “rebirth” of the industry association. The article said with the revival of associations, shop owners are no longer fearful of each other. Owners have come together to make the industry a better place to work. Back then, trade magazines were full of stories about new state-level associations popping up and joining with the Auto Body Association of America (ABAA) or Independent Garage Owners of America (IGOA), to get the benefits of national representation. Most shop owners came to the realization that there was strength in numbers, especially at a national level.


Auto body associations became larger, better run and more influential within their own ranks, the government and other entities.


Another article in a trade magazine, in August 1971, commented on the transition of IGOA and the future of the industry.


“We are long past the day where we can view IGOA as a local civic club,” said Carl Chambers, the new president of the IGOA. “It is now a quarter-million dollar business enterprise under professional management. There’s no doubt in my mind that the future is ours.”


Uniform Accounting and Dealer Shops


In February 1970, the IGOA adopted a uniform accounting and management system, specifically designed for body shops. The association encouraged all shops to use it. This was timely, since shop profitability began to emerge as a pressing issue. The system was a great idea, but shops wouldn’t embrace proper accounting practices for another ten years.

Also, early in the 1970s, Michigan shop owner and head of the IGOA body shop council, Robert Ramsey proposed all IGOA state affiliates to invite dealer-owned body shops to join their group. Ramsey said this was a good idea, since independents and dealer-owned shops have similar problems and can work together to fix them. Prior to this time, a deep rift existed between dealer-owned shops and independents, so it was a brave move for Ramsey to suggest this idea.


Shop Owners and Insurance Executives Talk


In February, shop owners and other members of the ABAA met in New York City with insurance company executives to discuss industry matters of mutual concern. Both shop owners and company executives were concerned about parts availability. Shop owners wanted to meet with car-maker executives. The OE’s had become their own worst enemy by ignoring the collision repair industry.


Finding New Technicians


Associations were starting to address the need for more trained collision repair technicians. By early 1970, soldiers were being trained for the auto body trade at Fort Bragg in North Carolina through a cooperative effort between the United States Army and the ABAA. The six-week course familiarized soldiers, close to their discharge date, with the collision repair industry.


Combined Forces


On the east coast, Malcom Slagel, president of the Washington Metropolitan Auto Body Association, and an active member of IGOA of Virginia, said the only way to solve auto body industry problems is with one voice. To achieve one voice, Slagel proposes the combining of IGOA and the ABAA—the two largest associations in the US at the time. In the early summer of 1970, members of the IGOA and ABAA met in Washington, D.C., to discuss joining the two organizations. Both associations realized they are after many of the same goals and can achieve more with one louder, single voice. IGOA and the ABAA left the meeting to discuss the issues with their respective board of directors.


In the fall of 1970, members of both the ABAA and IGOA met again—this time in New York—and agreed that combining the two organizations was the right thing to do. Reasons given include:


  • One voice representing all industry people will have great influence in Washington, D.C.
  • Unification will eliminate covering the same ground twice.
  • Unification will establish positive certification and standardization.
  • One unified group will have a greater potential for growth.
  • Among non-members, there will be no question as to what association to join.
  • Unification can establish better communications.
  • One voice will be better at solving many of the problems with the insurance industry.
  • Unification could make a national advertising program possible.


Despite the need for a single national association and among new state-level auto body associations popping up, the ABAA said each state association must be strong. Many industry problems must be addressed with state legislators—a job best served by one state-level association as opposed to a national organization or a number of smaller, state-level associations. Among the items to be addressed at the state level are: licensing of shops, licensing of appraisers, certification of technicians and state aid for education for technicians in the auto body industry.


Trade Shows


The California Auto Body Association announced that they will sponsor their second trade show and convention, known as the Western States Autobody Trade Show, at the Sheraton Palace Hotel in San Francisco. Around 6,000 people were expected to attend. Over 3,000 attended the first show held in Los Angeles in 1969. The trade show theme is “Total Involvement.” It was later reported that over 3,000 repairers and other industry people attended the show featuring 80 exhibitors with a number of companies conducting clinics. Starting perhaps in the 1950s and certainly into the 1960s, there were many small local and regional trade shows sponsored by the local auto body associations. They got little attention except in their local market, mainly because there was no national trade media. With the advent of the 1970s and nationwide coverage of the industry, these shows started to attract a larger audience.


In the fall of 1970, the ABAA was getting ready for their fifth annual convention and trade show in Hollywood, Florida. They were expecting to have 125 booths exhibiting. The theme for the show was “Partners in Progress,” pulling together the three main components of the industry: manufacturers, body shops and jobbers. Manufacturers, in this case, refer to those who make auto body equipment. There was no mention of paint manufacturers or OE’s. However, it is not surprising about the OE’s, since they were not on good terms with the collision industry. Parts availability and parts damage was still a problem.


Improved Public Image


Shop owners were also beginning to become more conscious of their image and how they were perceived by the public. In the summer of 1970 at the IGOA convention in Texas, shop owners adopted a five-year plan to improve the image of shops to customers. Much of what was discussed during a five-man panel was not so much the physical condition of the shop, but more about how shop customers are treated.


Louis Baffa – Man of His Time


Every decade seems to have its stand-out collision industry executive. In the 1970s, it was shop owner Louis Baffa who came to prominence as the outspoken president of the ABAA in 1967, 68 and 69. In 1970, Baffa wanted to take drastic measures to change the direction of the industry. According to Baffa, the body shop and car owner had been “under the thumb” of the insurance companies for the last 20 years and felt it is time to take stronger action. Baffa, along with as many vehicle owners and body shop owners as he could muster, planned to march in Washington, D.C., in April 1970 and demand reform. Baffa was receiving backing from the ABAA and the IGOA. A short time later, with the advent of several bills pending, Baffa called off his march.


In February of 1972, collision industry associations, ABAA in particular, took a giant leap forward when Baffa was provided a new position at ABAA as administrative executive. He worked full-time for the ABAA, giving up his role as shop owner and collision equipment distributor, to dive into his new position. This is believed to be the first appointment of its type in the industry.


Looking to the Future


Early in 1972, the IGOA formed a new committee called Trends and Perspectives, designed to identify trends and possible future events, so the IGOA could act, rather than react to events. Ron Weiner of Denver, George “Bud” Merwin of Kansas, and Harry Wright of Georgia all served on the committee.


Some of the challenges faced in 1972 are the same challenges faced today, almost 50 years later; but, it is associations that help push forward the industry.

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