Monday, 03 March 2014 21:26

SCRS Provides Unified Voice for Industry

If you’ve been involved in the collision repair industry for longer than a month (if that!), you’re probably aware of the existence of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS), yet you may not know exactly what their role is within the industry. Sure, you can search their website to find their mission statement—to educate, inform, and represent the collision repair professional in all aspects of the industry—or their vision—to promote, support, and encourage exemplary businesses committed to the future of the collision repair industry, while providing the visibility and leadership needed to raise the professional image of the industry and advance the business conditions of those whom we represent. But, who is SCRS and what do they do? Executive director, Aaron Schulenburg, graciously agreed to answer these questions and more.

In the 1970s, before SCRS was founded, the collision repair industry was fragmented, with shops functioning independently. Because of a lack of communication, shops were very competitive and suspicious of one another and, as the new decade approached, signs of an imminent industry upheaval emerged because of advancements in technology and materials, as well as the absence of the industry-accepted training that caused shop owners to feel that they were losing control of their businesses. Believing that the lack of a collective voice left the industry vulnerable, a group of perceptive shop owners in the Kansas City, MO area began contemplating the possibility of forming a group to help them improve as collision repair professionals.

This group gathered to listen to John Loftus, who reminded them that they were all in the same business and thus alike, making it obvious that they had a better chance of solving their problems together rather than individually. Conversations continued until, at their next meeting at Gene Parks’ Body Shop in Riverside, MO in 1982, this group of repairers had decided to form an association with Loftus as their leader. Realizing the need for more members if they wanted to effect meaningful change, the group began looking beyond their locality as they considered creating a national collision repair association; thus, SCRS was formed.

As seen by the events leading up to the creation of SCRS, their work was inspired by the concept “Working Together Is the Most Important Work We Do,” and this belief has influenced the work and decisions of SCRS for the past three decades. Schulenburg notes that the purpose of the association has not really changed since its inception; “SCRS started because a group of grassroots shops believed the industry needed a unified voice, and though our approach, scope, abilities, and funding have progressed over time, we are all really proud that there has been no deviation from our purpose, which remains as grassroots as when we first started. Our focus is still the same—to be a voice for repairers—and, since SCRS was founded in 1982, we continue to strive for the same things, staying true to why we started the association.”

Since 1982, SCRS has become the largest national trade association solely representing and dedicated to collision repair facilities across the continent. Through their direct members and affiliated associations, they represent over 6,000 collision repair businesses and over 58,000 industry professionals. According to Schulenburg, their “...goals as an organization are to make this industry better in every way we can. We ask ourselves, ‘what is the best way to support collision repair businesses?,’ and then we try to make the biggest difference possible for our members and the industry as a whole.”

In terms of the challenges SCRS faces to maintain operations, Schulenburg notes that they really aren’t that dissimilar from their affiliates; “...it all comes down to industry engagement. The issues we face are often defined by the lowest denominators in our industry—expectations are set by the floor, rather than the ceiling—so how do you reach people who aren’t engaging in industry activity, or even following industry publications, news, and developments? This also impacts the question of how to grow consistently. Despite the yearly growth in every member category, we can only reach so many people, and we want to get to everyone with a collision repair sign in the doorway of their business so that they’re aware of changes in the industry and know how to handle them.”

Expanding, Schulenburg notes that the issues are the same across the country, and the main difference between SCRS and local associations is the scope of activity, emphasizing the importance of why SCRS is structured to support a network of associations. Many issues, such as how insurance is governed, are handled at a state level, so how state associations address these issues locally is different from what SCRS can do on a national scale. By talking to their affiliate associations and coordinating collaborative discussion amongst state and regional groups, SCRS gets to see the bigger, global picture and help support those local efforts through enhanced communication. Schulenburg believes this structure works well and is efficient.

Of course, SCRS also plays a large role in contending with problems impacting the industry. According to Schulenburg, some of the biggest of these challenges are the future of cars and an increasing loss of control and intrusion into collision repair businesses. “As technology develops, the need for costly training, equipment, and specialization will become more prolific; we are also cautiously looking decades down the road at the developments of self-driving vehicles and those with sophisticated accident avoidance systems, which promote increased safety, but could prove to be dangerous to the trade. If so, what does the evolving future of the industry look like? The intrusion of third-party entities into the collision repair industry is also a huge concern today, and as more repairers become frustrated, many are taking more vocal stands and removing themselves from insurer programs; many are even taking a litigious approach—all of this is an indication of the boiling point the industry is experiencing.”

As SCRS keeps an eye on things potentially impacting the industry and serves as a source of information for many in the repair community, they are looked to for leadership and positioning regarding the current issues facing their members’ business. When asked about insurance programs mandating parts procurement providers, Schulenburg made note that they take exception to all insurer mandates, particularly the mandated use of parts procurements system, a hot topic pervading the country. “SCRS believes this control falls outside of the scope of the insurance business [and] SCRS supports efforts that rightfully seek to eliminate such intrusion into the collision repair business, and enforcement of existing laws, regulations, and codes that currently prohibit such actions. It is the opinion of SCRS that voluntary agreements cannot include stipulations which violate existing laws, rules, and regulations. SCRS believes that collision businesses are capable of establishing successful vendor relationships and internal processes that will best accommodate the needs of the consumer, and that service providers will continue to respond to the market with increasingly creative solutions that drive performance for their customers and the respective market entities. We believe that solutions with tangible value propositions will be utilized and supported by the marketplace without the undue influence of insurer mandate.”

Regarding the PARTS Act, Schulenburg understands why OEs want to protect their designs to recover their investments on the research and development involved in creating a vehicle, and also why the aftermarket industry objects to this protection; however, the biggest concern is that the PARTS Act does nothing to ensure the quality of parts entering the marketplace, which is perhaps the biggest struggle SCRS members face when expected to use the alternative parts in question. Which parts are used in a repair should be decided based on quality and consumer choice. Insurance companies commonly push shops to use the cheapest parts, but this can result in consumers being taken advantage of.”

Currently, SCRS has many projects in the works, but Schulenburg doesn’t believe that 2014 will see any tremendous changes in their objectives as they “continue to focus on what’s most important to members’ interests.” SCRS continues to examine how to address parts procurement mandates, the arbitrary reduction of refinish times on repaired panels, and finding ways to support the development and use of OEM repair procedures for the most proper repair. The association will also continue developing education for their acclaimed Repairer Driven Education series at the SEMA show, and Schulenburg believes that the anticipated increase in attendance for 2014 “speaks to our mission to educate and inform our membership.”

SCRS has also been actively monitoring current trends with new vehicles being released. For example, the 2015 Ford F150, just formally announced at the beginning of 2014, is unique in that it is going to be constructed of weight-saving aluminum, and many repair shops still need to prepare for the investment in equipment and training that this will necessitate if they wish to continue to repair the most popular vehicle in America. Looking further down the road, Schulenburg indicated that SCRS is already examining a burgeoning interest from carriers into analytical estimating, how it could potentially change the way losses are settled, and the effect it will have on the industry altogether. He notes, “it’s going to be a busy year because there’s no shortage of things for which our members need a unified voice.”

On January 15, 2014, SCRS held their first open board meeting of the year in Palm Springs, CA. Schulenburg notes that “...the meeting was great because it provided an opportunity to interact with members and share what’s going on in the industry.” The SCRS committees also shared their work on current projects, and Schulenburg particularly enjoyed the presentation on tools given by Kye Yeung and Toby Chess, the findings of which will be published on the SCRS website. They reviewed a broad range of tools, from basic to advanced, that could make a significant difference in the repair process.

Since being founded, SCRS has striven to provide a unified voice for the collision repair industry in their efforts to better the trade, and their belief that meaningful change is only possible through working together has inspired many positive improvements in the industry. As Schulenburg has stated many times, “we are stronger together.”

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