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With the sluggish growth or even decline in sales many shops have experienced in recent years, the technician shortage and recruitment of employees have not been the troublesome issue they were for the industry during the late 1990s. 

Concerns about the estimating databases, the reversal of the decision in the State Farm non-OEM parts lawsuit, the collapse of another consolidator and an ongoing battle over the "right to repair" were among the most talked-about topics in the collision industry this past year.

There's a simple rule in business that if you want to increase profits, you need to either increase sales and revenue, or decrease costs and expenses. 

In the three years since "event data recorders" (often referred to as "black boxes") in vehicles really began to arise as an issue of interest for collision repairers, there has been significant activity related to EDRs on a number of fronts: 

Shop owners struggling to remain profitable say they are increasingly focusing on the paint side of the shop, looking for innovative ways to squeeze even more productivity out of paint booths, paint products and paint personnel. 

At first glance, it's hard to fathom what Eliyahu Goldratt, a 58-year-old Israel-born physicist, has to offer the collision industry. But more than 20 years after Goldratt authored (along with Jeff Cox) a "business novel" entitled "The Goal," his theory of process improvement is increasingly being discussed within many shop "20 groups" and implemented by a growing number of collision repair businesses. 

For anyone in this industry who started out hustling sales - whether that means collision repair jobs, cans of paint or tools and equipment - pulling back from a focus on growth in gross sales can be a challenge. Increasing the top line, after all, is often a key ingredient in increasing the bottom line. More sales equals more profit, right? 

If there was one key message at a recent gathering of auto recyclers from around the country it was that shops and insurers want an easy and reliable way to know exactly what to expect when sourcing used parts. 

Hiring a new employee can be tricky business. One West Coast shop owner found that out recently when within two days he suddenly found himself down three technicians. Before he could even get a 'help wanted' ad place, a man came in looking for work. 

Mark Cantrell, co-owner and general manager of McLeod Autobody in Kirkland, Washington, recommends that shop owners look for ways to save their employees just three-tenths of an hour each day. 

Here's your assignment: Pretend you have 45 seconds to talk about your business in front of a group of people you'd love to have as customers. Could you tell them something that's unique about your business, something that no other shop in your area could or is likely to tell them? 

Give some thoughtful people who are knowledgeable about the collision repair industry a chance to shine up a crystal ball and look into the future, and you're likely to hear some interesting things. 

During the 1980s and 1990s, association and seminar leaders frequently pointed to changes in vehicle technology that were putting a dent in the collision repair market. Daytime running lights, the third brake light and anti-lock braking systems (if drivers used them properly), they'd say, were among the key factors pulling accident frequency down. 

Rod Enlow joked that in mid-2005 as he became chairman of I-CAR's board of directors, it looked like it was going to be a fairly smooth and calm year for the training organization. The destructive forces of hurricanes Katrina and Rita turned out to be just one of the issues that ended up buffeting I-CAR during what Enlow now calls a challenging but successful year. 

One of the ways some shops are coping with what they are finding is decreasing profits in collision repair work is adding services beyond body work: mechanical work, detailing, and spray-on bed liners. 

Tuesday, 31 October 2006 09:00

SCRS state affiliate groups meet

In October, the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) gathered representatives from more than a dozen of its affiliate associations across the country to exchange ideas and information on their groups' accomplishments and key issues. 

Hank Tarter jokes that if you're going to have a heart attack, the place to be is Keizer, Oregon, a community of 35,000 residents just north of Oregon's capitol city of Salem.

Probably everyone in the industry has heard some variation of the joke about wheels on toolboxes being the cause - or a result of - the high rate of turn-over among the industry's technicians.

Friday, 30 September 2005 10:00

Expanding your business - without DRPs

There's little doubt that much of the growth some collision repair businesses have experienced over the past decade has been fueled by insurer direct repair programs (DRPs). After all, the percentage of insurance-paid work handled through DRPs quadrupled - to more than 30 percent - between 1996 and 2002. Most major insurers are already well over that 30 percent mark - with some at 70 percent or more. 

Are you ready for the "personnel file" challenge? How well can you answer these questions: 

Monday, 31 October 2005 09:00

Part 2: what should be in a personnel file

An article in last month's issue outlined why maintaining personnel files is so critical - and explained some of the items that should not be kept in the files. 

Friday, 30 September 2005 10:00

Plan ahead to reduce the tax bite

Most people in the United States tend to associate the month of April with taxes. But in reality, there's a lot more you can do right now - prior to the end of 2005 - to reduce your tax burden come next April 15. 

A number of dealership service departments, independent repair shops and other automotive businesses that have been the victims of thefts in recent months are urging other businesses in the industry to take added steps to protect themselves. 

 ..and what men can learn from them

Attend any national trade show, conference or association event in the collision industry, and one thing is likely to become apparent: While men may still far outnumber the women, both the number and success level of women involved in the industry is growing rapidly.  

An article in last month's ABN discussed the value and importance of building a company's culture, a common understanding among all employees about "the way we do things around here." 

Whether you knew it or not, the odds are good that already today you've contributed in some way - positively or negatively - to your company's "culture." 

Thursday, 30 June 2005 10:00

A look back at some visions of the future

Back in 1997, an article compiled some thoughts about the future from various players in the collision repair industry. A more recent reading of the article proved interesting; some of the predictions were startling accurate, while others, in hindsight, were partially if not completely - and often ironically - wrong. 

Although the percentage of dealerships with body shops has declined over the past 30 years, a growing number of automakers are working to help dealership shops gain market share. How successful they will be remains to be seen, but independent shop owners would be foolish to ignore the threat - or possibly the opportunity - these efforts may offer. 

With the growing number of insurance company direct repair programs - and with many insurers processing an increasing percentage of their claims through such programs - it's easy to understand why some states are looking to put the brakes on "steering" of work by insurers. 

Here's your assignment: Pretend you have 45 seconds to talk about your business in front a group of people you'd love to have as customers. Could you tell them something that's unique about your business, something that no other shop in your area could or is likely to tell them? 

A committee of Oregon lawmakers last month said they like the concept of consumers being made aware of direct repair agreements between collision repair shops and insurers, but the details of how to accomplish that still needs some work. 

Some shop owners say the use of aluminum in vehicles today is similar to the shifts in the industry caused by the rise of the unibody structure in the 1980s. 

A widespread and significant drop in ADP refinish labor times discovered in recent weeks will be corrected in ADP's November CD update release, which the company says has been sent to ADP customers. 

Hank Tarter jokes that if you're going to have a heart attack, the place to be is Keizer, Oregon, a community of 35,000 residents just north of Oregon's capitol city of Salem. 

Eric Reid wants to do his part to reduce the shortage of collision repair technicians he's always hearing and reading about. But Reid, the collision repair instructor at Northwest-Shoals Commun-ity College in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, is getting discouraged watching his top students move on to other fields because of low starting wages at body shops. 

With profit margins generally razor-thin at best these days, the last thing shops can afford to do is lose money in a scam. That's why a number of shop owners recently have come forward to share their stories of losing - or almost losing - some of their hard-earned money - as a caution against others doing the same. 

Monday, 28 February 2005 09:00

Looking back at 2004: year in quotes

While no particular issue or news event seemed to dominate the industry's attention this past year - other than perhaps the slow-down in work shops felt in many parts of the country - it hasn't been a quiet one for collision repairers. Here is the annual year-in-review wrap-up, a collection of some of the most memorable, important, interesting or enlightening quotes heard around the industry during 2004. 

Friday, 31 December 2004 09:00

Diverse industry groups gather during NACE

The International Autobody Congress and Exposition (NACE) may have been the main draw that attracted more than 30,000 participants in the collision industry to Las Vegas in November, but there was no shortage of other meetings and events to also occupy their time while they were there. 

The nation's largest auto insurer has no plans to join the other insurers setting performance benchmarks for shops participating in its direct repair program - but it may do more to help those 20,000 shops understand how their performance stacks up. 

Wednesday, 31 December 2003 09:00

Shops will still need multiple estimating systems

The issue of shops needing multiple estimating systems to meet insurer direct repair program requirements may not be resolved soon, according to panelists at a NACE Town Hall meeting that focused on automated claims processing. 

From a crack-down on fraud to attempts to halt the growth of insurer-owned shops, it's been an interesting year for the collision repair industry. Here is our annual year-in-review wrap-up, a collection of some of the most memorable, important, interesting or enlightening quotes heard around the industry during 2003. 

Monday, 30 September 2002 10:00

Improving your position with OEM parts dealers

They can help you improve your shop's cycle time. They can offer ideas to make your shop's parts ordering more efficient. And they certainly can have an impact on your parts profit.

Sunday, 30 June 2002 10:00

Why is a body shop like a fruit stand?

Larry Edwards says collision repair shop owners could think of themselves as produce managers in a grocery store. 

On the surface, it probably looked like a very minor agenda item to the members of the zoning board of Blue Island, Ill., a suburb just south of Chicago. After all, the board was just being asked to grant a "special site permit" for a new 16,000-square-foot collision repair shop - not the sort of thing that generally attracts much interest in the community, let alone turn-out for the zoning board's meeting. 

He laughs when he's asked about Progressive's "Concierge" program. His shop has participated in this DRP program's trial run since last fall. "It makes me think of a twist on that old Oldsmobile ad slogan: 'This is not your father's DRP'," said the second-generation East Coast shop owner who spoke about the Progressive program on the condition that neither his real name nor his business location (not even the state) be revealed. 

The major paint companies, struggling to overcome federal charges of price-fixing and their largely unsuccessful and expensive "shop investment" programs of the '90's are now focusing on "value added" shop management programs to attract and retain customers.

    Could that 180-line estimate you just wrote be 179 lines too long?
    During the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) held in Atlanta in April, one participant at the meeting posed this question to insurers: Could you accept an estimate that didn’t include the line-by-line breakdown but instead just the total repair cost? 

     The SCRS celebrated its 25th anniversary in April at an event in Atlanta that gathered many of the association’s early founders and leaders, and that included awards presentations, the election of a new chairman, a presentation by a lawyer on the McCarran-Ferguson Act, and a dinner celebrating the group’s history and accomplishments. At that dinner, SCRS Executive Director Dan Risley read a passage from a 1982 letter the newly formed association had sent out to recruit members.

    As the Congressional-established Antitrust Modernization Commission (AMC) issued its report last month, many in the collision industry are wondering – and discussing – what it may mean for the insurance industry’s antitrust exemption.
        “I think it would be foolish to assume that repealing the McCarran-Ferguson Act is a panacea for all the ills in the collision industry,” Ohio attorney Erica Eversman of Vehicle Information Services, Inc., said.

    “Lean production” appears to be among the current key catch phrases being used by progressive collision repairers and the industry consultants they work with. The key to success in this industry, they say, is going lean: finding ways to do more with less.

    Valerie Decatur is a relative newcomer to the collision industry. A graduate of Stanford University, Decatur spent a number of years working in human resources within the hotel industry, but about a year ago she became director of human resources for Cooks Collision, a 16-shop chain in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Most collision repair shops wouldn’t think of letting customers leave with their vehicle without paying. At Keenan Auto Body, it’s starting to happen more often – which is just fine, according to Michael LeVasseur, vice president and chief operating officer of the 7-shop company in the Philadelphia area.

With many state legislatures winding down for the summer or year, collision repairers are wondering what some newly-passed laws will mean for them.

I-CAR leaders, during the training organization’s annual meeting in Orlando, Florida, in late July, openly explained that the past year had been a tough one financially, but also pointed to a number of accomplishments as well as plans for the future that they believe will turn things around for the non-profit.

Collision repair shops regularly decry the practice by some insurers of denigrating one shop in order to influence a consumer to select a shop in that insurer’s direct repair program (DRP). But could that DRP shop be found to be engaged in an unfair trade practice based on that insurer’s behavior? 

Friday, 30 November 2007 09:00

NACE Faces Changes in Future

Attendees at the 25th annual International Autobody Congress and Exposition (NACE) in Las Vegas in early November may not have known it, but they were witnessing the last NACE in its current form.

Friday, 30 November 2007 09:00

SF Parts Procurement Program

Prior to State Farm launching a test of an electronic parts procurement program with its Select Service shops in San Diego, an insurer spokesman said the company is considering what role it can play in streamlining other aspects of collision repair claims.

Ask Bob Sipos of Chardon Square CARSTAR in Chardon, Ohio, how his shop is doing, and he can quickly rattle off a slew of current statistics that go far beyond monthly sales: productivity per technician, paint booth cycle time, gross profit per hour, sales per stall or per square foot.