Steve Feltovich recalls some years ago walking into a large shop for which he was going to be doing some consulting work. Feltovich, who conducts estimating and other training as the manager of business consulting services for Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes, recalls that the manager of the shop said he needed a few minutes to finish up some projects but told Feltovich to feel free to walk around and check out the shop.
U.S. shop owner Jeff Beavers was at a cross-roads. His 7-year-old company, Car Crafters Collision Repair in Blue Ridge, Georgia, had grown steadily to the point of having annual sales of just over $1 million – but was somehow losing money.
State Farm’s foray into parts procurement. Growing dissatisfaction with direct repair programs. “Underwritten” initial estimates by insurers. These were among the most talked-about topics in the industry this past year. Here’s a quick review of the year through a collection of some of the most memorable, important, interesting or enlightening quotes heard around the industry during 2007.
What do you get when you ask the industry to list what they see as the key issues they’d like to see addressed?
The leaders and participants of the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) conducted just that exercise in recent weeks, and ended up with a list of nearly 600 issues submitted by more than 150 representatives of the collision repair, insurance and related segments of the industry.
If you didn't attend the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) and I-CAR annual meeting, both held in San Jose, California, in August, you may have missed out on some useful news and information shared at the meetings.
State Farm's new 'Select Service' program; a Texas court's upholding of a state law banning insurer-owned shops; the increasing percentage of vehicles being declared total losses; and the ongoing battle over the "right to repair" were among the most talked-about topics in the industry this past year.
If refinish labor times on repaired panels are going to be adjusted from those in the estimating systems - something 96 percent of shops say they have seen insurers do - the printed copy of the estimate should show what the original labor time is.
A committee of the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) is taking a different approach to the long-standing battle between shops and insurers over "featheredge, prime and block" by defining where body work ends and paint work begins.
That notation on every paint can in your shop that says, "For Professional Use Only," may soon hold some real meaning according to early indications about rule-making currently underway by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In its second year in its new home, the 2005 International Autobody Congress and Exposition (NACE) offered attendees about 75 classes, the return of the NACE welcome party, a keynote address by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and the opportunity to attend two other larger automotive aftermarket trade shows also being held in Las Vegas.
After last year's I-CAR 25th annual meeting, which very much focused on the training organization's successful history, this year's event focused more on the future than on the past 12 months, which one board member termed "its most challenging year ever."
The multi-association task force created to address repairer concerns about how the estimating database companies operate reported on its early progress in April and defended its decision to include insurers in the process.
From "unintentional fraud" to "estimating database abuse" and the added costs created by the lack of standardization among direct repair programs, the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) plans to address a wide range of topics in 2004.
At the last International Autobody Congress and Exposition (NACE) expected to be held anywhere other than Las Vegas, attendees had an opportunity in early December to enjoy a welcome party at Universal CityWalk in Orlando, Florida, participate in 45 educational sessions, hear a keynote address from news commentator Bill O'Reilly, and browse a 176,000-sq.-ft. trade show featuring 488 companies.
The Texas law passed earlier this year that puts a halt on the growth of insurer-owned shops is nine pages long.
The issue of reuse of non-deployed airbags from salvaged vehicles returned to the spotlight at the Collision Industry Conference in Phoenix in April with a panel discussion that included information on a program being developed to certify such airbag modules.
"Working Small and Effective" was the title of a class at the International Autobody Congress and Exposition (NACE) in Dallas, Texas in early December, but it could have been an apt theme for the event. Many wondered whether NACE would "feel the impact" (the actual theme of the show) of the five major paint companies being absent from the trade show floor. Indeed, attendance by both shops and vendors was down. (For details, see "NACE by the numbers".)
Used or "recyclable" parts were the focus of discussion during a number of other presentations at the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) held in mid-March in Nashville, Tennessee.
Throughout the Las Vegas Convention Center the 35,000 attendees at last month's NACE seemed to be talking as much about the event itself as they did about the usual industry announcements, speakers and the "good deals" to be had on the trade show floor.
Sometimes the best way to look forward is to spend a few minutes looking back.
That’s a concept that came to mind recently looking through a file of industry-related notes and articles from 15 years ago. What can the industry today learn from the ideas and topics being discussed then? What has changed – for better or worse – and are there areas in which virtually no progress has been made? And what should we be doing differently now to ensure we’re not just treading water 15 years from now in 2022?
If you think the collision repair industry is changing rapidly, spend a little time talking with the owner of your nearby auto salvage yard:
Consolidation? Independent yards around the country are being gobbled up by larger corporations like LKQ Corporation and Ford Motor Company.
E-commerce and computer technology? Body shops can shop for used parts on-line at several websites, including iSalvage.com, NextPart.com, PlanetSalvage.com, and CarStation.com, and many yards are connected to each other by co-op networks such as United Recyclers Group.
Seemingly conceding that its previous position on estimating system data was untenable, ADP announced in April it was putting on hold its plan to encrypt that data and make it unusable by unlicensed third parties such as Internet claims management companies.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.