Friday, 01 November 2013 00:13

Taking it to the Capitol—WMABA Fights Battles for Shops in DC and Nationwide

In existence since 1968, the Washington Metropolitan Auto Body Association (WMABA) has spent the past 45 years supporting member shops and acting as their members’ voice for business and legislative concerns. The organization was founded by DC-area shops who sought to work together to combat some of the common issues facing the collision repair industry.

Since its inception, WMABA’s efforts have been focused on addressing shop issues and continuing education on a local and national level, including aspects regarding legislative issues. Because they emphasize the importance of addressing issues on a larger scale, many WMABA members have also played a key role in establishing larger national associations, including the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) of which the association is an affiliate. WMABA’s service area encompasses MD, VA & Washington DC, and as the association continued to grow, they absorbed the Virginia Auto Body Association.

In 2007 Jordan Hendler became the Executive Director of WMABA. Through her previous work with SCRS, NABC and CIC, Hendler has gained insight into collision repair markets and trends across the United States, and in her current role, she participates in national industry forums, such as SCRS and CIC, to address issues and try to affect positive change for collision repairers.

On a day-to-day basis, WMABA focuses on maintaining active involvement with current legislative initiatives in VA and MD, meeting with legislators and shop representatives, as well as participating in national groups. Additionally, WMABA conducts an annual labor rate survey for the region in order to report their findings to individual shop owners, local government and the industry at-large. Hendler also assists with addressing issues at a shop level, including documentation, OEM service providers and other problems that impact shops during their daily operations.

Hendler notes that the main challenge WMABA faces is keeping shops informed and involved with issues in the industry, including education, yet she notes, “I don’t feel that we’re alone in that; most associations deal with the same problem.”

One way they strive to combat these types of issues is through the publication of their monthly magazine Hammer & Dolly, as well as their quarterly membership newsletter which serves to disseminate relevant information and generate shop involvement within WMABA’s service area.

WMABA serves their members by offering representation in legislative matters, both locally and nationally, in addition to working with individual shops on their issues, such as in the instance of short-pay cases. The association also strives to keep their members educated and informed through their magazine and newsletter, as well as by holding educational meetings and seminars. They act as a resource for vendor and insurer contacts, but most importantly, WMABA is at their members’ disposal when they face any type of problem or have general questions.

Still, despite the many services WMABA provides to their members, Hendler claims that the biggest benefit members get from involvement with the association is “our peer network which gives them the opportunity to compare the issues they face with what other shops are going through. It lets them see that others are experiencing the same problems, and we’re all in this together.”

Regarding the challenges facing the industry as a whole, Hendler believes “shop awareness is the biggest hurdle. If all shops were aware of the proper repair techniques, tooling and education, these issues wouldn’t be as hard as they are, but many repairers don’t know how to gain access to proper information. Those who don’t know are affecting those who do. It’s not necessarily on purpose, but it is ignorance nonetheless.”

Hendler also notes that the advancement of vehicle technology, tooling and regulations is another challenge as it raises shops’ costs at the same time that insurers are becoming stricter in their payment of operations and services, especially for independent shops that do not participate in their direct repair programs. Thus, the cost of operation is steadily increasing while the ability to earn a profit decreases.

Though PartsTrader has been a ever present news item for over a year now, WMABA has not taken a stance against their business model specifically but instead is against any insurer-mandated program that dictates which vendors can be used. “It is an interference in the collision repair business,” says Hendler. In fact, the association is currently working on legislation and an agenda to address the process of mandating parts or supplies.

Why is WMABA’s legislative work so important? Hender explains, “it is one of the few options left to us to address these problems since the insurers are not willing to stop their pursuit.” Legislation also benefits the consumer because it “helps keep the free market free… if insurers become more involved in all aspects of collision repair, they reduce the shops’ ability to operate properly and give the customer the widest capacity of options for a safe repair.”

Hendler admits that there are challenges inherent in the legislative process, noting “it’s arduous at best.” In order to get new legislation to pass, WMABA must meet with legislators to convince them that the matter is in the best interest of their constituents, the consumers, and then, the legislators must vote.  Hendler notes that the process is long; “we have to go through all of the committees and hearings to get the vote without the opposition tearing it down.” Luckily for WMABA members, Hendler is not easily discouraged and will continue to fight on their behalf to make the collision industry better for everyone involved.

Washington Metropolitan Auto Body Association (WMABA)

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