Wednesday, 03 February 2010 13:37

Georgia Collision Industry Association (GCIA) Takes the Lead

Steering.  Supressed Labor Rates. Capping of Repair and Refinish Materials

If you’re a collision industry professional, these hot-button topics are hurdles you’re facing in your business as you work to serve your customers and keep your business profitable. 

These are some of the tough issues the Georgia Collision Industry Association (GCIA) is currently addressing. As Executive Director of the GCIA, Howard Batchelor serves the collision industry and consumers in an effort to “promote professionalism and consumer awareness of the Automotive Collision Repair Industry in the State of Georgia.” Since its founding in 1997 the GCIA has worked toward reaching that goal through education of its members as well as collision professionals around the state, while also engaging consumers by educating them about their rights.
The GCIA was founded by a group of collision industry professionals who wanted to address the issues concerning the industry, according to Batchelor. “Mainly the group wanted to promote consumer awareness concerning the collision industry and promote professionalism within the industry,” he said.

While the GCIA serves the state of Georgia as a whole, its member base is primarily comprised of collision repair businesses in the Atlanta metro area. “Often it’s hard for people outside the perimeter of metro Atlanta to make it to meetings after a day at work,” said Doug Dorsey, Body Shop Manager for Honda Carland in Roswell, Ga. For this reason, people who are located close to the base of operations for the GCIA in Marietta tend to be the most involved members.
The GCIA has tried to address the issue of serving an area as large as metro Atlanta and the state of Georgia. “We try to meet all over the metro Atlanta area,” said Batchelor. “At one time we met in the Smyrna Convention Center for each meeting, but now we move around so we can make the meetings more convenient for collision professionals to attend.”
Meetings are held every other month, and the topics of discussion and education are varied from month to month. Batchelor said, “We try hard to feature ‘hot topic’ speakers at each meeting, and often the hotter the topic, the higher the attendance at the meeting.”

The 6H Rule

In the state of Georgia, one hot topic issue is environmental regulations and compliance. The GCIA is working with the Georgia Small Business Environmental Assistance Program (SBEAP) to educate collision shops about a new federal air emissions regulation, known as the 6H rule. The Georgia SBEAP is a non-regulatory program of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division that provides free assistance to small businesses to help them comply with environmental regulations.
Rachel Cochran, Public Affairs Coordinator for the Georgia SBEAP, explained the role the GCIA is playing in educating Georgia collision businesses about the new regulation and compliance. “The Georgia SBEAP is a small program of mostly environmental scientists and engineers,” she said. “and we have limited ability to communicate to 3,000 Georgia collision shops efficiently on the subject of the 6H Rule.”
Instead of mass mailings with invalid addresses and misdirected communication, the GCIA has helped communicate the requirements of the 6H rule to its members and to collision shops in the Atlanta area. The GCIA has also facilitated educational classes where its members and other collision industry technicians have been able to learn about the regulatory requirements of the 6H rule.
“The GCIA has hosted two rounds of training, where one of our technical staff has presented an environmental training presentation on 6H.,” said Cochran. “Although the presentation itself is fairly short, there are always many questions from attendees who are concerned about how the new regulations will affect their business. Because of the GCIA, we have been able to reach these people in ways we could not otherwise.”
Each collision repair technician in the state of Georgia is to be formally trained on the regulations in the 6H rule by January 10, 2011. For new shops, technicians must be trained within 180 days of hiring. New regulations include how to apply paints in a way that reduces air emissions, how to properly clean a spray gun and reduce air emissions, and more.
“We have a really valuable stakeholder group,” said Cochran. “It includes people in the collision industry, companies like Akzo Nobel, Sherwin-Williams, FinishMaster and PPG, and groups like the Georgia Collision Industry Association.”
In addition to its help with communication, the GCIA has assisted the Environmental Assistance Program with staging mock inspections. Cochran said, “We used the collision repair shop of a member of the GCIA, where collision shop owners and managers could use compliance checklist tools.”
“For many of these collision shop owners and managers this was their first foray into compliance regulation,” she said. “This mock inspection setting gave them an better understanding of Rule 6H requirements, and will help them be prepared in the event of a compliance inspection.”

Insurance Regulation

Because steering, the capping of repair and refinish materials costs and suppressed labor rates are such hot-button topics, the GCIA is becoming more active in government issues. A relationship is being formed between the office of the Insurance and Fire Safety Commissioner of the State of Georgia and the association. In December 2008, Commissioner John Oxendine came to the bi-monthly meeting to discuss insurance regulation and the rights of consumers and collision repairers as they relate to automotive insurers.
Batchelor said, “Very quickly, Mr. Oxendine realized he did not know very much about the collision industry and its relationship with automotive insurers, or the problems collision repairers face. He asked the association to help educate him on these issues.”
In 2009, Batchelor and three other GCIA members visited the Commissioner’s office to present him with an overview of the pressing concerns of collision repairers. “We gave our presentation, and then we came back to meet with him again; we were able to suggest changes to how insurance companies settle collision repair claims, and we offered ideas about ways to strengthen some rules regulating automotive insurers,” said Batchelor. He commented that the association is continuing to work with Commissioner Oxendine and his office to make changes that strengthen the automotive industry, adding: “change doesn’t happen overnight.”

Assisting Collision Repair Shops

The education opportunities that the GCIA offers are numerous. In addition to the classes concerning the 6H rule that GCIA has facilitated, GCIA members have had the opportunity to learn under the teaching of Mike Anderson, AAM; the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SRCS) has also taught a class on lean operations for the GCIA.
The GCIA offers member benefits—some which are suited to independent collision repair facilities and some that are better-suited to dealerships. “We offer credit card service agreements, the ability for our members to purchase office supplies at a discount, to purchase apparel for their employees and more,” said Batchelor. “Another important benefit area involves financial planning and succession planning for repair shop owners—giving them the tools their need to make sound financial decisions.”
This year the GCIA is involved in its fourth annual labor rate survey, in which metro Atlanta-area collision body shops are asked questions about their business. The survey, conducted by a third party, is provided to about 850 shops, and asks questions about labor rates, how much business it takes to cover costs and make a profit, and more. “Each year more and more shops respond,” said Batchelor. “And each year, the information we receive is better and better.” In addition to being posted on the GCIA Web site, the survey results are provided to members and forwarded directly to the Office of the Insurance and Fire Safety Commissioner of Georgia.

Fostering Camaraderie

“One of the biggest benefits to a membership in the GCIA is the opportunity to network with other shop owners and managers,” said Dorsey. “Many times I can spend time at the bi-monthly meetings talking with people I wouldn’t come into contact with otherwise.” Dorsey continued by explaining that the bi-monthly meetings give collision professionals a chance to offer pointers to each other, and an opportunity to make suggestions to each other concerning repair procedures or working with customers. “The real-life knowledge we gain from each other at these meetings can make business life a little easier,” he said. Dorsey has been a GCIA member since its founding in 1997.
GCIA hosts an annual golf tournament—this year is the 14th annual event—which gives members who participate an opportunity to network and meet other industry professionals. In fact, many Georgia collision industry professionals who are not GCIA members participate yearly. The proceeds from the event are donated to various charities, and the location changes from year to year. More information on the upcoming 14th annual tournament is available on the Web site.

Community Involvement and Consumers’ Rights

“It is important that the general public understands that the GCIA is not just an association that represents collision shops and businesses,” said Batchelor. “We are committed to educating consumers about their rights in the event of an accident.” The GCIA Web site (www.GCIA.org) offers information that consumers can use as they work with their insurance company toward a quality, complete repair. The Web site recommends questions that consumers should ask their insurer before and during the repair process concerning subjects like aftermarket parts versus OEM parts. “Ultimately, we as collision professionals are here to serve the consumers,” said Batchelor. “Without the consumers our businesses would not succeed. Working together, collision repairers and consumers can achieve a high-quality repair following an accident.”
In addition to consumer rights education, the GCIA has projects throughout the year that demonstrate their loyalty and support of their customers and communities. One such project takes place in the spring each year during prom season, with a vivid demonstration aimed to keep teenagers from drinking and driving. GCIA will place a crashed car at the entrance to several high schools in the Atlanta area, hoping to show the results of horrific crashes—even if the human losses are not seen. “If it makes a kid take a second thought about drinking and driving, then [the display] has done its job,” Batchelor said.

Informational Presence

The GCIA Web site was developed and is maintained by a GCIA member who now has his own marketing and consulting business. Richard Arnold, owner of Key Concept Services, began working on the original GCIA Web site in 2000. To keep up with changing technology and to ensure the GCIA Web site is at the forefront of industry information, a new site was developed and unveiled in the spring of 2009. “For an industry web site, the GCIA Web site stays very up-to-date,” said Arnold. “I am always looking for hot topic stories that will generate conversation or provide information to GCIA members, collision professionals or consumers.”
The GCIA Web site offers consumers print outs about their rights, and gives them the opportunity to find GCIA member collision repair shops. It provides collision repairers with schedules for training and opportunities for seminars and classes, and gives GCIA members information on upcoming meetings, their locations, speakers and topics.
The GCIA is excited about the opportunities for growth and education that are ahead in its 14th year of organization. For more information about membership, visit the Web site at www.GCIA.org or contact GCIA Executive Director Howard Batchelor. If you are a member of the GCIA, now is a great time to really get involved as the association works to achieve its goals. Any association is stronger with more members who are active and passionate about its principles, and the GCIA is no different. The next opportunity for members to really get involved is at the March 18th meeting at the Crowne Plaza Atlanta. From 6:30–9:30 that night, the GCIA will hear from several of the candidates who are running for the office of Georgia Insurance Commissioner—just one more way the association is working to benefit collision professionals and consumers alike.

Rachael J. Mercer is a freelance writer based in McDonough, Ga. She can be reached at mercerfreelancing@gmail.com.