3M Shows Support of Collision Repair Industry During Pandemic

3M is directing a majority of respirators produced to health care workers and first responders, followed by critical national infrastructure.
3M is directing a majority of respirators produced to health care workers and first responders, followed by critical national infrastructure.

When reports were first coming from China in early January regarding the coronavirus, Dave Gunderson, vice president of 3M’s Automotive Aftermarket Division (AAD), said the company saw the writing on the wall.

Having been through previous pandemics, such as SARs, 3M executives realized the need to take action.

“Every day at 3M, we think about improving lives,” said Gunderson. “Those of us working in the automotive aftermarket have been thinking about ways to support collision repairers during the pandemic.”

Operating in more than 240 countries, the company manufactures and sells 52,000 different products and has more than 96,000 employees.

Autobody News recently talked to Gunderson about the state of the industry during COVID-19 and what 3M has been doing over these past few months to show its support.

“We realized that we needed a new operating rhythm and it had to be simple, yet effective,” said Gunderson. “It came down to three overarching guidelines: people, prioritization and rebound.”

How has 3M protected people during the COVID-19 restrictions?

First and foremost, the top priority is to make sure that our teams and customers are staying safe. We have stay informed about the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO.)

We took action to limit any exposure and ensure our teams have the right measures in place. We also converted all of our support to be handled remotely. Customer support is key for us, but we need to do it in the safest possible way.

Since June 4, we started bringing 3M employees back to the 3M Center campus who aren’t able to physically do their jobs from home. We also created new rules and training for employees.

For anyone who travels and meets with customers, we’re going through another level of training to ensure employees know how to properly use a respirator or face covering. It’s called fit testing. Sometimes, you see people with a face covering over their mouths but not their noses. That’s not effective or the proper way to wear a face covering. If you wear a respirator, it’s essential that it fits correctly. If you have a beard, a respirator will not fit properly because the air can come around the sides.

In our industry, it’s not just important during COVID-19. If you are working with any industrial application, certain respirators are required. We are reinforcing that with employees.

From a customer standpoint, we’re learning how to reengage and “ask before going.” In the past, 3M representatives stopped by multiple body shops on their regular routes. That has changed since COVID-19. Now, we call first and ask how the shop owners and managers want to be served. We’re finding that some request training over the phone while others prefer someone to come in person. Rather than showing up and assuming that’s OK, we are asking their preference. Our customers are very appreciative of this.

In terms of prioritization, what prompted 3M to focus on training, and what training is available?

Early on, we confronted the reality that we can’t do it all. Purposeful prioritization is more important than ever before and has been based on customer needs.

We heard from the market about the need for training and have worked very hard to accelerate hands-on training. With the COVID-19 situation, we pivoted our strategy and amplified and stepped up our education, especially in the area of virtual training.

In the past, technicians typically went online at night after work. Our goal is to help technicians sharpen their skills and support shop owners while they prepare for an economic rebound. We launched our 3M online platform in 2018. In March, we introduced a webinar series for the industry and we have more than 25 on-demand classes for techs. We also host one-hour “how-to” webinars multiple times per week and post them on YouTube. The sessions focus on a deeper understanding of body shop processes and procedures.

I don’t think we’ll ever replace the need for physical training at our internal centers, but we’ve found that you can do a lot of training online.

We also launched an application, “Ask Me Anything,” where technicians can reach out to 3M on the fly and have a company representative answer questions in a timely manner.

What are some of the most significant changes you’ve seen over the last few months?

As the economy is opening back up across the U.S., we’re seeing the return of miles driven faster than we were expecting. People are getting out and starting to drive. I think that’s good news and an encouraging sign for our industry.

Depending on the part of country, miles driven are about 75% to 85% of what they were pre-COVID and are continuing to increase. The RV industry is also recovering quite well, and sales are up.

If you think about how people are using their cars, that’s changing. We’re still going to birthday parties, but we have drive-by birthday parties. We’re going to church, but staying in our cars.

In the 1950s, people looked forward to going to a drive-in movie or restaurant. Using the car was passion-driven. Today, and especially with the COVID-19 situation, cars are becoming our safe haven.

Recent surveys show that people are going to be driving more after the pandemic and avoiding the use of mass transit and shared mobility due to hygiene concerns. When we think about getting into someone else’s car, we’re not sure if it has been sanitized. However, we have comfort in knowing that our cars have been cleaned.

Another reason is due to congestion. For many years, there was a big push to use mass transit to reduce consumption. But now the question is becoming: do you want to be safe or worry about causing congestion?

All of this is positive for the collision repair industry. We need to continue watching these trends closely and prepare for the future.

I understand that sometimes it feels like it is going to take forever. But if you look back in history, I think the auto aftermarket recovers much faster than other sectors. People don’t need to buy anything; they just get back in their cars and begin to drive.

How is 3M supporting the industry as it gets ready to ramp up again?

It is important for us to track the market and be ready for the rebound. We want to make sure that we have the right products available and the support the industry needs to service customers.

Prior to COVID-19, 3M was always committed to balanced distribution of respirators to our existing industrial, retail and health care customers.

In this unprecedented crisis, 3M is directing a substantial majority of the respirators we produce to our heroic and courageous health care workers and first responders, followed by critical national infrastructure during the pandemic.

3M is also going to be launching two new products for sanitization over the next couple of months. They have been thoroughly tested to ensure they are safe to use on automotive interiors. When developing the products, we took into account efficiency and productivity in the shop because we understand that every minute counts during a repair and want to create the most value for our market.

Since safety and sanitization is top of mind right now, we have detailed information on our website showing examples of how to use sanitizer on a vehicle based on information from the CDC. You would think it’s intuitive, but for some of these chemicals to work, they have to saturate or stay wet for a certain amount of time.

If we can help assure customers that their cars will come back safe, clean and sanitized, then consumer confidence will help drive additional repairs.

We’re a trusted leader in this industry and work hard to serve the needs of customers. For the automotive aftermarket division, our strategy and vision are to create the future of care and repair with our customers and industry partners. We’re in the industry for the long-term and want everyone to know that we’re in this together.

For more information about 3M’s training resources, visit this website.

Stacey Phillips Ronak

Stacey Phillips Ronak is an award-winning writer for the automotive industry and a regular columnist for Autobody News based in Southern California.

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