Collision Industry Business Leaders Help Chart Your Course Through the Coronavirus Pandemic

Collision Industry Business Leaders Help Chart Your Course Through the Coronavirus Pandemic

Autobody News recently reached out to leaders in the collision repair industry to find out how they are best managing the inevitable interruptions to “business as usual” during the current coronavirus restrictions.

In addition to sharing their insight on how this will affect the industry, they offered some advice to business owners and employees.

Farzam Afshar, CEO of VeriFacts Automotive

VeriFacts Automotive is working closely with our customers, insurers and OEMs to adapt our practices in these challenging times.

We are conducting many of our coaching services virtually to ensure we are keeping our team members and the shop employees safe. We are following OEM guidelines on shop certification visits. Also, we’ve shared tips with our customers about how they can enhance their business practices to ensure shop cleanliness, follow social distancing rules and provide convenient customer service.

While there will be short-term declines in repair volume as fewer people are on the road each day, we will see business return to previous levels as this challenge subsides.

We may also see daily driving trends increase, as people may be reluctant to return to air travel, trains and public transportation.

In addition, people may hold on to their vehicles longer rather than investing in a new car, which will translate to more repair needs.

We always advise shop owners and managers to use the good times to prepare for potential downturns, and to use the downtime to productively plan for the future. This is the ideal time to conduct your facility and equipment maintenance, participate in employee training, complete your annual financial review and planning and do your employee reviews.

Scott Biggs, CEO of Assured Performance

Assured Performance is taking bold action to support our certified repair network.

We’ve created a special subsidy and stimulus program for our certified repair providers we hope will help in the short term and actually reinvent and turbocharge their businesses for the long term. 

For immediate relief, we have instituted a payment program, discount incentives and accelerated rebate redemption for the cost of certification. As a stimulus, we have introduced a new program to help drive sales and re-engineer business operations to save money and manpower.

Through an agreement with Bodyshop Booster, certified network shops can offer consumers and their insurers a hands-free estimating and repair process that protects the shop employees, the consumer and the insurers.

The new process combines photo and remote virtual estimating with a fully documented and/or certified repair. The process eliminates the need for the consumer or the insurer to come to the shop by using a pickup and delivery system, centralized appointment setting with an active calendar and special tools for the shops’ websites.

These combined with full electronic visual documentation will enable consumers and insurers to interact with shops in a new and far better way of doing business. 

Programs like this can save repairers hundreds of thousands of dollars each year and save insurers millions. The process is far easier for consumers and offers a "hands-free" solution during this time of social distancing and quarantining. Consumers do not have to come to the shop and they will have higher confidence than ever before because of the repair documentation.

Our certified repairers’ survival is essential to all of us. It may be the perfect solution for these uncertain times and become the new norm in the future. 

Since this industry is directly impacted by miles driven and employment, people NOT driving and forced to stay at home will be significant and could be devastating if the shutdown lasts too long.

In the short term, it is a great time for shops to implement new systems, train staff and refine their sales, marketing and production processes. We can all be far better businesses coming out of this crisis if we do this well and execute a smart business improvement plan.

Dean Fisher, President of CARSTAR

The safety of our customers and team members is always our first priority, and we are taking steps to protect the health and wellbeing of our team and customers.

We have implemented a number of precautions based on the advice of the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and other health authorities to minimize the risk of the transmission of COVID-19 for both team members and customers alike.

Following the municipal, provincial, state and federal guidelines for health and safety that are local to the repairers remain paramount during this COVID-19 pandemic. Increased rates of cleaning frequently touched surfaces, spaces and property is a common directive as well as making hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes more available to both customers and employees.

Jim Keller, President of 1Collision Network

1Collision has addressed our locations as a group in regard to safety precautions by issuing bulletins, holding group web meetings and conducting discussions with shops about the ways they are protecting employees and customers.

To help capture traffic to your door, educate consumers on the vehicle disinfecting measures they can take, as well as the policies and procedures your repair facility has implemented.

In the sales process, especially during a shrinking market, it’s critical to educate consumers about making the proper repair facility choice. By using effective sales and closing techniques, and writing a complete and accurate repair plan, it will likely be the difference between breakeven and a respectable profit.

On the financial side, I recommend managing your numbers daily; close more sales and manage all costs, especially labor and parts.

With monthly building payments, whether you are in a lease or a mortgage, have conversations with the bank or building owner to delay a payment or two to help weather the storm. Analyzing all expenses to cut costs and being more efficient is always a good exercise.

Also, grant programs are becoming available on both a federal and state-by-state basis, that are potentially beneficial to collision shop owners.

The most critical issues I see for shops are the early reports that have indicated lower claims volumes, which will mean lower WIP (work in progress) and sales volumes. Parts availability will likely become a challenge, with manufacturer supply chains weakening internationally and the within the U.S.

Talk to your employees, and most importantly listen to what they are feeling…be compassionate, and assure them they are being heard and you will help in any way you can. Always remember, without our employees, there is no business.

Collision business owners must be strong, smart, courageous and lead their organization by taking calculated risks.

Henry Ford once said, “The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time.” The leader that does nothing will certainly lead to failure.

Aaron Schulenberg, Executive Director of SCRS

The Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) recognizes many collision repairers are being inundated with emails and information surrounding the current events unfolding, and many of our members are reaching out trying to understand what it means to their businesses.

As an association, we are largely relying on those with specialized expertise to offer guidance, and then finding ways to share that guidance through our free channels of communications. These include Repairer Driven News and a new resource page we have set up.

The resource page is continually updated with information about workplace preparation and help, as well as financial aid and relief to help small businesses and citizens across the U.S.

As essential businesses, we know the critical role collision repairers are playing right now for customers and employees. We’ve seen many examples of businesses taking enhanced precautions against COVID-19, ranging from zero-contact interactions with customers at drop-off and pick-up, that allow for adherence to social distancing policies surrounding personal contact.

We’ve also seen examples of businesses promoting services to “clean,” “sanitize” or “disinfect” customer vehicles. SCRS urges caution with the language used in your promotion of services. For instance, your facility can assure that you “apply disinfectant,” but there is no testing protocol to ensure that you “disinfected” the vehicle.

In our interaction with other industries, this has been a repeated caution; describe only what you performed, rather than a promise of what it accomplished. 

The information is constantly evolving, the situation changing, and the best advice we can offer is to make ample use of the resources available to you to stay abreast of the current events. 

But most importantly, remain positive.

We are an industry that fixes broken, seemingly unfixable incidents every day, as we restore safety and peace of mind after unexpected tragedy.

While the conditions are unchartered territory for us all, as an industry we will find our way through to the other side, using our professional experience to serve the motoring public as they turn to us in their time of need. 

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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