Consultant Looks Ahead to Where the Collision Repair Industry is Headed

Consultant Looks Ahead to Where the Collision Repair Industry is Headed

Longtime industry consultant Sean Carey of SCG Management Consultants is the latest observer to predict a forthcoming decline in the U.S. auto body shop population.

“Shop closures will begin to take effect in 2022,” Carey said during the CIECA conference in Nashville this past fall. “Training and capital investment for shops continues to increase as the sophistication of vehicles changes, and the sophistication of skills needed changes as well. So 2022 is going to be a tough year.”

Significant ongoing declines in the number of shops predicted or reported over the past three decades have never been reflected in government data; the U.S. Census Bureau, for example, shows the number of shops in 2019 at about 35,000, the same number as in 1999---though in between it rose to a high of 36,500 in 2005 and fell to a low of 33,386 in 2011.

Carey’s specific forecast wasn’t as dire as others have made in the past, but would still result in the shop population falling over the next two to three years to the level seen during the last recession.

“My prediction is that 10% of shops, 3,500, will go out of business,” Carey said, saying it will be primarily those not willing or able to “invest in safe and proper repairs.”

Another cause: the worsening technician shortage.

“The fact of the matter is we are running out of people,” Carey said. “This industry for a number of years has bemoaned and shouted and had a great deal of angst about finding technicians, getting technicians out of the schools. It’s too late. We’re out of people. We’re going to have to find a different solution. We have run out of people, and it’s going to change our business forever. You have to start to think radically differently about production staff.”

A national industry survey last summer found about 12% of shops said they had paid a hiring bonus to a new technician within the past 12 months. More than half of those bonuses were less than $2,000, but a quarter (26%) were $3,000 or more.

Carey said he’s not convinced signing bonuses are the best recruiting tool. Consider, he suggests, how the 20 employees who have been with your company feel about a new guy coming in with a signing bonus of thousands of dollars.

“Maybe think instead about retention bonuses,” Carey said. “Think about tying your technicians and staff in, those you already have. That’s going to become critical to you because, as I’ve said, we’ve run out of people.”

Carey offered a number of other predictions for where he thinks the industry is headed over the next three or four years. Parts costs, he said, which currently account for about 40% of repairs, will rise.

“It will exceed 50% for the first time,” he said. “It’s going to go through the roof.”

There also will be less emphasis on cycle time, he said, given the labor shortage and an increased commitment he sees in the industry “to do repairs right.”

John Yoswick

John Yoswick is a freelance writer and Autobody News columnist who has been covering the collision industry since 1988, and the editor of the CRASH Network... Read More

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