IDEAS Collide Encourages Collision Repairers to Think Differently, Outperform

Ben Simmons, Gravie’s chief strategy officer.

The showcase, part of the 2023 SEMA Show, brings together speakers to share their ideas on a variety of topics in a series of short presentations.

Since IDEAS Collide was launched by the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) in 2018, as part of the Repairer Driven Education Series, the program has included professionals from a wide variety of backgrounds.

“IDEAS Collide showcases people’s big grand schemes for how this industry can be better, outperform where we are today, think differently about how our businesses look and find ways to implement that,” said Aaron Schulenburg, executive director of SCRS.

During this year’s SEMA Show in Las Vegas, NV, new speakers had an opportunity to share their ideas with the industry in a series of short presentations.

Three are summarized below.

Affordable Health Benefits

Ben Simmons, Gravie’s chief strategy officer, talked about one of the biggest problems the country faces: affordable and comprehensive health benefits.

“It's something we have to think about, like it or not, sometimes on a day-to-day basis to attract and retain talent,” said Simmons. “But it's laden with so many problems that there has to be a better solution.”

Currently, the average yearly cost of health care per employee is $12,000.

“That’s rising at an unsustainable rate,” said Simmons. Rising costs coupled with high deductibles and co-pays ultimately create a burden for employers and employees.

“When your health insurance spend is eating more into your profit year after year, it's at a breaking point for many businesses,” said Simmons.

Simmons noted little change has occurred in insurance over the last 30 years except for some innovations in digital health. Examples include telemedicine and apps that help manage chronic conditions from home. However, Simmons said these solutions have been mostly accessible to large, self-insured employers.

Currently, Simmons said small business owners with fewer than 500 employees make up more than 50% of the American workforce.

“Health insurance is at a breaking point for small business owners,” noted Simmons.

To address this challenge, Simmons said a shift in perspective is critical.

“That perspective shift is focusing on the member,” he said. “…the consumer who is actually using the health insurance and align their interests with everybody else in the value chain.”

When Simmons started at Gravie a decade ago, the team set out to redesign health insurance for small employers and build a health plan everyone can love.

Simmons discussed the company’s flagship program, Comfort, designed to be a benefits plan for small business owners and employees. It provides 100% coverage on most common services, such as routine primary care, specialist care, urgent care, imaging in an office setting and generic drugs. It also incorporates emerging digital health solutions and a no-interest payment plan.

Although Simmons said the plan is not a solution for every employer every year, the company aims to pass through savings, in years of good financial performance, be transparent and give customers more control.

Culture is Currency

Michael Bradshaw, vice president of K&M Collision and an SCRS board of director, talked about culture and why he believes it is the real currency in the job market today.

Bradshaw said 80% of U.S. employees don't feel connected to their company's culture.

Michael Bradshaw, vice president of K&M Collision and an SCRS board of director.

“We're used to thinking that salaries and benefits get the best talent and collision repairers,” said Bradshaw. “We wring our hands over how we're going to attract new technicians and how can we pay more because we can't be competitive in the workplace. But we never talk about culture.”
Bradshaw said that is really the secret weapon.

“It's the force behind attracting and keeping staff, keeping them happy, boosting morale and performance,” he noted.

He asked attendees to picture the greatest job satisfaction coming from a workplace that enriches life, sparks passions and thrives on excellence.

That is what Bradshaw has tried to do within their company. K&M bases its culture on five foundational building blocks: inspiring leadership, recognition, work-life harmony, professional growth and personal growth.

“As business owners, we often get caught up in the daily grind and lose sight of what truly matters,” said Bradshaw. “For many of us, family is at the heart of what we do, and we aim to create a work culture that feels like family, where everyone is supported and valued.”

Bradshaw said building a positive company culture and a team of excellent individuals has not only propelled his business forward but has also allowed him the opportunity to spend quality time with his family and create lasting memories.

“That is the true power of positive work culture,” he said. “It not only transforms our businesses and our teams, but it also enriches our personal lives, bringing us closer to the ones we love.”

By investing in employees as if they were family, Bradshaw has found they will go above and beyond for the business.

“Our business would not be the success that it is without our people,” he said. “They come first and foremost.”

A New Approach to Mentorship

With a growing technician shortage, two representatives from the company Mentor Mentee shared best practices about mentorship, CEO Ryan Weber and Business Development Manager Marc Brune.

Mentor Mentee CEO Ryan Weber and Business Development Manager Marc Brune.

Weber said the company approaches mentorship differently than traditional programs where an employee is matched with someone more experienced. Instead, Mentor Mentee offers a technical mentoring platform.

“The outcome is to strengthen that new person's ability and skills in a technical field,” he explained.

Weber asked attendees to imagine tackling repairs without diagnostics, plans or tools.

“It would be chaos,” he noted. “The same applies to a workforce and mentoring.”

By incorporating technology into the apprenticeship process, Weber said it can help replace a skilled workforce and pass down critical knowledge from one generation of workers to the next.

“Just as we would not approach a vehicle without the proper diagnostic tools…a lot of times what we see is that mentees and entry-level technicians that come into the industry are missing one of the most important tools of all, a great mentor,” said Brune.

Weber shared two of the four critical areas part of their proprietary system.

The first is assessing culture. Weber advised asking employees if they believe the company believes in them.

The other critical area is assessing the mentor involved in the program to determine if they are willing and able to instruct and believe in the industry.

Brune recommends educating everyone involved in the program and focusing on three areas: working across generations, the ability to communicate a clear vision for the future and demonstration.

“Just like we wouldn't let our technicians use a tool they don't know how to use, the same applies to mentoring,” he said.

Whether a shop is already running a program or getting ready to launch one, Weber said it’s important to begin with the end in mind. He suggests creating a customized task list for the technicians’ roles to provide direction. He also recommends employers be aware of how wide they are leaving the door open.

Without a career plan, Brune said an employee will likely have their eyes open to other jobs, even if they pay just a few dollars an hour more.

“By supporting and investing in your people, you're able to close that door,” he said.

To ensure mentees continue to thrive, Brune recommends monitoring their progress. He advocates setting priorities, holding everyone accountable and providing feedback.

“Not every technician is cut out to be a mentor, but those with the right support can make an immense amount of difference within your business,” he said.

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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