It has been a little over a year since we released the book, “The Secrets of America’s Greatest Body Shops,” to the collision repair industry, and I’ve been blessed that so many have read it and benefited from its message of hope to independent repairers. A year later, my team and I are busy launching the audio version, causing me to reflect back on all the amazing things that have happened in our industry since then and watching as the trends and opportunities emerge.
Looking back, I believe I was fairly accurate in my crystal ball appraisal of trends we might experience over the last year regarding such topics as technology and the continuation of consolidation. I’m pleased to see many independent collision repairers discovering their power to grow and become powerful forces in the face of much larger competitors. What I didn’t see coming, however, was John Eagle!
This legal case has dramatically changed the landscape and dramatically reinforced the importance of proper repairs in accordance with OE repair methods. It has opened the eyes of repairers and bill-payers alike to the fact that shops need to do the right thing or risk suffering the consequences. It has caused some shop leaders to accelerate the implementation of things they knew deep down they should already be doing, while others were shaken out of their blissful ignorance. Either way, I was happy to see the acceleration of positive progress that the case has created in our industry.
Those of you who have read “The Secrets of America’s Greatest Body Shops” may recall a chapter called “Busting Old Beliefs” that included tips on dealing with fear and avoiding the victim zone. Sadly, the John Eagle case has also done a disservice to some who have further reinforced their “victim’s mindset” by interpreting the message that they’re a victim of the insurance industry, believing they were “forced” by insurers to perform poor repairs. The book makes it clear that we all have a choice to do what’s right, and shops that are highly successful in today’s body shop business environment take full personal responsibility for properly repairing their customers’ vehicles whether getting paid to do so or not – and whether or not they have felt “bullied” by an insurer.
Positive or Negative?
It has indeed been an exciting year, and those who have been able to face their fears and look at the fast-changing collision industry through a positive lens are benefiting greatly. Those who are looking at all the changes we’re experiencing in our industry from a victim’s perspective will continue to struggle and many, sadly, will exit the business.
The shops that will become dominant are not necessarily the biggest, the ones with the most money, or even that have been in business the longest. Even though these characteristics are helpful, our future success stories will be the shops that embrace change, become students of progress, and find the seeds of prosperity within the challenges they face. The individuals involved in these successful businesses will seek to create better cultures in their places of work by learning modern leadership skills and building businesses that are more attractive to a new generation of worker. All these things, even though daunting, are entirely possible by anyone with the right mindset and willingness to work hard on the right things.
Let’s take a moment to discuss some of the opportunities that positive-minded people are discovering amongst the chaos. Here are five trends that I continue to see as big opportunities for independent collision repairers.
I know we have a long way to go as an industry, but I’m very impressed with the number of shops that have embraced and implemented mandatory pre- and post-repair scanning into their day-to-day operations over the course of the last year. I want to give credit to the many industry events, panel discussions, publications and industry experts that have created amazing awareness of the importance of diagnostics and necessary calibrations required to properly repair a modern-day vehicle.
I’m pleased to report that many of my collision business clients who were initially nervous about the emerging technology and requirements involving scanning and calibrations are reporting a favorable return on investment. Even shops that were sure they would be unable to get local bill-payers to step up and pay for scanning are finding success as they become more knowledgeable and skilled at presenting manufacturers’ documentation to support their scanning invoices.
As some shops continue to gain confidence in their ability to face emerging technology, I believe they will grow exponentially – and the shop owners who don’t will fade away. There certainly are costs involved in keeping up, however I see shops both large and small that can successfully make these investments manageable. There are companies that are making many of the tools once thought to be out of reach accessible to mere mortals. As I mentioned earlier, future shop success will be more predicated on attitude than other means.
Our biggest opportunities often lie within the obvious. In the pages of “The Secrets of America’s Greatest Body Shops,” we revealed what I consider the biggest opportunity for independent collision repairers to differentiate themselves from the competition. This “secret” seems to be basic common sense, but as I have found, it’s rarely common practice. Many of the shops featured in the book – and several shops I have worked with since – are discovering the power of this secret…which exists at your front counter!
Over the last year, customer expectations have continued to climb in all industries. Consumers are no longer judging body shop customer satisfaction against other repair shops, but instead against retail giants that have built empires on their dedication to creating lasting customer loyalty. Many businesses are discovering that customer acquisition costs are too high and would like to keep existing customers around for awhile. Even the trend of OE body shop certification programs is motivated by the manufacturers’ desire to improve brand loyalty. Far too many collision repair businesses have become lulled into a false sense of security due to an acceptable CSI score, even though this score doesn’t tell the whole story or guarantee repeat business. For many collision repair businesses, the customer experience quality has actually declined instead of improved as many shops have become more process-driven in the name of efficiency. The shops that learn to put the customer experience at the core of all processes are crushing it right now!
I have continued to stay in touch with my friends at Phoenix Solutions Group who are relentless in their pursuit of the truth of what drives exceptional customer experiences in the collision repair business. Their mountain of research and data confirms that most shops are missing out on the biggest opportunity available when it comes to getting customers to the door. I would highly encourage you to check out some of the resource case studies available at phoenixsolutionsgroup.net.
There is a lot to learn about what drives an exceptional customer experience and the emotional triggers that must be met for customers to refer a shop to friends and family. These experiences are a result of the culture of the business, processes and quality, but to begin with, I recommend taking a serious look at the person(s) who are face-to-face every day with your customers. In my opinion, shops are making a huge mistake when they put their lowest-paid and often completely untrained employees in this position as customer service reps. As I said, this is one of those areas that seems too obvious to be truly impactful to your business, but I promise you, this is a huge opportunity for most collision repairers to massively grow their business. No piece of technology or process will ever completely replace the need for empathetic human touch, especially in a business like ours.
It’s no time to panic! One of the things that, in my opinion, really accelerated consolidation over the past few years is fear. Fear and panic cause people to sell. Over the last year, however, as I predicted, the growth rate of consolidation amongst the “Big Four” MSOs has subsided somewhat as the number of large juicy platform acquisitions have become less available. I’m also sensing that the level of fear from the remaining shops has subsided as newly-found confidence is taking hold amongst the stronger single stores and small to medium MSOs. They’re beginning to discover that they can compete quite successfully with the big guys. Several shop owners I’ve interviewed in the last year are reporting that consolidation has actually helped them instead of hurt them. This is not always the case, but I’m seeing that businesses that are a little less reliant on DRP contracts and more focused on the customer experience and superior quality are often seeing financial gains as their former independent competitors are being bought out by the Big Four. Savvy shop owners are staying calm and, instead of selling, many are investing in their businesses and buying!
The last year has seen a lot of growth in OE certifications. As we discussed in the book, this trend has indeed climbed as collision repairers begin to understand that participation in these programs is important to their business’ future. Even though these programs may not be pushing large numbers of consumers into shops yet, many shop owners believe, as do I, that eventually they will.
According to Scott Biggs of Assured Performance, the number of shops joining their program has grown 25 percent in the last year and is expected to reach 35 percent by the end of 2018. This should be no big surprise as shops are seeing OEs as the next “direct repair program.” I also believe these programs will continue to improve and become more challenging to participate in by adding consequences for poor performance and rewards for good performance. Biggs also revealed that the Big Four consolidators have been getting certified under their program; some more than others. He also mentioned that major insurers are also starting to support OE certifications and recommending them to their DRP shops.
In “The Secrets of America’s Greatest Body Shops,” we dedicated an entire chapter to the importance of peer groups. I’m seeing this trend accelerate as independent collision repairers seek the power that’s available to them through joining others that are on the same mission. I spoke to my friend Jim Keller, president of 1Collision Network, and he believes that as our industry continues to become more technologically advanced, shop owners will struggle to find the time and competitive solutions needed to keep up, adding that the time it takes administratively just to prepare a vehicle for production has increased immensely.
“It’s a tough time in the collision industry to be alone, and to be without group support. Strength can come in the power of numbers. Networks, franchises, associations and paint company business groups, as well as online discussion forums, can provide great resources and solutions for a collision repair business to successfully operate at high levels,” Keller says.
I too am a big believer in peer groups of various forms that can serve as an equalizer for independent repairers trying to compete against giants. Access to resources such as knowledge, buying power, marketing solutions, direct repair programs, accountability and camaraderie amongst friends can be found by becoming involved in such a group. It has become clear to me that the one common denominator amongst all high-performing collision operators in North America and beyond is their involvement in a peer group.
“Right now is the best time in history to be in the collision repair business, but only for those with the right mindset.” That was my mantra a year ago, when “The Secrets of America’s Greatest Body Shops” was first introduced to the collision industry, and I believe it even more today. I’m absolutely inspired by the stories I continually hear from body shops both small and large that even though things are tough, as an industry, we are tougher, and many are finding unprecedented prosperity amongst the challenges. It is critical that you stay the course of always performing high-quality repairs while never losing sight of the importance of what you do every day and why you do it. You are not only fixing cars, my friends, you are fixing lives!