We asked three shop owners about advanced materials in their business and how they have accommodated this shift to more “exotic materials” in the industry. This is what they had to say:
Elissa Larremore, Owner, 1 CBS Collision, Shreveport, La.
“We pull repair procedures and identify what is on that vehicle, and what process we need to use to repair it or replace it.
“We had one customer last month who had pulled all the repair procedures, marked everything, and came in to go over it with my technician. They even wanted to stay with the tech to make sure that he knew where he was cutting on the vehicle. I like that kind of customer because it makes it a lot easier to document and get paid for the procedures that we need to do. He was happy as a clam when he picked his car up too!
“We’ve had a few of those types of customers over the past year who are coming in, not necessarily pulling the repair procedures but wanting to know how we’re going to repair the vehicle. We’ve seen it more with the people who find us based on our certifications.”
Larremore said her shops are certified for Honda, Ford and Nissan and are currently working on becoming certified for BMW. Her total investment for equipment purchased for aluminum alone has been between $30,000 to $40,000.
“Shops looking to invest in equipment and become certified need to plan and sit down and decide which certifications they want to go after. Which ones make the most sense for your business? Which of these vehicles do you actually spend a lot of time repairing? I think the problem right now is that each one requires something different.”
Joe O’Neill, Owner, Benner’s Auto Body, Cranford, N.J.
“I decided as a rule of thumb four or five years ago that every quarter I would buy a piece of equipment that would get me closer to a complete body shop for aluminum or advanced materials. The second thing was to condition my senior staff with an incentive for them to start taking advanced material classes, even though we weren’t 100 percent ready for it, and offer a pay difference. So my senior staff who got certified got $10 over their normal flat-rate commission when they’re working on advanced material cars. I was able to convince them and say, ‘Hey look, this is where the shop needs to go so why don’t we start taking the classes together?’ So we started taking a section of aluminum classes and riveting classes together and it really got them on board. And then when we finally started getting certified, they loved it because now they’re older and technically they could work less hours but smart hours and make the same money they were making 10 years ago when they were 10 years younger.”
As an independent shop with no network or corporate support, O’Neill suggests shops in his position use their relationships with their vendors, in addition to creating a plan, to work towards certifications.
“I think that there are multiple avenues for the single independent when you’re always crunched for money to go to some of the people that you’re doing business with and say, ‘Hey look, we’ll continue to do business with you but could you help with purchasing, demoing and training?’ And many are more than happy to do that.”
Tyler Makeig, General Manager, Showtime Collision, Running Springs, Calif.
“We’ve been kind of thinking about advanced materials for two years, but the way that we did it, it cost us around $350,000 to $400,000 to upgrade our facility like we did. It took two years for us to plan it and get all that stuff in line. I’m a huge advocate for factory certifications and believe that it’s really where things are going in my opinion, or at least it’s going to have a big effect on the collision repair industry and how cars are being repaired and who’s even able to repair them.
Makeig said Showtime is about to be certified in Subaru, Toyota, Honda, Ford, GM and Chrysler. He said they have about eight DRPs and, after talking to them about aluminum and getting certified, they began seeing an influx of trucks in their shop.
“We’re up here in the mountains and we see so many trucks driving around, and then this new aluminum thing happened and we hadn’t seen one aluminum truck for three years until we did the equipment purchase in the last six months, and now that’s all changed.
“In the claims process, when someone called in, the people who were taking the claim were saying, ‘Well it’s an aluminum truck, you can’t go to Showtime, you have to go down here to this facility that has the aluminum equipment.’ So now that we’re on the roster for the insurance company, we’re seeing this stuff.”
When doing an estimate, Makeig uses a magnet to tell what he’s working with when a vehicle comes in. But if there’s structural damage, that’s when he opts to pull the OE procedures, which he said he’s had success billing for.