Associations: Time to Join or a Waste of Time? - BodyShop Business

Associations: Time to Join or a Waste of Time?

Opinions vary regarding the repair industry's national associations, but one thing is certain: The industry has a wide range of national associations, each with differing beliefs, views and goals. Our examination of the industry's national groups may help you decide if one coincides with your own convictions

Some people in the industry speak highly about national associations, while others contend they’re a total waste of time and money. But before you can say either of those things for certain, you need to be familiar with the collision repair industry’s national trade associations, what they stand for, what they’ve accomplished and what they’re trying to accomplish.

Who knows, maybe there’s an association out there for you, but you just don’t know about it yet.

For this article, I investigated four of the industry’s national trade associations: the Alliance of Automotive Service Providers (AASP), the Automotive Service Association (ASA), the Coalition for Collision Repair Equality (CCRE) and the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS). I’ll also take a look at the Collision Industry Conference (CIC), which is less an association and more a unified inter-industry effort.

Without further delay, let’s begin our journey.

Alliance of Automotive Service Providers (AASP)
History: The AASP was founded in 1998 by a coalition of associations made up mainly of former Automotive Service Association (ASA) affiliates. AASP formed right after a disagreement over revisions in the ASA affiliate agreement, which resulted in several ASA affiliate associations in various states pulling out of ASA.

“For years we operated with a single-page affiliate agreement with ASA,” says Dennis Liphardt, president and CEO of Automotive Service Councils (ASC)-Michigan. “But in September of 1998, ASA came out with a thicker agreement that contained certain clauses that made us uncomfortable. ASA refused to negotiate the agreement, so AASP was formed.”

Despite all this, Liphardt says that he wishes the split from ASA hadn’t happened and that industry organizations could all work together, united under one banner.

How the AASP is structured, dues and who can join: Currently, the AASP is a federation of independent state organizations allied under AASP. For now, the AASP structure is still regional, but the plan is to go national in 2001. The AASP is a not-for-profit organization with more than 9,100 members in five states. Where dues and fees are concerned, the AASP currently operates on an assessment basis; there are no national dues yet. The AASP assesses what’s needed for national expenses and then assesses the state groups according to the number of members per state.

To join the AASP, you must be a member of an auto repair industry organization, either mechanical or collision. The organization must also be a recognized not-for-profit group. Why these particular membership requirements? “We wanted to choose members who were unhappy with the ASA affiliate agreement,” says Liphardt. “We did nothing to pull members in from outside states that weren’t involved.”

The AASP’s formal mission statement: “The Alliance of Automotive Service Providers is a coalition of associations, which serve the automotive service industry. In a spirit of mutual cooperation and support, Alliance participants are committed to sharing information, knowledge and other resources for the benefit of the members we serve.”

“We’re really trying to be a true member-based organization,” says Liphardt. “[We take actions] based on the opinion of our membership, which is something ASA never did. That’s the way we started and that’s the way we’re operating [today].”

Benefits: All benefits presently fall at state level, so benefits vary from state to state. Examples of benefits include buying programs and educational opportunities. The AASP may opt to keep benefits at state level if all states offer adequate benefits. But Liphardt made it clear that on a national level, the AASP will take care of its state organizations. “If one of our affiliate organizations has a problem, national will try to help that state.”

How policy is set: The AASP surveys members and provides questionnaires on various issues to obtain group opinions. Where goals and policies are concerned, majority rules. If the majority of the group has a certain opinion, then that opinion is adopted.

Where the AASP stands on some industry issues: Keep in mind that because the AASP isn’t yet national, Liphardt’s answers reflect his opinion and that of ASC-Michigan, but not that of everyone else involved in the AASP.

– Aftermarket (A/M) parts: “This is ASC-Michigan’s opinion,” says Liphardt, “but most other states would probably agree: We’re against aftermarket parts that don’t fit. For competitive purposes, there’s a need for A/M parts, but they must be quality.”

– Steering: “Steering doesn’t happen as much as people in the industry like to think; there’s nothing wrong with insurers giving customers a list of shops to choose from, but out and out steering is wrong.”

– Cost shifting: “Cost shifting has been greatly reduced due to closer re-inspections. There are more penalties if you get caught. If you’re on a direct-repair program (DRP) and you get caught, you’ll get thrown off the program. There’s just too much to lose.”

– DRPs: “This is my pet issue. We’ll see better DRPs developing as time goes on. DRPs are here to stay; they’re not going away. [They’re] the future. Shops need to work with insurers to develop better DRPs instead of fighting something that isn’t going to go away. Seventy to 80 percent of good quality shops are on DRP programs.”

Insurer/shop relationships: “Michigan is very strong on relationships with insurance companies – stronger than a lot of states. We meet with insurance companies on a quarterly basis and discuss [various issues and concerns]. We give our recommendations to insurers as to what the requirements for quality DRP programs should be. I see much better relationships developing if you’re willing to work together and negotiate; we need to work together.”

– Technician shortage: “It’s terrible. We spend more time in our industry talking about it and less time doing anything [to correct it]. It’s difficult to get our people involved, and it’s very frustrating. For four years, [ASC-Michigan] has been putting on a career day program at a local school. About 120 to 150 students attend, but this last time, only 12 to 14 shop owners showed up.”

The AASP’s recent accomplishments: For now, each state association is independent and has its own goals at the state level. What’s going on at the national level? The AASP has agreed how to run the national organization, developed bylaws and decided it needs to have a Washington representation and a management company to run the AASP. “The immediate goals are to find the management company and the Washington representative, which could turn out to be one and the same,” says Liphardt. “We’ll be involved [working on goals] at the national level, but each state organization will still follow its state goals as well.”

Web site:

Automotive Service Association (ASA)
History: The ASA is the oldest of the groups we’re looking at in this article. It was formed in 1951 and was a consolidation of organizations into one unified group. Before 1951, Independent Garage Association of Texas (IGA) and Independent Garage Owners (IGO) had joined forces and formed the Autobody Association of America (ABAA). After that, Automotive Service Councils (ASC) merged with ABAA to form the Independent Automotive Service Association (IASA), which later became ASA in 1951. There was a whole lot of merging going on!

How the ASA is structured, dues and who can join: ASA is a not-for-profit organization headquartered in the Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas, area. The group has more than 13,000 members in the United States and other countries, with 95 percent of all members located in the United States. The ASA offers state and national memberships. Why both? “State organizations can get closer to local issues and provide camaraderie,” says Sharon Merwin, ASA’s collision division manager. “National provides benefits like legislation on a national level.”

Dues are $150 per year for national membership. At the state level, each state dictates its own dues structure on an annual fee basis. You must be involved in either a mechanical or collision business, or in the case of an affiliate member, be an automotive-related supplier, jobber, etc. Your business must be in good standing and follow the ASA code of ethics, which is a set of rules that helps ensure you’ll conduct your business affairs with the highest standards.

“Our membership developed the code of ethics,” says Merwin. “It’s the automotive service industry’s standard for professional business practices.”

The ASA’s formal mission statement: “The Automotive Service Association advances the professionalism and excellence in the automotive repair industry through education, representation and member services.”

Benefits: When I asked Merwin which ASA benefits she thinks are the most appealing to collision repair professionals, she mentioned the ASA’s workers compensation dividend program, warranty program, information through the ASA’s communications package and the International Autobody Congress and Exposition (NACE). She also mentioned the ASA’s publications, such as the Collision Repair Report and Auto Inc.

Keep in mind the benefits mentioned by Merwin are just a few of the many available to members. I visited the ASA Web site and counted more than 30 different benefits, ranging from buying program discounts to Washington representation to advertising.

How policy is set: How much say do members have in setting the ASA goals and policies? “We work for our members,” says Merwin. “They’re our boss. ASA members vote in the leaders. ASA has a procedure to come up with positions, and policies come from the board.”

Where the ASA stands on some industry issues:
– A/M parts: “We’ve never been against A/M parts, just disappointed with the quality [of them]. While the quality is better on some A/M parts than it has been in the past, the desired level of quality is still not where it should be. Lost time is the penalty for repair shops when A/M parts are used,” says Merwin, adding that ASA worked with the Certified Aftermarket Parts Association (CAPA) for 10 years trying to get it to uphold standards for A/M parts. But, says Merwin, the ASA’s effort was futile so it finally withdrew its support from CAPA.

Merwin says the ASA isn’t in favor of a monopoly on OEM parts and that since 1996, the ASA has been working on model legislation to promote consent and disclosure regarding the use of A/M parts. She says 30 different states are trying to implement some form of consent and disclosure legislation.

– Steering: “If you promote anti-steering, then you’ll promote PPO-type insurance policies. You can’t say no to steering and at the same time, promote DRPs. If you’re anti-steering, you’re not favoring DRPs.”

– DRPs: “We’ve never been against DRPs. From the beginning, we were neutral. No association should make [this] decision for shops. The shops decide what choices to make.”

Merwin says the ASA has tried to promote understanding and awareness with regard to DRPs and that DRPs are a give-to-get relationship so there must be equal benefits for both parties involved.

– Cost shifting: “Cost shifting is still a problem. It’s still going on because [procedures] aren’t being recognized by the information providers. Both sides need to write estimates as pure and clean as possible – and do the procedure as written.”

– Insurer/shops relations: “There have been better relationships the last two years than we ever had [before].”

Merwin credits the professionalism of collision repairers for the improved relations. She says these repairers are working hard to establish better relationships with insurance companies based on an understanding of each party’s goals. She says that to achieve this, issues need to be discussed with insurers so they can be resolved. To help, the ASA put an advisory group together to discuss the economics of both the collision and insurance industries. The group works with repairers, insurance companies, information providers and paint companies to help them all work together to resolve problems and implement solutions.

– Technician shortage: “This is an issue I’ve been working on for quite some time. The industry gets complacent because it’s time consuming to be on school advisory boards or to implement apprenticeship programs in shops.”

To help with the shortage, the “Blitz” effort was started about four years ago, with the “Missouri Blitz” being the first to launch. This was an effort in which the ASA identified schools that were NATEF certified and encouraged those that weren’t to do so. A “Texas Blitz” soon followed.

Merwin says several things need to be done to help remedy the tech shortage. Among them: People need to get involved on school advisory boards, make sure repair methods being taught in schools are current and upgrade school equipment.

“A major problem in schools is that we have teachers teaching outdated repair methods. We need to get teachers to understand the repair process of today,” says Merwin, adding that she’s encountered teachers who weren’t even aware of the existence of I-CAR.

Merwin says that apprenticeship programs and recruiting are also areas where the industry isn’t doing enough. “As an industry, we need to take responsibility and get actively involved because the tech shortage isn’t going to go away on its own.”

The ASA’s recent accomplishments: “We’ve had success meeting with insurance and paint companies, as well as the salvage people,” says Merwin. “Our automated estimate committee did a reference chart of ‘not included’ operations, and we’re working on a reference chart for salvage parts that would be used strictly for a shop’s reference.

“We’re also working on the development of NACE. I-CAR teaches classes on repair today, ASE tests on what you learned yesterday and NACE looks at what’s coming in the future.”

What are ASA’s goals for the rest of this year and into 2001? “To help the industry be paid for the repair processes they do but aren’t being paid for today, to encourage good relationships with industry vendors, to help the industry understand standard operating procedures and to help the industry understand what will happen with the claims handling process with the advent of e-commerce.

Web site:

Coalition for Collision Repair Excellence (CCRE)
History: The CCRE was founded in 1995 by Chicago shop owner Mike Melfi. Melfi – along with others, most of them shop owners – created an alliance of repair professionals that, through education and legal action, seeks to remove control of the collision repair industry from the hands of insurance companies and restore it to the collision repair professionals.

In June 1997, Melfi addressed the importance of the 1963 Consent Decree (see the July issue of BodyShop Business, pg. 32, for more information on the 1963 decree); Vice President and Louisiana shop owner Ann Spink released an outline of collision repair issues during that same time period that would serve as the basis for a litigation-legislation conference to be held in August 1998. Also in 1998, CCRE sponsors offered their expertise, evidence and support to the plaintiffs of the now-famous State Farm imitation parts trial.

How the CCRE is structured, dues and who can join: The CCRE is a national organization that, up until mid-May of this year, had been operating as a for-profit group with its corporate headquarters located in Illinois. Now, however, it’s operating as a not-for-profit organization and has moved its corporate headquarters to Texas. The legal structure in Texas permits the CCRE to operate as a not-for-profit group while still allowing it to restrict its membership.

The number of members in the CCRE is kept strictly confidential. This is done so members who prefer to remain anonymous can do so without risking reprisal from insurance companies, peers or anyone else who doesn’t agree with the CCRE’s mission. Members who want to go public are free to do so. (Membership information is so confidential that only the president and the executive director of the CCRE have access to the member lists.)

And the CCRE membership isn’t open to everyone. “We don’t allow insurance companies or their representatives in the CCRE, and we could care less what they think,” says CCRE Executive Director Dennis Howard.

Independent collision shops, technicians and affiliates such as independent investigative efforts, trade associations, journalists, auto manufacturers, etc. can apply for CCRE membership.

To join you must fill out the sponsorship application form. On the form, you’ll be asked if you’re on a DRP program. If so, then you’ll be required to provide copies of DRP agreements and related documents to the CCRE. You’ll also be investigated to make sure your business is reputable. After that, you’ll either be endorsed by a CCRE member in your area, or you’ll be subject to meet with unanimous CCRE board approval. Once approved, you’ll receive an affidavit to sign.

The requirements for entry into the CCRE are strict because the group is concerned about being “infiltrated by the insurance industry.”

Membership levels and annual dues are as follows:
– Senior Sponsor: independent shops, $365. Senior sponsors receive full access to statutes, regulations and case law as published on the CCRE Web site and receive access to the CCRE private discussion board. They also receive the CCRE newsletter, and the Beyond Parts & Equipment publication.

– Sponsor: shops, $300; techs, $90. Same support as senior sponsor, but access to statutes, regulations and case law will be provided on a “fee per search” basis.

– Affiliate sponsor: $500 Bronze, $1,000 Silver, $2,500 Gold. Affiliates receive newsletter recognition at their request.

Once a member is accepted into the CCRE, he can choose to participate in committee work, such as communication, legislation, litigation, membership or the Web site. “The CCRE is about joining hands, not holding hands,” says Howard. “We want our members to take an active position on issues that are important to them, not just gripe and go home.”

The CCRE’s formal mission statement: To affirm and defend our right, as independent business owners, to serve our customers based upon our one-to-one relationship with our customers;

To resist the influence of outside entities that would mandate the use of inferior parts, materials and/or techniques that would be employed in the repair of our customers’ vehicles;

To increase consumer awareness as to their rights to recover fully for damages sustained;

To increase consumer awareness as to any efforts to expand, enhance or otherwise affirm the rights of vehicle owners;

To increase consumer awareness as to any efforts to negate, dilute or otherwise compromise the rights of vehicle owners;

To support the efforts of outside entities when said efforts are consistent with the best interests of vehicle owners, our sponsors and/or the general motoring public;

To resist the efforts of outside entities when said efforts are contrary to the best interests of vehicle owners, our sponsors and/or the general motoring public;

To facilitate consumer participation in whatever administrative, investigative or political process that may attempt to impact the rights of vehicle owners and/or those who seek to serve them;

To promote our name and mission recognition among consumers.

The mission of the CCRE has remained the same since its inception. “Free and open competition is not in the marketplace anymore, and the CCRE is trying to resurrect it,” says Howard.

Benefits: “The primary direct benefit the CCRE provides is education,” says Howard. “We feel we’re educating our members. The indirect process is working for change, and we’re achieving success. The CCRE doesn’t provide health insurance or buying programs because these types of things would violate the confidentiality of our members.”

Where the CCRE stands on some industry issues: The CCRE doesn’t maintain an official position statement on an issue, so the answers here reflect the opinion of Howard, not necessarily that of the CCRE.

– A/M parts: “We have an official position statement on replacement of body parts, which can be viewed on our Web site,” says Howard. “We’re absolutely opposed to A/M parts. Like kind quality means exactly that, not similar. There are times, like when repairing a 3-year-old vehicle. when a used part is acceptable, but it must be a good, clean, viable part, free from rust, bondo and damage. LKQ is fine; junk is not. [The CCRE members] won’t put junk parts on a car.”

– Steering: “Steering is what DRPs are all about. Whenever an insurance company is steering business toward a shop, they’re [at the same time] steering it away from another shop. Steering is way out of hand, and it’s illegal in any way, shape or form – yet insurance companies continue to engage in it. My personal opinion is that steering as we know it will cease within the next couple of years, and steering by proxy will emerge on the horizon. When it happens, PPO insurance through proxy will result in a two-tier insurance business. There will be shops that will be willing to work for less, and there will be top-quality shops that won’t compromise. These shops will be getting the first-tier insurance business.”

Howard then discussed the 1963 Consent Decree, which he says prohibits insurance companies from steering and exercising control over prices, parts and other things that result in restricting competition and free trade in the collision repair industry.

“The 1963 Consent Decree is the law,” says Howard. “However, many Departments of Insurance have never been made aware of it.”

– Cost shifting: “It’s fraud. The bottom line is don’t charge for something you didn’t do, and do charge for things that you did do. As long as you fully disclose to the vehicle owner exactly what you’ve done by providing an itemized statement to them, [you aren’t] engaging in a bad business practice. A shop owner should never lose sight of the fact that he’s working for the customer.”

(Since Howard spent 20 years working in the insurance industry and seven of those years working as an adjuster, I was really curious to hear his responses to my next two questions regarding DRPs and insurer/shop relations.)

– DRPs: “I was around back in the mid-’70s, working for Farmers Insurance when DRPs were just getting started. I personally don’t find fault with the original principle, which was to identify quality shops that did good work and didn’t inflate their estimates. What bothers me [with the state of DRPs today] is that insurers use techniques like financing computer systems, spraybooths, etc. to make shops dependent on them. Then the insurance company puts the screws to the shops with cutbacks on material allowances and labor rate, and demands the use of A/M parts. This [situation] creates a problem for quality shops that refuse to use A/M parts and then might have to shift OEM parts costs to labor.

“Another example of what’s wrong with DRPs are DRP agreements that contain an indemnification clause. The insurance company tells you to do inferior repairs and that if they get caught, you – the shop owner – must assume all the down-line liability for the fraud the DRP agreement requires you to engage in.

“I was there in the beginning. It has since gone bad, and it’s a scourge. Body shops should be able to compete openly with each other on an even playing field.”

– Insurer/shop relations: “Twenty years ago, the relationship between a shop manager and insurance adjuster was on a one-to-one level. Adjusters had some latitude. But these days, that one-to-one relationship doesn’t really exist. The adjuster doesn’t have the authority to adjust. He’s expected to act like a robot. If a shop challenges this situation, then the insurance company’s attitude is ‘OK, that’s fine. We’ll send our work elsewhere.’ The mutual respect between shop and adjuster is about one-quarter of what it used to be, and adjusters aren’t even treated with respect by their own employers.

“Insurers relate poorly to shops, and it’s getting worse. [This deterioration is the result] of the relationship being dictated by bean counters. And bean counters don’t fix cars. A lot of insurance company middle management personnel have ego problems. They’ll throw a shop ‘under the bus’ to make themselves look good. This is a cancer that seems to be growing.”

– Technician shortage: “Yes, there’s a tech shortage because today there’s no money in being a collision repair technician. Twenty years ago, ‘metal benders’ made more than mechanics. Today, it’s reversed. There’s more money in doing a water pump than there is in doing a door skin. Insurance companies dominate the collision repair industry with artificially suppressed earnings. We need to take control back – throw the insurance companies out of the collision repair business.

The CCRE’s recent accomplishments: “Have you ever heard of Snider vs. State Farm?” asks Howard. “CCRE was there. We worked closely with the plaintiff’s attorneys for free. We provided documents and testimony. The case would never have succeeded if the CCRE hadn’t been involved. Information came from shops that chose to be recognized, but the real ammo came from our anonymous DRP members who gave us letters, manuals, etc., which we then provided to the plaintiff’s in a redacted form that was still identifiable as a valid State Farm document. That’s where the DRP members really helped out. About 15 to 20 percent of the CCRE members are DRP shops. They provide us with intelligence about the insurance companies.”

Another accomplishment Howard mentioned was a recent CCRE seminar. “May 5-6 of this year, we held the Tortuous Interference Seminar in Chicago, where we addressed tortuous interference litigation to help shops that are having problems with steering.

“We work behind the scenes providing documents and materials in support of litigation and investigative efforts. We have a VIN tracking program that helps prevent unsuspecting consumers from buying vehicles that are unsafe. Shops can access the reporting form on our Web site. We at the CCRE also work closely with Insurance Consumers Advocate Network (I-CAN) to help consumers with various insurance-related issues and to increase consumer awareness.” (Howard is also the executive director of I-CAN.)

What are the CCRE’s goals for the remainder of this year and next year? “To put a stop to inferior crash parts being used,” says Howard. “To do this, we need to get junk parts out of the repair cycle.

“We also want to stop steering and to stop reconstructed ‘totals’ from being sold to consumers without full disclosure or branded titles.”

Web site:

Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS)
History: The SCRS was founded in 1982 “by 33 people who felt they should have a national autobody group,” says Executive Director John Loftus. Loftus was the very first employee of the SCRS and says the founders hadn’t intended to make it an open organization – rather, it was planned as a for-hire closed-type operation. But they soon realized it couldn’t be effective unless they went with a grassroots approach.

How the SCRS is structured, dues and who can join: The SCRS is a non-profit, multi-national organization that operates from Canada to the Hawaiian Islands. It also has members in Australia and New Zealand.

The SCRS’s administrative operations center is located in the Tri-Cities area of Washington State. This isn’t a permanent location and is subject to change after Loftus retires at the end of this year and a new executive director comes on board.

SCRS membership consists of 9,000 collision repair business and 76,000 specialized professionals who work with consumers and insurance companies to repair collision-damaged vehicles. This overall membership figure includes SCRS direct members, corporate members and 36 affiliate associations.

Membership categories, requirements and annual fees are:
– Direct Member: This is for collision repair businesses that have been operating for at least two years. You must be sponsored by an SCRS member. Dues are $300 plus a one-time enrollment fee of $50.

The SCRS has the sponsorship requirement for direct member applicants because, in the past, it has had businesses apply for membership that looked reputable but weren’t doing good repair work or conducting their businesses in an appropriate manner. The “two year rule” is to prevent brand new businesses that have just opened from joining the SCRS ranks. “We never anticipated that we’d appeal to warm bodies,” says Loftus. “We appeal to those who hold themselves to high standards.”

– Affiliate Member: Other trade associations that wish to join are invited to do so and operate autonomously. “We have no leverage over each other,” says Loftus. “We have mutual direction; we hold hands.” Dues are $250.

Each affiliate association is treated as one member, and it’s the affiliate association’s responsibility to pass on SCRS materials to individual members. Some members of an affiliate association prefer to join as a direct member so they can receive their own set of materials.

– Corporate Member: paint companies, equipment manufacturer, etc. Corporate members lend support to the activities of the SCRS; they help with trade shows, attend board meetings and serve as a source of information for other members. Dues are $5,000.

The SCRS’s formal mission statement: “The Society of Collision Repair Specialists is an organization committed to expanding the future of the collision repair industry, raising the professional image of the individual and enhancing the expertise of its members. The primary objective is to educate, train and inform the collision repair professional.”

“We’re a resource for the collision repairer to help him deal with the challenges and opportunities that come his way,” says Loftus.

Benefits: “Since the primary objective of the SCRS is to inform, train and educate, we try to help our members with whatever they need,” says Loftus. “The SCRS is extremely unique [in that] if you have a problem over a sincere issue, we’ll try to help negotiate it for you. We offer a network of resources. Whether you need help with a letter, want to know more about a piece of equipment that you’re interested in purchasing or need help dealing with an insurance company, we’ll put you in touch with SCRS staff or another member who can help with your individual needs.”

SCRS benefits include: editorial services, educational tools, networking tools, a basic marketing kit designed specifically for collision shops, preferred terms for collision repair equipment leasing, assistance with business challenges and insurance programs. Also, each year SCRS hosts the National Leadership Conference and the Collision Concepts trade show.

How policy is set: How can members voice their opinions? “Members can communicate their opinions to an SCRS leader or to their association leaders anytime via fax or e-mail,” says Loftus. “If an issue is raised, the chairman, board of directors and others will try to dig up everything on the issue and then communicate back to the member by phone, fax, e-mail or mail.”

How much say do members have in setting the SCRS goals and policies? “The board of directors does that work,” say

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