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Body Shops Taking Precautions in Response to Coronavirus

Jason Stahl has 26 years of experience as an editor, and has been editor of BodyShop Business for the past 14 years. He currently is a gold pin member of the Collision Industry Conference. Jason, who hails from Cleveland, Ohio, earned a bachelor of arts degree in English from John Carroll University and started his career in journalism at a weekly newspaper, doing everything from delivering newspapers to selling advertising space to writing articles.

Body shops we interviewed are operating their businesses as usual during the coronavirus pandemic but are also taking precautionary measures to ensure the safety of customers and employees.

Tammy Horvat, manager of Fred Martin Collision Center, said she and other managers in the company received emails from the owner advising them to send home anyone who is sick. Also, that more hand sanitizing wipes would be made readily available if necessary.

“We’ve always had hand sanitizing wipes, so that hasn’t changed,” said Horvat. “One thing we’ve done differently is have plenty of bottled water on site, because one of the things with the coronavirus is to make sure you’re drinking a lot of water. So we’ve really stocked up on that.”

A new sign in the bathroom of a body shop instructs on how to wash hands properly.

The shop has also stocked more gloves so employees can wear them when inspecting customers’ cars.

“In people’s cars, they sneeze differently and cough differently because they’re in the confines of their own personal vehicles, so we need protection when opening door handles, touching steering wheels, and checking the mileage of the vehicle during the estimating process,” Horvat said.

As far as business is concerned, Horvat said as of now they really haven’t seen a notable decline.

“At this point, business has not been affected,” she said. “We have had a mild winter so business has dipped anyhow, so it’s hard to say if we’ve seen less cars because of that or the coronavirus. I think moving forward, if we continue to see shutdowns, we may obviously see that happening with customers.”

Horvat also said she has not seen any supply chain issues yet but could envision that if the outbreak gets any worse.

“If the coronavirus and shutdowns continue, we will run into issues getting parts since a lot of them come from China, Canada and Mexico. If it’s a several month thing, it could be a problem.”

It recently crossed Horvat’s mind to come up with a backup plan if customers are not comfortable coming into the shop, which is why she recently talked to her estimators about other viable options to service them. One thought was to send out a message on social media that customers could have the option of interacting with estimators via FaceTime or take photos of vehicle damage themselves.

“That would be like what insurers do with photo apps; we may have to do this too,” Horvat said. “As far as our technicians and employees, however, we will be here until further notification. If an employee doesn’t feel comfortable coming here, we will take that on a case-by-case basis, but until our owner says we are suspending work, we will be here.”

Asked if she would send employees to a customer’s home, Horvat said that could be a possibility.

“Right now, we do that for some businesses, for example the highway patrol. We would have to look at that. Would we be comfortable doing that? Would the customer be comfortable? It would be a matter of working that out and also seeing where the customer is located.”

In her personal life, Horvat said she hasn’t gone to any extremes, but being the mom of an 11-year-old, she has taken some precautions.

“We spoke to her about protecting herself, washing her hands, how she should cough or sneeze in public, not touching friends or shaking hands,” she said. “We also have bought some additional medications and water.”

Another shop manager we spoke to said it seemed like business has actually been up lately. Also, he has not seen any notifications from the owners, but they are washing their hands more, especially when they get out of cars. Also, the detailer is using gloves at all times now.

“It’s more of a mindset now,” he said. “They kind of wore gloves before but now they are for sure.”

The man did say, however, that he has heard from I-CAR on the coronavirus because he has a second job as an instructor for them. He took part in a conference call on March 11 where I-CAR laid out some instructions.

“All unnecessary travel has been stopped, but local training is still going on until further notice,” he said. “Also, if someone is sick or has a cold, we have the authority to ask them to leave or cancel the event. We are also supposed to call ahead of time and make sure no one has had any symptoms in the last 30 days before the event.”

He and his family worship every Sunday at a church that seats 1,500 people, and he has been wondering lately if they will cancel services.

“You never know if they will close. You would hope not. We have the technology to [worship] online if need be, but with that big of a group, you can see [a shutdown] coming.”

Jim Pease, director of operations for Montrose Collision Center, has met with his staff to discuss proper hygiene and provided them with disinfectant wipes, sanitizers and bacterial soaps. He said all of his staff and customers have been using the “heck” out of Purell.

“I have also made it mandatory that if an employee is feeling ill that they do not come to work and that they must visit a doctor and bring in a slip that states that they have visited the doctor and that they are cleared,” said Pease.

Pease said he has noticed his car count dropping and believes it will continue to do so. However, he has not seen any supply chain disruptions.

“That may change soon though,” he said. “It seems inevitable.”

Just today, Pease visited all of his stores and began to assemble an action plan in the event that an employee is absent or if work gets slow at a given location and he needs to level the load.

Personally, Pease said he has stopped his “bad habit” of biting his nails, and he finds himself washing his face and hands often. His family has not stockpiled anything, but he and his wife are now watching their grandchildren due to school closings. He canceled a business trip he was scheduled to go on next week, but he is hoping he doesn’t have to do the same for an anniversary trip to Aruba scheduled for next month.

“I believe that it is inevitable that all of us are about to feel some level of discomfort/pain from this,” he said. “Hopefully no one we know contracts this thing, and hopefully it doesn’t cripple our businesses.”

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