At first glance, Bob Smith looks like the last person you would want to get in a gunfight with. Tall and imposing with a black cowboy hat and bristly white mustache, he evokes an image of the Old West and the kind of guy who might fill your belly full of lead at the slightest provocation.
In truth, though, Bob is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet…although certain Kansas-Missouri politicians who’ve locked horns with him might disagree.
You see, in addition to running his own independent appraisal business for the last 34 years, Bob has served as a “collision industry and legislative consultant” for the last 15. In that time, he has learned enough to know that any repairer who says that trying to get laws passed for the collision repair industry’s benefit is a waste of time is missing the point.
“If the law passes, great,” says Smith. “But even if it doesn’t, the whole time you’re promoting your industry and educating people on it. If you didn’t create a presence at the Capitol, [lawmakers] would just go along fat and sassy if someone didn’t knock them on the head once in awhile.”
And Smith has done that more than a few times, although he’s quick to point out that sometimes it’s okay to agree to disagree. He cites a recent meeting he had with one politician where they shared pie and coffee and talked things out in a civil manner despite not seeing eye-to-eye on some issues. The most important thing when lobbying, he believes, is to be straightforward and honest.
“I think it gets you a lot in politics because I think it gives politicians a breath of fresh air,” Smith says. “Talk to them straight and get out of their face. Here’s what I want, here’s why, I hope you support it and goodbye.”
Smith thinks that the biggest mistake repairers make is to introduce a bill and say, “This is for my industry.”
“[The politicians] know that but they don’t care,” Smith says. “All they care about is their constituents.”
Smith says a bill has to be consumer-oriented, self-funding and presented in an honest fashion to gain any traction. Repairers, he says, often don’t consider that their employees and their employees’ families are part of the shop family, and if they ever did one day, “They would have ‘hellacious’ numbers to work with.”
While Smith believes lobbying is not a waste of time, he’s close to calling it just that when it comes to steering. His official position is that he’ll help a steering bill get introduced and fight for it, but he believes that the chance of such a bill passing in a state that doesn’t currently have one is the “same chance that a snowball has in hell.”
“If it does make it through, it’s going to be neutered down so bad that it won’t have any teeth,” he says. “I think if one could be passed that was very specific and very restrictive, it could be a good law for the industry.”
As it goes now, Smith says, a lot of time and energy is spent getting a steering bill passed, and the only thing the collision repair industry gets out of it is a “warm fuzzy.”
“Business doesn’t change one bit,” Smith says. “[Insurers] figured out a way around it long before it was ever enacted.”
Still, Smith will not soon forget when he assembled over 70 repairers to beat the halls at the Capitol one year over a steering bill. One legislator told him that they had made quite an impression, despite the fact that their small group had been dwarfed the same day by a gathering of thousands of UAW members wearing bright orange shirts.
“We had maybe 5 percent of the total repairers in the state there, and we made that much of an impression,” Smith says.
Here’s to more repairers seeing the light and realizing that pursuing legislative action is indeed a worthwhile cause.
Jason Stahl, Editor
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