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Executive Interview: Brian Nessen, HD Repair Forum

An interview with Brian Nessen, director of the HD Repair Group, on the upcoming HD Repair Forum in Fort Worth, Texas.

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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.

The HD Repair Forum, an event dedicated to those involved in collision repair work on large vehicles, primarily in classes 5, 6, 7 and 8, including semis, buses and RVs, is now in its second year and will be hosting an event April 2-3 in Forth Worth, Texas. The man behind the scenes who created it and puts it all together is Brian Nessen, director of the HD Repair Group. BodyShop Business recently talked with Nessen about the latest with the HD Repair Forum and both its present plans and future plans.

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Brian Nessen, director of the HD Repair Group

BSB: Why did you start the HD Repair Forum?

Nessen: When we worked on the NACE show for ASA, we had periodic requests for heavy-duty collision repair classes. From these requests, we determined there could be a need for education and collaboration in the heavy-duty collision repair market. After visits with numerous shops, calls to industry professionals, meetings with 20 Groups and surveys, we identified key people throughout North America to participate on an advisory board. A website and newsletter launched in 2017 to help bring the industry together. Through that advisory board, we learned about key issues and problems from which we built the first HD Repair Forum agenda.

BSB: What did you learn from the inaugural event last year?

Nessen: This is a diversified market and it is difficult to find constituents, communicate with them and bring them together. You never know how these events will work until they happen. We learned that all of the advance work – and it was hard work – was proven out. Attendees were engaged, they networked with others, shared ideas and solutions from across North America, and met technology and equipment providers that offered solutions specific to the heavy-duty repair market. Of course we learned which topics were of greatest interest and which need ongoing attention. Through the entire process, we learned how passionate this group is about their business, about taking time to do things right and about the future of the industry. We also learned how hard these repairers work to put trucks and other vehicles back on the road, and do it safely, with very little support. This is something you think about when you’re driving down the highway next to a 40-ton truck or your kids are riding a school bus. You hope to God that, if that vehicle had been damaged and repaired, that it was repaired properly.

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BSB: How will this year’s event be different than last year’s?

Nessen: The format this year will be very similar to last year, with large programs in the mornings that impact everyone in the industry. In the afternoon, there will be three to four smaller, more focused education and training tracks, and attendees can choose the classes that fit them best. Although the format is the same, the topics are all new or updated from last year. Anyone who attended last year will hear many new and important topics this year, from many new speakers and panels. One of the most important things the HD Repair Forum has been able to do since its inception is bring the OEMs/truck manufacturers to the meeting to discuss new technology, parts procurement and repair procedures.

BSB: Was the industry receptive to such an event? What feedback did you get after the first event?

Nessen: We received incredibly positive response and thanks from attendees for providing a program exclusively for heavy-duty repairers. Having said that, we did get some helpful guidance from a larger and more engaged group on additional topics that need attention, and those will be covered at this year’s HD Repair Forum.

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BSB: How have the sponsors received the event?

Nessen: Sponsors have been pleased with opportunities to connect with shop owners, shop management and industry professionals. In fact, our sponsorships are sold out this year. We’ve had to turn some companies down. We expect to be in a larger venue in 2020 to accommodate more people, although we will probably keep the sponsorships limited.

BSB: How has the location of Fort Worth, Texas, worked out for you?

Nessen: We surveyed industry leaders, and the Dallas/Fort Worth area was one of the top recommendations. The City of Fort Worth has been very welcoming; two large airports in the area provide a wide range of travel options, and Texas is a great place to visit in the spring time.

BSB: How many attendees do you expect this year?

Nessen: We had 200 attendees in 2018, and we surpassed that number weeks ago. We are anticipating 250 to 300 attendees this year.

BSB: Are attendees mostly dedicated truck collision repair facilities or are there also regular body shops who fix daily drivers and trucks?

Nessen: The attendees are primarily heavy-duty repairers focusing on class 5-8 vehicles; heavy trucks, buses, RVs and emergency vehicles, although we do have some who work on cars and light trucks.

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BSB: Is there one pressing need you have found that truck repairers have? If not, what are the top three?

Nessen: There are many needs depending on the shop, shop size, location, ownership, types of repairs, insurance involvement and more. Some of the most important issues include access to proper repair procedures from manufacturers, parts procurement, improved cycle time and new technology.

BSB: Do you expect this event to grow in the future? Any other plans for the future as far as location or other things?

Nessen: We are anticipating growth. As awareness grows, we are attracting more people, shops and companies to the program, which is more than the forum alone; it includes a newsletter, website and social media channels to help keep the industry connected.

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