Making Things Happen on the Hill - BodyShop Business

Making Things Happen on the Hill

While his breakfast may be unconventional, Bob Redding’s typical day usually follows a standard pattern – and it’s a busy one. When Congress is in session, you’ll likely find Redding – the Automotive Service Assocation’s Washington, D.C. representative for the past 10 years – at a hearing on the latest industry issue, catching up on the latest legislative news, attending meetings on the Hill with staff members and other lobbyists, or relaying updates back to ASA’s headquarters in Bedford, Texas.

And he wouldn’t have it any other way. When asked what he would be doing if he weren’t ASA’s Washington rep, Redding was quick to answer that he’d “be lobbying for someone else. I like this job.”

Which is great not only for ASA, but for the repair industry in general. Case in point: Redding’s expertise recently came in handy during ASA’s latest efforts to obtain vehicle repair information for independent repairers. While legislation wasn’t the end result, a solid agreement between industry groups and original equipment carmakers was.

“We feel very strongly that we have everything in this agreement that we’ll need,” Redding says. “We have commitments on items we’ve never had before, including training, non-emission information and processes for obtaining that.”

But ASA – and Redding – aren’t about to stop there. They’re currently deciding what legislation to focus on next year – everything from paint issues to steering issues on the collision side.

“What’s important to us,” Redding says, “is to carry a common voice to the Congress and to state and local policymakers.”

What’s important to Redding is that he’s making a difference while doing something he loves: lobbying.

BSB: How long have you been with ASA?

Redding: “Almost 10 years.”

BSB: Why did you want to be involved in issues dealing with the automotive aftermarket?

Redding: “I love politics and the legislative process, so this was perfect for me. What’s most interesting about working for ASA is that you have collision issues and mechanical issues. So if you burn out on one on a certain day, you can move over to the other one and work on it for awhile. It’s very diverse. You have multiple state and federal issues going on all the time. … It’s just a tremendous amount of regulatory processes, and that’s all very interesting to me.”

BSB: Define your role as ASA’s Washington, D.C. representative.

Redding: “Generally it’s to monitor state and federal legislation and regulations and serve as the federal advocate on legislative and regulatory matters.”

BSB: Where did you go to school?

Redding: “I grew up in Georgia. I have a bachelor of arts degree from Mercer University in Macon, Ga., in economics and another major in political science. I have a law degree from George Washington University.”

BSB: The OEMs have finally agreed to release repair information.

Redding: “The ASA board determined this was a priority issue for us. We started a grassroots process that included educating our members and asking them and their shops to establish petitions for consumers to sign, which they did – thousands and thousands from every state in the Union. We had hundreds of meetings on Capitol Hill.

“We had four separate information availability demonstrations at the Capitol. This is where we’d bring in a vehicle, invite members of the House and Senate or congressional staff and the media to see how it works: Hook up a scan tool, show the deficiencies in what the franchise car dealer gets and what the independent repairer gets.”

BSB: Did it have more of an impact because you did those hands-on demonstrations?

Redding: “Absolutely. … Congress is looking to [make sure] that repairers are satisfied over a period of time with this agreement, this process – that it works. The reason this bill got so much attention in the Congress and so quickly was because repairers were showing up on lawmakers’ doorsteps saying, ‘This shuts my business down.’ … This industry is very large. I don’t believe that most repairers recognize how much influence they could have by just becoming engaged.”

BSB: What would you say to some of the industry groups that are still pushing for legislation?

Redding: “We feel very strongly that we have everything in this agreement that we’ll need. We have commitments on items that we’ve never had before, including training, non-emissions information and processes for obtaining that. And we believe the OEMs, like ASA, are dealing in good faith. And we have to go in that way. There’ll be bumps in the road, but we believe that when we have a problem, we’ll take it to a national automotive service task force – which is made up of dealers, ASA, other members in the aftermarket and the OEs.

“We’ll take it to the table and say look, we’re having problems getting this tool and/or getting these training materials. You have all the car companies at the table, so there’s peer pressure on an individual carmaker to do the right thing. And quite frankly, if this doesn’t work – and we believe it will – we have a process on Capitol Hill with the House and Senate commerce committees. We’ll go back there and work with those members who’ve told us to come back if it didn’t work.”

BSB: What kind of impact does something like this have on repairers?

Redding: “It has tremendous impact. You have collision repairers today who’ve gotten so used to taking that car – for whatever technical reason, because they don’t have the information – back to the dealer. This agreement, over time, will eliminate that need. And that’s what’s so critical.

“You know how this works. The collision repairer – let’s say he’s in a rural community and there’s no car dealership for that particular vehicle. A staffer has to leave, take the customer’s car to a dealer in another town, get it worked on for a day if it can get front-aligned – and that’s not always the case – and then get it back to the shop. You could very well have an extra day or more in rental car costs and in delays for the consumer. It’s just absolutely a win-win for collision.

“Although there’ve been some articles about it in collision periodicals, I don’t believe that the rank-and-file collision repairer realizes how sensitive and how important this is for the collision industry. It’s going to be a vital piece. And I have to tell you that I do think the training portions of this agreement will also have value to the collision repairer, [i.e.] airbag systems becoming tied into the computers, etc.”

BSB: What other kinds of legislation are you working on? Anything collision-repair related?

Redding: “We’ll be meeting to discuss the 108th Congress, which will be coming in January. … We’re also working and discussing and planning for our state legislative agenda the items that we want to pursue in the states. We’re looking at everything from paint issues to steering issues.

“Right now it’s election season and we’re trying to help those members who’ve been helpful to us get back in.”

BSB: So it’s not just working on legislation?

Redding: “No, it’s political, too.”

BSB: Tell us about your typical day.

Redding: “Usually Congress is in Tuesday through Thursday evening. Mondays and Fridays are a lot of writing for me. I do a lot of catching up – phone calls and writing. Tuesday through Thursday, when Congress is in, those days are very hectic. They’re here so you have to deal with them then. Those are days when you have hearings and things like that.

“A typical day would be a breakfast, then we review the two publications that are real key to my work, The Daily Monitor and Congress Daily. Then typically there would be meetings on the Hill with staff members on different issues, attending hearings, coalition or industry-related meetings during the day with other lobbyists from other groups. And then, talking back and forth with our headquarters in Bedford, Texas.

“In the evening, particularly when they’re in session, there is usually some type of political function – receptions or dinners – particularly in that Tuesday through Thursday window.”

BSB: So a lot of meetings and a lot of food?

Redding: (Laughter from Redding.) “That’s a good executive summary.”

BSB: What do you do in your free time? Do you have any?

Redding: “Yes, a little bit. I’m a hunter. I like to take my children fishing. I’m involved in their sports. I coach T-ball, we ride bikes and we’re very active in our church in Alexandria.”

BSB: How many kids do you have?

Redding: “Three. I have identical twin boys – they’re 7 – and then I have a daughter who’s 10.

BSB: And you’re married?

Redding: “Right. My wife and I met on Capitol Hill. I worked on Capitol Hill 12 years. I was chief of staff to a House member for six years, then I was chief of staff to a senator from Georgia for six years. And my wife was chief of staff for about 12-14 years in the House for two different members – one of those was the congressman who represented Bedford, our headquarters. I actually interviewed her for a job. She just came to the office. She was right out of school and had a resume. And once you get a resume, you get all the information. Now I don’t think you could do that. Back then you could – that’s how you met girls back then.”

BSB: Did she get the job?

Redding: “No, no she didn’t. Because if I’d have hired her, I couldn’t have dated her.” (Laughter from Redding.)

BSB: So she didn’t hold that against you?

Redding: “No, obviously not. Not yet – how about that.”

BSB: What’s the biggest challenge facing shop owners today – and how can ASA help with that?

Redding: “[There’s] a tremendous disconnect between government regulators, consumers and repairers. Steering – big issue. Despite the collision industry’s efforts to get federal regulation of insurance versus state regulation, bottom line is that states to date regulate insurance companies – and they regulate our issues, the majority of them.

“There’s a tremendous disconnect between the rights of the consumer and how they’re protected. Regulators, the overwhelming majority, aren’t educating consumers about their rights and neither is the collision industry. We have not married the two.

“For example, I have a state with a strong anti-steering statute. [You can’t] move a car. It’s in a shop, and it can’t be taken out of that shop and put in another shop in that particular state. É So you’ve got a shop owner who gets a car. The consumer comes in and says, ‘Well, my insurer says I’ve got to take it to shop B. You’re shop A, so I’m moving it.’ The shop owner would, of course, tell the consumer, ‘Well, that’s not right, you don’t have to do that.’ That’s an uncomfortable period, and only a very small percentage of consumers would dial a 1-800 number for the state insurance commissioner. Those who do, 90 days later when the case is investigated, the car’s been repaired and they’ve lost interest in it.

“Somehow or another we’ve got to make the consumer realize that it’s an important right. Several years ago, there was a controller in the insurance department in Montana, which at the time had a decent steering statute. He did a public service video, and it was on TV all throughout Montana about consumer rights. The controller would walk through the shop and say, ‘Mr. and Ms. Consumer, you have a right to choose your repair facility.’ We sent that video to all the state regulators asking them to do the same sort of thing. But you don’t see very aggressive educational processes among state regulators to get consumers involved. … We’re still missing the consumer speaking up on collision issues that impact him directly. [For that to happen], we’ve got to do a better job of getting regulators more engaged and educating consumers about they’re rights.”

BSB: How can regulators do that?

Redding: “More public service announcements. It could be a burden that’s placed on insurers when you buy a policy or an annual notice about your rights – some type of mailing. There could be all kinds of things – signs posted. There needs to be some consistent way of notifying consumers about their rights – and not hidden in a 50-page policy document that you signed 20 years ago. That’s not enough.”

BSB: So the education needs to come from both sides?

Redding: “Repairers, regulators and insurers. They ought to be pushed to tell these consumers in a more visible manner that they have rights.”

BSB: What can collision shop owners do to make a difference politically?

Redding: “Get to know their state legislators, congressional staff in their area and members of Congress. One of the biggest hurdles when I started with ASA on Capitol Hill was the lack of knowledge. This applied to collision and mechanical. ‘There’s an aftermarket?’ A lot of members and a lot of regulators, including the Federal Trade Commission, thought in terms of car dealers. They sell the cars, they repair the cars. That’s been a big hurdle to overcome. …

“When I started with ASA in the Federal Advisory Committee process and even in the state advisory committee process, there was an extremely deficit area of aftermarket persons. Now, if there’s an automotive federal advisory committee that remotely touches collision, we’re involved in it. That applies to the Department of Labor, EPA, U.S. Justice Department, U.S. Department of Transportation – across the board. It’s critical that if there’s a regulation where comment is being sought by the government – state or federal – that repairers respond to it. Let them know how we feel, even though it might only impact us marginally. We need to engage in the process. They have to know who we are.”

BSB: To effect change, does the collision industry need to be more unified?

Redding: “The successful small business industries in this country are not fragmented. They have one group. They’re large and they have one name. And those are critical pieces. One group and one name – it’s just that simple. You can look at the realtors, you can look at the homebuilders, the restaurant association – right down the line – speak with one voice.

“[With] a fragmented voice, you go in and a member of Congress or a state legislator says, ‘Well how do you feel about X?’ One group says, ‘Well, we support insurer-owned repair shops. We think they should have the right to them.’ And the other group says, ‘Well we don’t think they should have a right to own collision shops.’ What kind of message is that? You might as well not have shown up or even had a group.

“One name, one voice, one group. It’s just historical. It’s the only system that will work, that will let us be the best we can be.”

Writer Debbie Briggs is managing editor of BodyShop Business.

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