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Most agree that the mild winter season, combined with other factors, has not been good for business. But not all shops are singing the blues.
The old saying, “Bad weather is a body shop’s best friend,” seems to have been refuted a bit by feedback from collision repair professionals on what effect the mild winter has had on sales so far this year, although some are saying it has definitely impacted sales in a negative way. Others are saying they’re busting at the seams with work.
Overall, though, lower frequencies are being reported by almost all insurance carriers CCC Information Services works with, according to Susanna Gotsch, CCC’s director and industry analyst.
“Repairers may be starting to see more actual repair work, however, as people actually opt to get their vehicles repaired now as the economy has been improving,” said Gotsch.
Ron Nagy, president of Nagy’s Collision Specialists in Northeastern Ohio, says his five stores’ total sales are up 18 percent year-to-date. Then again, his shops are a major insurance player in their region, plus they’re strategically located in rural areas with minimal competition. But he, like others in the industry, are not expecting the good fortune to last.
“Trust me, every day I wait for the other shoe to drop,” says Nagy. “We’ve been slammed since Thanksgiving.”
Mark Clark, a consultant who runs several 20 groups for jobbers, also feels that although some in the industry are doing well despite the mild winter, it will eventually come back to bite them.
“Almost all those PBE jobbers in my 20 groups have had a great January-March,” says Clark. “But we’re all expecting the roof will fall in April-May-June with no winter anywhere. Bad weather in winter is the key, and we haven’t had any. I predict a steep drop in business that will last the rest of the year.”
Rising gas prices could help make that prediction come true.
“My guess is that the industry is hurt more by gas prices than the weather,” says consultant Hank Nunn.
Shops in Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey seem not to have been affected either by the mild winter, says diminished value expert Charlie Barone. In fact, he says business has been booming.
“One three-location shop I know of that does high-line work is busting at the seams,” Barone says.
Barone believes a change in people’s winter habits has no longer made it a guarantee that severe weather will produce more wrecks.
“Back when I had a shop, snow and ice were essential to maintaining business,” he says. “Today, the weather forecasts are very good, and the number of folks who can work from home is up, so people are not forced to drive in bad weather. They clean out the grocery stores every time a snow is predicted.”
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Ron Perretta, owner of Professionals Auto Body in Altoona, Pa., says business has been great for him because, while there has been a deficiency in snow, there still has been plenty of deer hits.
“Our workload has been very good for the last five months,” Perretta says. “Typically my store stays busy, but it doesn’t come by accident. CSI is the key today, not joining every [insurance] program. There are casualties daily.”
But not everybody has thumbed their nose at Old Man Winter. Angelo DiTullio Jr., assistant vice president-regional operations manager at Rocco’s Collision Centers in Philadelphia, Pa., says the lack of lots of snow and ice has definitely hurt his shops.
“We’re down 25 percent from where we would like to be,” says DiTullio. “I’m looking for the true warm weather in hopes that spring fever will hit and people will get out and about.”
In Southern California, it’s more about the rain than the snow. According to David Mosso, sales manager with Precision Auto Body in Reseda, Calif., the lower amount of rainfall they’ve experienced in recent months has led to a 7- to 11-percent decrease in sales. But it’s not so much the rainfall shop owners are talking about as it is new technology and the economy.
“There has been discussion about the decrease in collisions due to vehicle telematics and other safety features,” says Mosso. “Plus, they’re talking more about how a poor economy is prompting vehicle owners to cash out more on claims and/or skip doing those certain losses that they could live with.”
However, Mosso says he has family in North Central Massachusetts who owns a body shop who claims the mild winter in the Northeast has drastically reduced the number of collisions.
Truman Francher, manager of Truman Francher Auto Collision Repair in Birmingham, Ala., has also lamented the lack of wreck-causing rain in the South, but despite that, his business has been fairly busy with a typical two-and-a-half week slow period in February.
"We’re seeing many nice vehicles driving around with damage, so our assumption is that folks are paying bills with insurer checks," said Francher. "Therefore, I think [the lack of business] is due to a combination of things, not one factor."
Francher did say a friend who owns a collision center in New Hampshire said the mild winter definitely slowed his business down.
Jeanne Silver, co-owner of CARSTAR Mundelein in Mundelein, Ill., believes that a mild winter can actually produce more crashes than a more severe one.
“One inch of snow produces a lot more crashes than 6-plus inches,” she says. “People tend to drive carelessly in light snow, when in fact this is the slickest before the roads have been deiced.”
Silver said she’s starting to see only two types of shops: busy shops and not-so-busy shops.
“The not-so-busy shops are starting to close and this leaves even more work for busy shops,” she says.
Michael Adams, vice president and operations technical manager of Church Brothers Collision Repair LLC, with six locations around Indianapolis, Ind., had no complaints about the weather or his business. Perhaps he summed it up best by saying, "Yes, bad winters are more profitable. But in this economy, steady is good."