Most things that are free aren’t really free. We don’t get free stuff from other businesses unless we spend a certain amount of money or purchase certain items or services. Even when stores run “buy one get one free” deals, they raise prices of other items to absorb the cost of the free items they give away.
And most things that really are free aren’t necessarily worth having. There are exceptions, but why are collision repairers expected to work free on every car that comes through the door? The insurance companies have demanded and expected total cooperation for years, even though they generally want to get out of paying for anything they can. Over the years, they’ve even convinced a portion of the general public to also be demanding. What’s worse is that they’ve all got a huge portion of the collision repair industry whipped into this condition that allows such demands to be placed upon us. Collision repairers have jumped through so many hoops for so many years that we’re all expected to continue jumping higher through smaller hoops as the years go by. And we do it all in the name of what? Customer satisfaction?
Wake up, folks. That tired old line has been shoved down our throats for way too many years now. Think about the demands you place on other businesses when you’re the customer. Do you expect services to be provided for you at cost or barely above what it costs the businesses that are selling you the services? I don’t. When I do business with other businesses, I ask what the price is and that’s what I pay or I shop around. I don’t expect or demand additional services to be provided free of charge, even though I do appreciate additional services if and when they’re provided.
I often wonder why you never see insurance adjusters at the grocery store, arguing with the cashier about the prices. After all, when they go to the grocery store, they’re no longer spending a multibillion dollar corporation’s money, they’re spending their own money and not putting up any kind of a fight for it. I’ve seen adjusters at the grocery store, and they do the same thing I do: the cashier reads a
total and they hand over enough money to cover it,
no questions asked.
I actually saw one of the most difficult insurance adjusters in the area at the grocery store, and when he got to the front of the line, there were no hassles about the prices. I didn’t see the usual arrogance and condescension that he exhibited in the shops. He didn’t tell the cashier that he “doesn’t pay” for milk “because it’s included” with some other dairy item. He didn’t write an $80 check for $120 worth of groceries and tell the cashier, “That’s all I’m paying.” He didn’t do any of those things we’ve all seen him and his fellow adjusters do.
Of course, we all know that if you try to walk out of the store with free milk, you may soon find yourself in a steel cage that was built with some of your tax dollars. Try telling the judge that the store has to give you free milk to satisfy you, the customer. Tell the judge it’s against your policy to pay for milk. Yep, that’ll work. Or maybe the judge will buy the one about all the other grocery stores in town giving away free milk so you’re not paying for it at this particular store. These tactics don’t work at the grocery stores or at the restaurants or at any other businesses in town. Even the 14-year-old kid who mows my lawn won’t edge or trim unless I pay extra. So why are the insurers’ cost-control tactics working so well on the collision industry? Why does this industry allow an outside entity to dictate
That’s Just the Way It Is?
I’ve heard all the excuses and
still can’t understand this one major flaw that seems to run consistently throughout the entire industry. As body shop owner Will Gaiser told a TV news reporter in Miami, “You do it their way, you do it for their price and that’s just the way it is.” ARRGH! That seems to be the mentality of at least 80 percent of the collision repair industry. I got sick of hearing “that’s just the way it is” years ago and, when I press shop owners for an explanation, that’s still the most common response I get. Am I supposed to believe that the first time two cars crashed into one another, an insurance adjuster determined the cost of repairing the cars and everyone accepted that determination, and nothing’s changed ever since? Please. This industry has been giving away free work to the insurance industry for so many years now that most of us have completely lost track of how or when it all started. Nobody can explain why we’re expected to work for free other than “that’s just the way it is.” Is anyone in this business still surprised at the obvious lack of interest in a career in collision repair? Young trainees don’t see a future in a trade where an outside entity says, “We don’t pay for that,” after which the price of the tech’s work drops.
Some shop owners and managers are finally learning that missing P-page procedures and the flat rate pay scale that most shops use have been rapidly evaporating the already dry technician pool. If you could get free groceries at the store today, do you think the store manager would have employees clock out early and keep working to make up for the free items? Of course he wouldn’t. But that’s essentially what shop owners do every time they cave under insurer pressure while expecting the same level of repair service from their employees. How can you expect to recruit new techs to this industry when you expect them to perform procedures for free?
An entire industry is contributing to the wealth of billionaires, and the tech that stands up and says, “No! I won’t give away free work,” is nearly always labeled a troublemaker or is said to have an attitude problem. The shop owner who refuses to order his techs to perform free procedures is always labeled the troublemaker in town. Yet, ironically, when the same people who passed out the labels need something done right, they seem to highly recommend some of those same troublemakers.
It’s been my experience that those who complain the loudest and the most about the free work quite often tend to be the producers of higher-quality repairs. The quality-conscious techs who take serious pride in their work are complaining more because they aren’t taking all the shortcuts that the mediocre techs do. Without the shortcuts, the higher quality techs need the additional P-page times to make a reasonable living. When you leave procedures off the estimate and nobody complains, you’ll likely learn that at least some shortcuts are being taken somewhere in the repair process.
One practice I’ve always frowned upon is getting to be quite common these days. Instead of removing the back seat and interior parts to replace a complete quarter panel, a lot of techs are cutting the panel just inside the edge of the doorjamb. Removal and installation of the interior parts became an included procedure, but instead of going on a major rampage, 30,000 techs just decided to do what they’ve seen the guy across the shop do. They started taking the shortcut past the interior. Is this happening in your shop? Before you answer, go take a good look around. I’ve worked for shop owners and managers that walked through the shop several times a day and never saw a damn thing.
The bodymen who were taking the shortcut in the first place are the ones who helped turn the removal and installation of the interior into an included procedure. Because they took the shortcut and nobody complained about the overlooked procedures, the insurers and the data providers concluded that additional compensation for the removal and installation of the interior wasn’t needed. Before we knew it, the procedure was included in the replacement time for the quarter panel, and now you’ve got more people cutting through the doorjamb to beat the clock.
The payer found a way to include some procedures in the pay for a repair, so the repairers found a way to exclude the procedure from the process. Fortunately, this isn’t such a common business practice among other businesses. What if other businesses made money the way a lot of body shops make money these days? Would anyone care to guess how a grocery store would run if it were run like the typical American body shop?
Freebies and Rip-Offs
Imagine a grocery store where the cashiers are paid according to the number of groceries they drag across that laser scanner. You’d pay for 30 items and leave the store with 22 items. The cashier who scans each item once and only once would be the “slow” cashier. They would rip off the customers to earn the store enough money to make up for the freebies they give away. The store would give away the freebies because the customers would all be on “the plan.”
Plan? Yep. When the grocery store plunged into our world, the customers all signed up for a grocery plan in which they paid a monthly fee and then a representative of the plan paid their grocery bill. In this scenario, the plan rep determines what items are actually needed and writes you a grocery shopping list. And of course, if you buy bread and peanut butter, the price of the jelly is included. Eggs are included with any other dairy item. And so the cashier might scan a few UPC labels that she keeps handy, or maybe she’ll lean on the scale and punch in a produce code or something to “beef up the ticket.”
Then there would be the one grocery store in town that didn’t double scan or scam anybody and has quality groceries but not all those other stores’ freebie items. But of course, as you can guess, they wouldn’t be recognized by the “plan.” Customers would hear, “We don’t think it would be in your best interest to shop there as we have conducted market research and have determined that their products and services are overpriced beyond industry standards and do not otherwise meet the criteria established by the plan.”
The time is way overdue for more collision repair industry business owners to start running their businesses more like grocery stores. If you want something, you pay for it, and if you don’t pay for it, you don’t get it. It’s really a simple concept and it is profitable. And it all begins with clear communication. Explain to your customers what you have to do and why you have to do it that way. With a better understanding of your reasons for charging for the procedures listed on your sheet, they’ll be more likely to fight their insurers for the coverage they deserve and the money you need to make. That’s money we all need to make. After all, we don’t get free
Writer Paul Bailey, a contributing editor to BodyShop Business, has been a collision repairman for more than 20 years and is an avid photographer, writer and artist. Currently at work on what he expects to be his first book, Bailey resides in Florida with his wife, Cathy.
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