State of the Industry 2006 - BodyShop Business

State of the Industry 2006

State of the Industry 2006

Too many shops, not enough work, not enough profit, too much insurer
involvement and not enough business expertise on the part of shop
owners are all contributing to the sorry state that is the collision
repair industry.

When repairers are discussing the state
of the collision repair industry, I’m always reminded of something a Massachusetts shop owner said:
“You get what you tolerate.”

A successful multi-shop owner, he went on to explain that if you’re not
happy with how you’re being treated by insurers that, “perhaps the
insurance people are just doing to you what you’ve demonstrated that
you’ll put up with.”

His point? If you let insurers (or anyone, for that matter) walk all over you, they will — and gladly.

His theory supports what I’ve been thinking for years: The collision
repair industry is suffering from “victim-itis.” Many shop owners
believe that insurers control the rates, control the repair process,
control their businesses and control the industry in general. They
believe they’re being victimized — and that the insurance industry
doesn’t let them make a decent profit.

Doesn’t let them?

Sure, these shop owners may be victims, but only of their own distorted
thinking. The insurance industry doesn’t owe the collision industry a
living. Insurers are in business to make money (and they do), and so
are you. If you aren’t making money, then you only have yourself to

State-By-State Breakdown of the Collision Market (Click HERE for PDF)

Many repairers have been suffering from this victim-itis for some time
now, and they’ve been able to get away with it simply because there was
enough work to sustain the marketplace — and to sustain most of the
shops in the marketplace.

But that’s all changing. Like so many industries before it, the
collision repair industry is evolving — for better or for worse and
whether you want it to or not. Consider the following facts:

  • Fewer crash reports are being filed with police.
  • Fewer claims are being filed with insurers.
  • More consumers are “cashing out” instead of getting their damaged vehicles repaired.
  • More collision-damaged vehicles are being totaled.
  • More stability-control/crash-avoidance systems are being installed
    in vehicles, and crash-avoidance systems are now in development that
    could someday, literally, prevent cars from even hitting one another.

And none of the above even takes into account all the crap that goes on once a shop finally does get to bid on a job.

One word sums up the current state of this industry: sorry. Too many
shops, not enough work, not enough profit, too much insurer involvement
and not enough business expertise on the part of shop owners are all
contributing to the sorry state that is the collision repair industry.

Just the Facts
The facts are this: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration (NHTSA), more cars are on the road today than ever
before, yet fewer auto accidents are being reported to police — about
half a million less than in 2002. But NHTSA doesn’t believe the actual
number of fender benders has decreased — just fewer people are
reporting them.

How are your third quarter 2006 gross sales compared to third quarter 2005 (Click HERE for the PDF)

In addition, drivers are also reporting fewer crashes to their
insurance companies — a four-year, 15% drop — which means less work for
body shops and record profits for auto insurers like State Farm and
Allstate. (Allstate’s net income rose 13% in the first six months of
this year.) Nobody knows precisely why less auto claims are being filed
with insurers, but it’s likely due, at least in part, to fear of
retribution: Consumers fear a raise in their premiums or even being
dropped by their insurer if they do file a claim.

Third quarter 2006 GROSS SALES Compared to 2005 – by DRP Affiliation (Click HERE for the PDF)

But these statistics are just a piece of a much bigger picture: Just
under 7 million crashes are reported to police annually but 27.5
million accidents occur annually, according to the government’s
estimate of total crashes.

These 27.5 million accidents, however, still don’t represent the actual
“repair pool” because several factors play a role in decreasing the
number of repair jobs out there — the first factor being total losses.

At a recent Collision Industry Conference (CIC) meeting, Lee Peterson,
training/marketing manager for Chief Automotive Technologies, said the
percentage of collision-damaged vehicles being totaled has risen from
about 4% in 1980 to 18 to 21% today. And he predicted it could hit 30%
within two to three years. Statistics compiled by the information
providers also show that 18 to 20% of all estimates are designated as
total losses, indicating that total losses continue to increase at a
rate of 3 to 5% per year. And, according to one of the information
providers, because estimators tend to under-designate totals, the “true
total loss frequency” is likely closer to 23%.

For our State-by-State Breakdown of the Collision Market, we’ve
designated total losses at 20%, meaning that of those 27.5 million
annual accidents, 5.5 million are total losses — decreasing the
available “repair pool” to 22 million.

The next factor that plays a role in decreasing the repair pool is
“cashing out” — vehicle owners taking the insurance check but not
getting the vehicle repaired. Because that money is theirs, they can
legally do whatever they want with it. They can have all of the vehicle
repaired, some of the vehicle repaired or none of the vehicle repaired.
Word is, “cash-outs” are increasing. But trying to determine the “true”
cash-out figure is like trying to get your arms around a samurai.

State Farm, Allstate, GEICO and Progressive all told BSB that they
don’t track this figure (and one insurer employee admitted that even if
they did, they probably wouldn’t tell us). Their lack of information on
this topic was suspicious, to say the least, especially since at least
one of these insurance companies counts on cash-outs:

“Progressive’s whole business model is based on the cash-out, which is
why they lowball estimates so bad,” says a Connecticut shop manager.
“They know their customers are very likely to never get their vehicles
repaired, so if they write lowball estimates up front, they save
billions every year. Progressive’s business model has heavily
subsidized the big screen television market and Carnival Cruise lines,
since a large part of their claim dollars ends up in the pockets of
these and similar industries.”

How are your third quarter 2006 NET EARNINGS compared to third quarter 2005? (Click HERE for the PDF)

Regardless, without the insurance industry’s help, this cash-out figure
remains elusive. Some speculate the percentage to be as high as 40-55%
in some markets with some insurers. But if we consider all insurers and
all U.S. markets, the figure is likely closer to 10-20%.

For our research, we’ve designated 15% of wrecks as cash-outs (15% of
27.5 million total annual accidents = 4.125 million. Subtract 4.125
million, along with the 5.5 million total losses from 27.5 million),
shrinking the total annual “repair pool” to just under 18 million.

Current Industry Atmosphere
And those are just the facts. We haven’t even taken into account the
collision repair market’s current atmosphere — which continues to
become more and more cutthroat. Many shops are desperate for work, and
desperation often goes hand in hand with bad decisions. There are shops
in the market willing to do anything to get jobs, even if what they’re
agreeing to is short-sighted and detrimental to the long-term health of
the industry.

Because we don’t have the time or space to discuss all of the issues
affecting the industry, we’re going to briefly take a look at a few of
the most serious problems:

  • Over-capacity market — Most of the industry’s current issues are
    symptoms of this one underlying problem: too many shops and not enough
    work. At IBIS 2005 in Switzerland, a presenter indicated that the
    number of shops in North America is forecast to be reduced 40% by 2010
    — that four out of 10 collision centers will be gone by 2010. (To
    compound this prediction, during hallway conversations at NACE 2005, a
    North American insurance representative indicated that due to this
    overcapacity, he believes labor rates are poised to decrease over the
    next four years.)
  • People have been predicting the consolidation of this industry for
    years now. While some predictions are more extreme than others, the
    fact is: When it’s all over, there will be fewer shops.

    Third Quarter 2006 NET EARNINGS Compared to 2005 – by DRP Affiliation (Click HERE for PDF)

    Until then, this over-capacity market — too much supply (shops) and not
    enough demand (repair jobs) — presents lots of opportunity for abuse by
    insurers, since shops are desperate for work. There’s tremendous
    pressure to gain volume through discounting in an environment where
    facilities are below capacity, and this discounting pressure will
    continue until facilities begin producing work for a price below what
    it costs them to generate that work. This “losing money on each job”
    will continue until all cash resources and financing avenues are
    exhausted and the capacity imbalance is equalized — when the affected
    facilities go out of business.

    “If we can get a supply and demand correction, pricing will be fair and
    shops will be able to make a good bottom line. But we need enough
    supply to fill our shops. Right now, there are too many stores,” says a
    Kansas multiple-shop owner, adding that he believes State Farm’s new
    DRP agreement “will accelerate getting that correction done.”

  • Steering — According to State Farm’s spokesman, Dick Luedke,
    State Farm is currently sending 65% of their auto claims to shops in
    their network. Insurer steering of work has reached epidemic
    proportions, and it’s made possible by the fact that there’s always a
    shop out there willing to cut insurers a deal, thus creating incentive
    for insurers to steer.
  • Because this “deal making” isn’t going to go away anytime soon (as long
    as there’s an over-capacity market), shops need to understand state
    laws as they relate to steering, the insurance contract, the difference
    between first- and third-party claims and so on.

    This will not only help you recognize what insurers can and can’t do,
    but it will make it possible for you to do some steering of your own.
    You, too, can have a “preferred” list — of insurance companies — and
    try to steer vehicle owners to the insurers you feel settle claims more

    It’s also important to mention here that shops have gotten lazy since
    the advent of DRPs, making them even more susceptible to — and reliant
    on — insurer steering. Too many sign on and simply wait for insurers to
    send them work. They no longer market their business to the community,
    making themselves completely dependent on insurer whims. Shop owners
    need to become salesmen again.

    Estimated Business For 2006 Compared to 2005 (Click HERE for PDF)

  • Lack of balance in customer base/too much reliance on DRPs for
    work — Because many shops rely solely on DRPs, they’re at the mercy of
    insurers. And these “super DRPs,” such as Progressive’s Concierge
    program and GEICO’s RX program, are only going to make the situation
  • Insurers with such programs shut down all the other DRP shops in a
    market and direct all the work into one shop. These shops then become
    almost exclusive with the insurer because most of them don’t have the
    ability to quickly increase capacity to handle the new volume and
    retain their other DRPs.

    These insurers can then squeeze you even harder because you can’t say
    no — they’re 90 to 100% of your work, so you can’t afford to lose them.

    Shops need balance in their customer base or they’re at risk of
    catastrophic losses. Yet shops will specialize — and are specializing —
    in one insurer’s work.

    This situation reminds me of something a Florida repairer once said:
    “The relationship of the insurer/vehicle owner and the repair shop is
    like a bacon-and-egg breakfast. The chicken is involved, but the pig is
    committed. So before you walk over to the trough, make sure you know
    why they’re fattening you up.”

  • Repairers not pricing their own work/lack of unity/afraid to say
    “no” — There are no laws anywhere that give labor guides or insurance
    adjusters authority over prices. Yet many repairers don’t see it that
    way. A Montana shop owner once said that he was certain he’d be charged
    with fraud if he overrode the labor database on one of his estimates.
    He thought he was breaking the law if he priced his own work.
  • It’s the job of insurance adjusters to give up as little money as
    possible. In the process, they often distort how the labor guides are
    supposed to work — or they’re so uninformed that they don’t know how
    the guides are supposed to work (and they have a vested interest in
    remaining “uninformed”). It’s your job to charge what you need to do
    the job right and to make a fair profit, regardless of what the
    “guides” say.

    After all, the labor guides are just that — guides.

    And it doesn’t matter what the adjuster says other shops are willing to
    accept (especially since adjusters have been known to lie about what
    other shops are working for to get you to accept a lower rate, thus
    setting a precedent that hurts the entire local market).

    Says one Pennsylvania repairer: “As long as shop owners believe the
    labor guides and third-party payers are holding them back, they’ll miss
    the obvious: It is they who have done themselves in. Shop owners have
    forgotten how to say ‘no.’

    “Making matters worse, insurers see to it that body shop owners
    cannibalize one another. If one digs in and says no to a low bid by an
    insurer, there’s always another shop owner willing to dive at that low

  • Shop owners’ lack of business expertise — Many shop owners make
    financial decisions without a thorough understanding of how that
    decision will affect their business from a profitability and cash flow
    perspective. So in an area where few businesses apply a sophisticated
    cost/benefit analysis to financial decisions, many shops say “yes” to
    bad business deals because they don’t fully understand what that
    decision will ultimately cost. 
  • This year was particularly tough on shops without solid business
    skills. Fed up with repairers giving discounts to other, smaller
    insurers, State Farm overhauled its Service First program — now called
    Select Service. The new agreement requires participating repairers to
    give State Farm the lowest rate for every labor or parts discount
    category, free storage, free total loss handling, etc., etc.

    “If you choose to give no discounts whatsoever, that’s perfectly fine
    with us,” says George Avery, one of the architects of State Farm’s new
    agreement. “But if your business model includes some discounts, then we
    want to be part of it.”

    But instead of seeing this as an opportunity — an opportunity, for
    example, to raise rates with other insurers and to use the new State
    Farm agreement as the reason — most shop owners simply agreed to the
    contract and discounted their prices to State Farm, even though many of
    them were barely getting by before, when State Farm work was

    Says a California shop owner: “We need to become numbers crunchers —
    better business people with profit-driven guidelines.” For example,
    when an insurance company asks you to participate in a labor rate
    survey, “put your current non-discounted rate on the survey,” he says.
    “Don’t think that by showing a discounted rate you’ll somehow get more
    work. It will only establish the guidelines you’re allowed to charge on
    the cars you do get — and force other shops in the area to work at a
    lower rate too.

    “We continue to do whatever the insurance companies want, and it has
    come back to bite us — all because we were willing to agree to anything
    for more cars. A contract needs to be beneficial to both parties. Our
    current DRPs aren’t. They’re one-sided, in favor of the insurance
    industry — and we only have ourselves to blame.”

    Says a Kansas multiple shop owner: “The shops that understand their
    numbers, supply and demand, efficiency and economies of scale, will
    prevail. Better, faster, cheaper is what both the insurance industry
    and consumers are demanding. Shops need to figure out how to deliver

  • Changing customer expectations/ outdated business model/lack of
    standard operating procedures (SOPs) — “We’ve got to be able to deliver
    a more consistent quality product in a dependable, timely fashion.
    Today, as an industry, we aren’t very predictable. Process change will
    drive that,” says an Ohio multiple-shop owner, referring to shops
    needing to implement SOPs and to how the current process most owners
    use to operate their shops is outdated — it’s not built to deliver low
    cost, it’s not built to deliver speed, it’s not built to deliver
    predictability. Yet that’s what today’s customers want.
  • “Most shops believe the answer to their problem lies in growth,” says a
    “lean” shop owner in the Midwest. “It’s the, ‘If we could just fix one
    more car per week we could make some money’ scenario. The problem is
    that doing more (for them) raises their operating costs equally, if not
    greater. If they had a good business process, they’d be making money at
    current revenue levels. My concern is that these guys will make deals
    to get the additional volume from insurers, which will only delay the
    inevitable — their going out of business.

    “The only way for all existing shops to remain is for them to control
    costs so that they can make a profit at current revenues — with the
    understanding that current revenues will decrease. There are just going
    to be fewer wrecks to fix.”

    Although only a small percentage of collision repair shops in this
    country have implemented “lean” manufacturing principles, the ones that
    have contend that it’s possible to deliver everything a customer wants
    — quality, service and speed, at a lower cost — and to greatly increase
    your profits.

    “Individual efficiencies don’t matter one bit,” says a Pennsylvania “lean” shop owner.

    “It’s the overall process — the process efficiency — that we need to
    focus on, how the pieces work together. If I can improve the
    relationship between all the steps, then the whole thing should flow
    more smoothly. And the faster it flows, with the same overhead cost,
    the more cash it generates. That’s where the real profit lies.

    “If it’s a faster process, then your cycle time is also greatly
    reduced. But it can only go faster if there are less mistakes — if
    things are done right the first time — which means quality improves

    Whether you buy into “lean” or not, the fact remains: You can’t do what
    you’ve always done and still be successful when everything else around
    you has changed.

    Are you looking to hire technicians? (Click HERE for PDF)

  • Insurers bureaucratic policies/ structure — The focus for most
    insurers isn’t policyholder satisfaction. It’s shareholder
    satisfaction. Stock value is paramount. Senior level management move
    quickly through the organization (six-month to one-year terms in a
    position), so decisions are often based on moving metrics quickly, with
    no long view of performance.
  • Says a shop owner with multiple DRPs in place: “Goofy programs are put
    in place to achieve a short-term movement in some silly number that
    someone has justified. And shops are forced to do these silly things
    that have, in most cases, no value to the customer — but do increase
    operational expense.”

    Shops could manage these requirements effectively if they stayed
    around, but the problem is that they always disappear and a new program
    is developed. Says an East Coast shop owner: “Rarely in these
    organizations are the customers more than an afterthought, i.e.
    Progressive and Allstate. Allstate was so bothered by their
    policyholders that they fired all their agents a few years ago and made
    them independent from the company. In their opinion, if they didn’t
    have all these pesky customers to deal with, they could get something

    “What’s worse, these guys never get the right measurements. You have to
    be careful in putting measurements out there for people to hit. You get
    what you measure. For example, the im-portant measurement for an
    insurer is the average cost of claims (severity), but they can’t talk
    about it because they can’t, by law, set the price of repairs. So they
    use measurements they call ‘severity drivers,’ things like the
    percentage of alternative parts used on repairs or the total average
    number of paint hours per repair.

    “The truth is that you can hit all these targets and still have a
    higher severity. Adversely, you can have lower severity (a good thing
    for the insurer and vehicle owner) and poor performance against the
    measurements. This ultimately can get you thrown off the program. You
    wind up getting shit from one hand of the insurer and praise from the
    other. Nothing good can ever happen.

    “We need to get the right measurements on the table. Insurers spend so
    much money inspecting shops’ work (reinspectors have reinspectors, have
    reinspectors …) that if they could just get the right measurements
    out there and trust the shops, we could put 100% OEM parts on cars and
    insurers could increase their profits.”

    Do you feel you have the ability to charge regular rate increases? Are insurance companies trying to lower or control rates? (Click HERE for PDF)

  • Lack of quality standards/poor-quality repairs — “Our industry
    claims to have standards but no one is held to them,” says a California
    shop owner. 
  • Since the advent of the automobile, this has been a problem for the
    industry. Back-alley shops that do cheap repairs and crap work have
    given this industry a black eye that it still sports today. Then came
    DRPs, which only made the situation worse. Shop owners (who lack
    business skills) often sign onto programs that limit their shop’s
    ability to produce proper repairs. So now we’ve got back-alley shops
    and profit-depraved mainstream shops performing crap repairs.

    Crap repairs are easier to spot. It’s quality repairs that prove elusive.

    “The problem with trying to define ‘quality’ in our day-to-day dealings
    is that even if there is a precise definition, it’s open to
    interpretation by almost all who participate in the repair process —
    the vehicle owner, the estimator, the insurance adjuster, the body
    technicians, etc,” says a Georgia shop owner. “The ‘quality’ issue is
    even further complicated by ‘locally acceptable quality.’ This
    misconception is that the level of repair quality in a particular
    geographical region is dictated by what the ‘acceptable’ quality level
    is in that area.”

    How deficient is overall body shop repair quality in the United States?
    Post-repair inspectors (PRIs) report seeing proper repairs about once
    out of every 100 inspections. “Shops’ practice of putting out slothful
    repairs is commonplace regardless of geography,” says an Ohio PRI,
    adding that because post-repair assignments often come from attorneys
    who are working bodily injury claims and because DV usually isn’t
    considered on vehicles with minor damage, PRIs are often inspecting
    heavy hits. “There’s no question that heavy hits are harder to repair,”
    he says. “Regardless, quality isn’t graded on a curve.”

  • Lack of people development/poor starting wages/tool costs — Most
    shops are losing the war on attracting, training and retaining
    technicians. The easy way out is to hire experienced techs from
    somewhere else, which is what most do, rather than taking the steps
    necessary to participate in the long-term solution to this challenge.
  • “When you hire an already-employed technician from in or around your
    hometown, you’re ‘raiding,’ plain and simple,” says a Missouri shop
    owner. “It’s counterproductive. “The prominence of raiding tells me
    that most shops don’t have a clue as to how to bring new help into the
    industry. It’s becoming clear that, at some point, shops are going to
    have to start growing their own. Stealing from other shops isn’t going
    to fill the shortage.”

    While complaining that they can’t find good technicians, many shop
    owners are turning away entry-level candidates because they only want
    to hire experienced techs.

    “Shops need to start working closely with area vocational/technical
    schools and community colleges, and they need to do so year-round, not
    just when they need new employees,” says a Virginia shop owner, adding
    that shops also need to establish a mentoring/apprenticeship program
    in-house that will help them “grow” these entry-level techs into
    experienced journeymen.

    The industry also needs to stop letting tool costs and entry-level pay
    be a deterrent to recruiting and retaining new people. Shops hire an
    entry-level person and expect him to buy tools at the low starting
    wages they pay him. Let’s see, food and shelter, or tools? Most are
    going to take food and shelter — and go work at the fast-food joint
    down the street instead, for the same wage.

    Even with decent entry-level pay, the tool investments needed are huge.
    Although most shops — and techs — aren’t yet open to the idea, some of
    the more progressive shops have begun supplying tools to their techs.
    “Our facilities are fully tooled — specific tools at point-of-use in
    specific areas of the shop,” says an Ohio multiple-shop owner. “We
    don’t need multiple tool sets within the shop, and techs don’t need to
    spend all that money on redundant sets of tools, especially entry-level
    people. This is a major culture change from the subcontractor mentality
    that exists in shops today.”

  • Collision avoidance systems/throw-away cars — Five years ago, the
    focus was on collision safety (side airbags, etc.). Today, the focus is
    on collision avoidance (sensors in bumpers that detect impact in
    parking, braking systems that automatically slow your vehicle when
    sensing rapidly reduced distance between you and the car in front of
    you, sensors that detect brain beta wave functions that sound alarms if
    you begin to fall asleep).
  • “I used to believe that there would always be wrecked cars, but that
    may not be the case,” says one veteran shop owner. “There are vehicles
    now being built that are impossible to wreck. Vehicle systems can be
    designed to never let cars hit each other or anything else.

    “Also, what about Chinese vehicle imports? Can these guys build cars so
    cheaply that you just throw them away when wrecked? They’re talking
    about new cars for 8 grand. At what price are they totaled? Think about
    other things that used to be major purchases (TVs, refrigerators,
    etc.). Do you have these things fixed today, or do you just go buy a
    new one?”

    YOU Control Your Destiny
    It’s been a tough year, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any
    easier in the near future. That’s why the decisions you make right now
    are so important.

    Regardless of your shop’s size, success will come to those of you who
    learn how to work on your business rather than in your business. To do
    this requires a change of mindset. It means accepting that, as a shop
    owner, you don’t “fix cars” for a living. You run a collision repair
    business — which involves fixing cars, but it also involves a whole lot

    Getting a handle on that “whole lot more” is what’s going to separate those of you who succeed fr

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