There aren’t enough John Waynes out there,” says Ohio shop owner Frank Lanza. “Where did all the real men go? There just aren’t enough shop owners willing to stand up for themselves.”
Where have all the John Waynes gone?
Not a day goes by when I don’t hear from a repairer somewhere in the country telling me that the estimating system providers are in “cahoots” with the insurance industry and that an insurer is trying to pull a fast one with estimating-software pricing. But what amazes me – and the few shop owners like Lanza – is that these repairers are under the impression that insurers control pricing and that estimating software supersedes one-the-job experience.
Neither of which is true.
Says industry veteran Charlie Barone: “The estimating programs and labor guides don’t matter one bit in terms of repair prices. The furor over this is nothing but a smoke screen deliberately set out there to make shop owners believe that guides fix prices. The insurance industry has to be very pleased to see how thoroughly their plans worked. With the vast majority of people in the body shop business believing they have no self-determination in terms of pricing, insurance control of the business became a reality.”
As for the complaint that the estimating system providers are working at the behest of the insurance industry, says Barone: “Well, duh! Making the systems responsive to the insurance industry is just good business.”
What both Barone and Lanza are saying is that as long as shop owners continue to blame estimating system providers and insurers for their problems, they’ll continue to be victims – victims of their own ignorance.
“The insurance company is trying to make as much profit as they can,” says Lanza. “It’s not an adversarial situation. It’s just business. So when an adjuster comes in here, I have to understand that he works for a company that has set policies for him to abide by.
“But I also tell him that I have a company and this is my policy, and this is the way we do business. I’ll put my arm around the kid and say, ‘I’ve been in this industry 30 years and know how to repair cars. I don’t need you to tell me how to do it. So here’s the thing …’ And then I pull out my estimate and say, ‘Your estimate needs to closely match my estimate or we have a problem. If you can’t come close, send your estimate and check to your insured. When the customer comes to my shop and wants to know why my estimate is higher, I’ll justify everything and explain what’s missing from yours.’ ”
Does this get the insurance company to pay? Lanza says it does, most of the time. And when the insurer doesn’t pay, the customer does.
“I’ve learned that the customer has to go after the insurer if he’s not getting treated fairly,” says Lanza. “I don’t have to do that. I really don’t have to negotiate with the insurance company if I don’t want to. I do that out of courtesy.
Lanza’s right. You don’t have to negotiate with an insurance company (unless you’re a direct-repair shop for them – then you are bound by the terms in your contract).
Says Lanza: “Some bean counter somewhere who has to justify his existence because he got this job decides that the insurer can save money by doing this and that all they have to do is tell the body shop they’re not going to pay for it, and we’ll agree to it. And we do. It’s astonishing how we let someone else dictate to us.”
Says a Texas shop owner: “How did this industry get to the point where repairers have to ask if it’s OK to charge for something they’re selling?”
That’s the thing. You don’t have to ask. But as long as you do, the answer will be no.
“You don’t blame the guy getting $25 million for playing baseball,” says Lanza. “You blame the guy paying him.
“Same in our industry. Don’t blame the insurers for what’s going on and the rates they pay. If an insurer tells you, ‘We’re only going to pay this amount,’ and you take it, that’s your own fault. Blame yourself, not the insurance industry. It’s their job, and as long as they can find shops willing to do what they want, why not?”
Georgina K. Carson, Editor
To inspire the John Wayne in all of us, we’ve hidden the Duke somewhere in the pages of the magazine. Find him, e-mail me the page number where he’s hiding, and you’ll be entered into a drawing for $50.