The collision repair industry of the 1970’s, in the decade before the birth of SCRS, was different in many ways, more notably its fragmentation, the SCRS said. “Practically every shop was an independent,” recalled Iva Dehn, who, along with her husband Fred, witnessed the birth of the Society. “That may sound good today, but in practice it wasn’t. Shops looked at each other with suspicion, each convinced their competition was out to take food off their family’s table.”
Each facility was an island
With communication next to non-existent, the trade consisted largely of strangers, with each facility an island unto itself. Not a great model even in a stable market, and as the decade came to a close signs began to surface indicating imminent industry upheaval, the SCRS said. It wasn’t just advancements in technology, such as the introduction of the unibody vehicle. The new vehicle structures, together with advancements in refinish materials and a lack of industry-accepted training, caused perceptive shop owners to feel as if certain market dynamics were wresting away control of their businesses.
“There wasn’t a collective industry voice, and that left the industry vulnerable,” said Past SCRS Chairman Bill Eveland, also a participant in the formation of the Society. “In fact, when some of us in the Kansas City area began to throw around the idea, with other like-minded individuals, of forming a group that would help us improve as collision professionals, some repairers feared retaliation.”
Despite their apprehension, their conviction grew; the industry had to do something. And it was only a matter of time until the right catalyst kick-started the movement toward a national, collision repair-only organization.
The man who changed it all
Dehn continued, “At the time the Independent Automotive Service Associa-tion (IASA) out of Texas, the group that would evolve into ASA, was making a push to attract body shop members which at the time consisted almost completely of mechanical shops. Fred and I attended one of their meetings at the Gold Buffet in North Kansas City, and there a man stood up. This gentleman was neat, clean and he wore a suit. He spoke with knowledge, power, wit and humor. He said that the person across the table was neither demon nor monster; that he or she was a body shop person just like us. Suddenly, it became obvious we had a better chance of solving some of our problems if we worked together.
Later that evening, with the meeting over, we all stood out in the parking lot, even after it began to rain, and really talked to each other for the first time. That night’s speaker was none other than John Loftus. He had already made a difference in our lives.”
Rochelle Wicklund, who also attended that meeting with her husband, Past SCRS Chairman Bill Wicklund, likewise recalled the dramatic effect Loftus had on the crowd.
“My husband, Bill, and I—as well as Bill Eveland and the rest of those in attendance— felt that John was the man that could put a face on the type of group we had discussed. He talked about cleaning up our shops and having professional offices. It was evident that he knew what we were going through and what needed to be done to change our industry. It wasn’t long before we had another meeting—at Gene Parks’ Body Shop in Riverside, Missouri.”
Time to get the ball rolling
“I’m not certain of the precise sequence of events,” Eveland added, “but at some point in time we heard that John was probably going to leave IASA and go to work for someone more removed from the industry. That increased our urgency to get something done. By the time we met at Gene Parks’, a group of us had talked a bit and a loose agenda had been put together.”
That night at Gene Parks’ was a fateful one, the SCRS said. Cars were moved back in the stalls and the floor was swept clean. Folding chairs were brought in to form a semi-circle in the middle of the shop and the anxious owners and technicians milled together. A side door opened, and John Loftus stepped through. After a round of handshakes, the group got down to business. Though the details had yet to be worked out, those in attendance knew they wanted to form a group and that John needed to lead it.
Reaching out beyond the horizon
“We realized we needed numbers if we really wanted to effect change,” explained Dehn, “and to do that we had to reach out to at least every shop in the Kansas City area. We discussed it some more, and John informed us that there were others beyond our local horizon that had the same thirst to reach out and join with others. The fire really started to burn in us then, as we began to ponder the possibilities that might come with the creation of a true national body shop association. That was the beginning of shops coming together to help other shops—the beginning of ‘Working Together Is The Most Important Work We Do.’”
Grass roots approach from the start
By the early 1980s, John Loftus was getting the attention of shop owners—especially in Texas and Missouri—with the idea of a nationally united collision repair industry strong enough to take action on their own priorities. Truth be told, these concepts almost never had a chance to get off the ground, the SCRS reported.
“My wife, Rosie, and I are native Californians,” Loftus said. “A lot of the professional growth I experienced was the result of being a shop owner, member and President and Executive Director of the California Autobody Association (CAA) where we successfully initiated breakthroughs like an insured motorists rights brochure, increased emphasis on training and professionalism—even such things as media relations. This led to my becoming more active with the national organization that exists today as the Automotive Service Association (ASA). I was approached to head up their collision repair division based, in part, on what we accomplished in California.”
“That meant moving to Texas where the organization was headquartered, so in 1979, Rosie and I pulled up roots and made that commitment. It was gratifying to see collision repairers, large and small, from all parts of the country, respond to our efforts to address their needs. People had a great desire to be professional; they felt they were being pushed around by a number of factors, and they wanted it to stop.”
A move was pending
But as the years rolled on, the transition began to wear on John and Rosie. By 1982, the couple was convinced they should return to California. “A number of things contributed to that feeling,” Loftus says, “but the bottom line is that we missed our family.”
If the Loftus’ had left then, SCRS as we know it today, wouldn’t have existed, the society reported. However, a handful of shop owners—including Jeff Cowan, Bill and Rochelle Wicklund, Bill Eveland, Bob Jones and Don Caldwell (who later became the first SCRS Chairman)—were energized by Loftus’ fiery gospel of industry improvement. They decided to take the kind of grass roots action that continues to characterize SCRS to this day: direct, to the point, and ultimately, effective.
“They started bringing me to informal meetings— the first one being at Jeff Cowan’s, with another eventually at Gene Park’s—and we began to brainstorm what a national association could be,” Loftus recalled. “People began to talk to other people and momentum grew. Rosie and I put off the move to California. My house in Texas became a hub for communication and information distribution. In a matter of days, we were talking to collision repairers in twenty-five states. The Wicklund’s were as determined as I was. Their home became the communication center for Missouri. To make sure that we got the message to other states, Bill Wicklund flew me wherever we were needed.”
Strength from the beginning
SCRS Past Chairman Bob Jones was there from the start, and can attest to the power of the movement’s formative stages. “I was like a lot of guys in those days, in that my business had begun to get the best of me,” he said. “I had just borrowed a lot of money for a shop renovation, and found myself in a rut; existing month to month just to pay my bills. I began to think there had to be more to the business than this.”
Jones started to become active in the organization that would become ASA, and it was through this involvement that he first gained exposure to Loftus and those that would go on to found SCRS. The experience made a lasting impression.