Scott Biggs, the charismatic CEO, President and Founder of Assured Performance Network in Irvine, CA, delivered the goods when he spoke to a full room at this year’s NACE show. The message Biggs conveyed concerned the present and growing importance of manufacturer certifications and the associated referral programs that will soon become prevalent in the collision industry. His speech was both timely and relevant to any body shop, whether it’s a small independent all the way to a large MSO.
The times are a-changing and you don’t need to be Bob Dylan to see it, according to Biggs. “You need to know that this isn’t your grandfather’s or even your father’s certification program. The biggest difference is that now the automakers are rewarding the shops that invest in compliance with customer referrals.
OEM’s have already begun to refer their vehicle owners to these forward-thinking shops for their collision repair needs, and this will only increase over the coming months. The playing field has changed and business as usual is over. The biggest automakers with mass-produced and mass-market brands are using a very aggressive referral approach and that will place the certified shops at a whole different level.”
That Ford is leading the pack with this body shop certification program is a clear indication of where things are headed, Biggs explained. “Ford has made a new truck (the best selling vehicle in the country for 30 years) that cannot be fixed in the old-fashioned way—period. Following suit are other OEM’s. If you want to repair any of these vehicles, and there will be millions of them soon, you’re going to have to do it the right way—which requires new tools, equipment, training and facilities. Shops who do not embrace these changes put themselves and their customers in a very tenuous and unsafe position. So, certification really isn’t even elective in this case—it’s essential to be on the playing field in the future.”
Assured Performance has positioned itself right in the middle of this obvious game change. They are a legal co-op, a non-profit consumer advocacy organization and management company. Combined, they operate as a third-party administrator for body shop certifications and marketing programs for Ford, Nissan, Chrysler, Enterprise, GM and others. They also provide consumer awareness to thousands of media outlets and manage various vendor rebate programs. Uniquely, Assured Performance has the distinction of administering more than $13.5 million dollars of supplier rebate rewards to their members since 2004 which helps shops reinvest in their business.
“We’re helping all of the shops to keep pace with a rapidly changing marketplace. We welcome those that want to be a part of the future; our best estimate is that, to-date, only about 1 in 10 shops have already begun this journey,” Biggs said. “Our industry needs to urgently embrace this challenge to meet the repair needs of today‘s vehicles.
The company has already enrolled nearly 1,600 shops in their joint-effort OE Certification program and is well on their way to their objective of 2,000 shops by year-end 2014 and 3,000 by year-end 2015. Ford, Nissan, Chrysler and others now have similar coverage by leveraging the Assured Performance platform. Regardless of where a consumer lives or travels, they will have a Certified Collision Repair Provider choice, according to Biggs.
To handle the anticipated further growth of its third-party certification program, Assured Performance has added several industry veterans to its team. A significant recent addition for Assured Performance is Ronald Doerr, the company’s new Senior V.P. of Strategic Initiatives. Through 30-plus years working for GM on the OEM parts side, he brings a broad industry perspective and is respected across multiple market segments.
“I’ve known Scott Biggs and witnessed the evolution of his company over many years,” Clark said. “Scott has asked me to help the company in getting all of the pieces together as we move forward in the certification aspect of the business. As a former member of the OEM Roundtable, I’ve seen first-hand how these programs have grown and changed. Multiple carmakers building multiple vehicle models that require multiple shop repair capabilities have created a confusing and unmanageable environment for most shops.
“Cars have become so much more complex that certification is going to be more and more integral to the day-to-day operations of a body shop, regardless of where they are or what their business model is,” Doerr explained. “Assured Performance has interpreted and simplified the many moving parts, leveraging their commonalities instead of the exceptions. Assured Performance’s program has struck a chord with the OE’s and the industry because they all see a definite need. Shops can get the certification they need and in return, the OE’s are stepping up with things like referral programs.”
To ensure that the company has first-hand shop knowledge and experience, Assured Performance has five former shop owners and MSO managers onboard. Aaron Clark is one such former body shop owner. He is now Assured Performance’s V.P. of Certification and Network Development. Clark sold his seven shops at the end of 2012, anticipating retirement, but started working for Assured Performance a few months later. He‘s happy and excited to be with a growing company during an ideal time in the collision industry’s history, he said.
“The certification arm of this company is gaining more and more momentum every day because getting onboard with this program has quickly gone from an option to a necessity for body shops.” Clark said, “I was prepared to step away from the business after selling my shops, but when this opportunity was presented, I could not resist. We have a chance to reinvent this industry in a positive way and work to create something that never existed before.”
At NACE, Ford representatives discussed the details of repairing the 2015 F150 and their National Body Shop Network program and Clark elaborated on it. “As the maker of the number one selling vehicle representing nearly 700,000 sales per year, it was no wonder that all of their presentations had standing room only over three days,” Clark said. “The high-point of the presentation was how shops would be rewarded with official Ford certification—recognition for making the investment to become re-tooled, re-trained and re-equipped. Further, shops that can make the grade will ultimately receive referrals from not only Ford, but Nissan, Chrysler and others through their aggressive OEM consumer-facing awareness and marketing efforts.”
Chrysler, Nissan, and Ford are the first ones to announce a referral program and others will be unveiling their programs right after the first of the year. Clark sees the referral aspect of these certifications as a real shot in the arm for the collision industry as a whole. “These are 100% OE-driven customer referral programs that didn’t exist before, so it’s huge,” he said. “There is no question here—you will have to fix these new vehicles differently and therefore shops are going to have to invest in the training, tools and equipment. If you’re going to have to do all those things regardless, why wouldn’t you want to be recognized for it and receive referrals for doing it?”
The standard certification-recognition requirements used by Ford, Chrysler, Nissan, etc. are those developed by Assured Performance in cooperation with many OEM’s. Assured Performance supports the open competition approach to procure the tools and equipment required. This key aspect is illustrated well in Ford’s aluminum repair requirements for the new F150. To be Ford certified-recognized through 2015, the shop must become “aluminum capable” including having separate aluminum repair tools, a separate area (curtains or walls) for aluminum work, and specific repair training and welding certification provided by I-CAR. While Ford has these requirements, the shop can buy from several good choices where competition exists.
Assured Performance’s approach to body shop certification is unique in other ways as well. Instead of a surprise “pass-fail” test, Assured Performance uses a business development process. Even before the shop enrolls for the first time, they are able to evaluate their readiness by following the online capabilities assessment referred to as the “Pre-flight Checklist.” Shops interested in becoming certified are able to complete the “Capabilities Assessment” to review the requirements, see their deficiencies, and generate a business development plan, helping them get from where they are now to where they need to be, according to Doerr.
The turnkey system designed by Assured Performance even develops a shop—specific calendar, budget and equipment matrix with vendors listed to help the shop streamline the entire process. Even I-CAR working in conjunction with Assured Performance has developed a program called “Road to Gold” to address the evolving needs in the area of training. Equipment and tool vendors have also joined the effort, providing expedited online ordering and pricing to simplify and streamline the process of retooling for the shops willing to make the journey.
“Every aspect of this program is administered by Assured Performance, starting with the enrollment process, the shop capability assessments, their business development plans, the annual on-site physical audit-inspections, necessary online support systems, proof of compliance documentation, and even shop marketing,” Ron Doerr said. “Assured Performance’s joint-effort approach eliminates redundancy in equipment and duplication of the fees and the overall cost for a body shop to become certified. The cost savings for each shop is in the thousands of dollars, annually – a huge windfall by any calculation. And, in aggregate, the OEM’s are probably saving millions in non-core expenses - they can focus on building great cars and trucks and promoting the certified repair network while Assured Performance quarterbacks the improvements in repair business capabilities - truly a best path forward for all.”