Her Web site, www.collisionhub.com, is a network for those in the collision repair and related industries to share information, talk shop, discuss issues and get to know each other. Benton, Arkansa-based CollisionHub.com encourages technicians, shop owners, suppliers, insurance companies, auto glass installers, towing companies and rental car agencies to log on and join in.
“After looking at groups in Facebook and LinkedIn, I determined we needed our own safe space with some content controls,” says Felder, who notes being “born” into the collision repair through her dad, Ted, who began working in the business in 1965 after leaving the Air Force. He opened his first shop in 1970 with a business partner and retired in 1997.
She began Collision Hub quietly in May 2009 and then officially at NACE 2010 as a social networking site for professionals within the industry, she explains. “It was a way to bring a successful open model of friendship and communication to life and make it accessible to our industry as a whole,” she says.
Two years earlier, at NACE 2008, she and a group of collision industry professionals had discussed communication among themselves—especially as they represented different segments of the industry.
“We came to the conclusion that our friendships were at the core of this ability to communicate openly and honestly and wondered how we could use this social model to bring that level of open communication to our industry as a whole,” recalls Felder, who earned a public relations degree from Arkansas State University, interning for State Farm Insurance. After graduation, she worked for State Farm as a claims representative, then moved to Nationwide. In November 2009, she began running Collision Hub full time.
“I like to tell people that I spent 20 years in collision repair and 14 years in insurance,” she adds. “It is that experience on both sides of the fence that really drives Collision Hub. I see and feel both sides of our industry’s issues.”
Felder realized that four or five annual industry events wouldn’t accomplish connectedness. After NACE 2008, she returned home, thought and researched. She saw a study on Gen X and Next Gen which discussed the importance of social connections on sites such as Facebook and MySpace and how those relationships will revolutionize business.
“The participants interviewed for the study stated they had stronger connections with their ‘virtual’ friends through social networking then their ‘real’ friends,” she says.
“Could we forge strong bonds and not be at a social cocktail reception during some industry event? Could we forge stronger bonds ‘virtually’ so that our face time was more productive and respectful?” Because Collision Hub is a social media business site—and not news based— Felder says that this establishes neutral ground for insurers, vendors and repairers to participate freely. “We focus on the positive and what should be celebrated in our industry,” she says. “We monitor and control the site to ensure interactions are professional and respectful.”
As a result, the site focuses on other aspects of the industry to discuss and develop content such as The Women’s Project, Girl Scout NACE Day and Future Leaders. “We want Collision Hub to be a fun place to connect, learn and grow,” Felder says. That makes us different and refreshing in the industry.”
The site also facilitates connections according to specific interests, she says. The Collision Hub platform is based on topical communities such as pets, diet and health, women, shop owners and marketing, allowing users to find niche groups and build relationships within them. In addition, the Collision Hub has broadcast NABC, I-CAR, CIECA events and will feature live upcoming shows from NACE and SEMA. Kristen: “We understand the power and importance of video and using the Internet to bring the industry to everyone that cannot travel to industry events.”
She notes, too, that the site’s sponsor support allows content to be member driven, providing photos, blogs and discussions. Sponsorship packages are annual or for specific events such as NACE/SEMA, she explains. Limited spots can be purchased such as for a featured product, job postings and hot links. “Collision Hub is whatever the industry wants it to be or needs it to be at any given moment,” she says.
Still, some analysts caution against an overemphasis on social networking, urging caution about social networking hazards such as phishing, identity theft, reputation damage, decreased employee effectiveness and other cyberdangers.
“Social networking and collaborative Web sites can offer their users a great wealth of resources at their fingertips. However, they do have their place and should not come without limits,” says Mike Carson, a former bodyman, insurance appraiser, and owner of Joliet, Ill.-based Integrated Technology and Design, an Internet technology company.
“Collision shop owners need to be aware that these Web sites can offer valuable industry-related information but can also waste employee resources,” he explains. So, too: “An employee may say something damaging on these Web sites and discussion boards without even realizing that he or she has done harm to your company.”
Many collision repair industry members, however, are using Collision Hub regularly—and lauding it. “Collision Hub is great way for the industry to come together via the Internet,” says Gigi Walker, president of the California Autobody Association. “It’s an open format for everyone related to the industry to talk shop: estimator to appraiser, shop owner to shop owner.”
Dave Henderson, CEO of Brighton Mich.-based AutoWatch, has been involved with Collison Hub almost since start-up — posting items, receiving feedback and connecting with customers and potential customers.
“I have found it a great media to get the AutoWatch name in front of many in the industry,” he says. “I also like that I can look up others in the industry and keep up on what is going on. This is for sure going to be an icon in the industry and a good forum to the global market.”
Alex Hahn, lead estimator/body shop manager for Fairfield, Calif.-based Fairfield Auto Body, agrees: “Collision Hub is a first of a kind place for the whole auto body industry, from preppers all the way up to corporate CEOs. It’s a community soap box where anyone can reach out to another or ask for specific help in any aspect of the business.”
He recently used it to learn more about establishing a DRP, ensuring the accuracy of estimates, and finding answers to technical questions that others at the shop couldn’t answer. “Searching for autobody resources was almost impossible. In the information age, I was astonished that there was not a central site,” he recalls.
“It took many weeks of searches but finally I stumbled across CH in its infancy and was instantly addicted. I posted questions and got answers—most times within minutes.”