Wednesday, 09 May 2012 16:36

Repairers Have Their Say at SCRS NIIF in Oklahoma

The industry has its troubles, and it is up to repairers to change things for the better.

This was the overriding message evident at the 20th annual Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) National Industry Issues Forum (NIIF). Held April 25th in Oklahoma City exclusively for SCRS members and repairers, the three-hour "town hall" gathering offered a truly unique opportunity for attendees to speak their minds about the industry issues that matter most to them without the presence of insurers and other non-repairer entities. SCRS representatives welcomed and encouraged this direct feedback, which they use to calibrate their messaging and carry on to other industry events on behalf of their membership.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of views expressed during the Forum represented the overwhelming sense of frustration felt throughout today's collision repair industry. Like a frog in a cooking pot, repairers in attendance openly expressed their growing discontent with the current state of the industry, and the overwhelming and intrusive pressures placed upon their businesses.

 

DRP relationships were a major topic of discussion, with some participants expressing the opinion that repairers have lost their spirit of entrepreneurship as insurers continue to do their shops' marketing for them. One attendee shared the harrowing tale of being the country's top DRP for a particular insurer, only to lose that relationship altogether a mere 14 days following a major management change at the carrier. As this participant stressed, it is dangerous for shops to place too many eggs in one basket by having the vast majority of their work derived from one or two carriers.

Insurer involvement in the parts-ordering process was also a major concern, as several attendees voiced apprehension over the future of their industry if a particular insurer's new parts procurement system is successfully forced upon repair businesses. Some attendees questioned if paint and other areas of the repair process would be the next areas to experience this high level of insurer involvement, voicing a concern that our businesses are ultimately subjugated to nothing more than labor service providers.

While DRPs and parts procurement are indeed major issues affecting the industry, many attendees argued that the greatest dilemma facing the field is the shops' unwillingness to look in the mirror and accept that they are the ones who ultimately guide their professional destinies. Some Forum participants opined that the majority of shops need to do away with their "why me?" attitudes and take full responsibility for regaining power and control of their industry. In fact, the forum moderators themselves worked diligently to keep the conversation from being a standard complaint session, challenging attendees to discuss what the industry would look like if we discarded the mindset that we have to work around how it is, rather than working to change what we have come to accept as reality. Many argued that this goal could be achieved through improved business skills. This includes knowing how to correctly use cost accounting systems in repair facility billing practices, and having a better understanding of the necessary charges to be profitable on anything from paint and materials to labor or parts. This sentiment from a number of audience members really called for a revisit to an era of "ARMS-like" training for estimators and front office staff.

In an effort to stress the importance of proper training in today's industry, one educator in attendance shared that he has seen a dramatic lack of proper equipment in the field, admitting that he has even encountered repair facilities who are on some of the largest carrier programs that do not have appropriate measuring systems, welders or training.

Repair specialization was also a major talking point, with one participant noting that he recently sent one of his top technicians to Germany to learn how to properly repair a particular vehicle. The owner argued that specialization might present a solution to reimbursement issues, stating that it is generally accepted that a heart surgeon charges more than a general practitioner, based on a refined area of expertise.

During this discussion on shop reimbursement, one owner discussed his experience of charging the customer the difference for necessary repairs not reimbursed by the carriers. To illustrate his point, he shared his recent experience of having to handle certain charges that his health insurer didn't pay for his recent surgery, stressing that consumers have grown accustomed to paying for things not covered by insurance.

On the topic of repair standards, some attendees voiced concern over the lack of consistency between repair shops and opined that actual repairers and OEMs should be the entities to determine the accurate methods of bringing vehicles back to pre-accident condition - a reality that SCRS is working to accomplish through collaborative efforts with other repair associations, I-CAR and the OEM community.

While the National Industry Issues Forum allowed attendees to discuss the current state of the industry, the event also offered an opportunity for participants to discuss how things could be improved. Several members noted that the solution too many of the industry's problems could be found through greater participation from shops. With only a small percentage of industry personnel attending the Forum and other industry events, a stronger presence from active shop owners and technicians is desperately needed. The call for an amplified grassroots movement to engage repairers was noted as a possible solution to help. Additionally, some SCRS members noted that the industry must develop more consistent message points if it hopes to send clear and effective points to the motoring public, news outlets, regulators, legal professionals and the insurance industry.

Above all, participants called for associations like SCRS to maintain a strong voice for shops in the industry - especially those businesses that are afraid to voice concerns out of fear of repercussions. The National Industry Issues Forum was one of the many ways that SCRS works to provide value and support to its membership and the industry-at large.

About SCRS:
Through its direct members and 39 affiliate associations, SCRS is comprised of 6,000 collision repair businesses and 58,500 specialized professionals who work with consumers and insurance companies to repair collision-damaged vehicles. Additional information about SCRS including other news releases is available at the SCRS website: www.scrs.com . You can e-mail SCRS at the following address: info@scrs.com

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