Monday, 31 May 2004 17:00

NABC forum focuses on improving industrys image

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About 40 people from around the country - representing shops, insurers and industry vendors - met in Chicago in early May to focus on one issue: the image of the collision industry.

The National Auto Body Council (NABC), whose sole mission is improving that image, organized the gathering to solicit new input and involvement from more industry segments.

Chuck Sulkala, a Massachusetts shop owner who also serves as executive director of the NABC, lead the discussion which covered whether participants think the industry has an image problem; if so, what they think the causes of that problem are; and what they see as possible solutions.

Among some of the ideas and points made during the three-hour meeting:

• Some participants said that the industry's image problem is largely an internal one, that a lot of people outside the collision industry don't have a negative image of the industry at all.

• Teresa Costick of Carstar-Bolingbrook in Illinois said she believes one of the causes of the industry's poor image certainly in the past has been its appearance - the appearance of repair facilities and the lack of a professional appearance of those working in the industry.

• Bob Medved, who started in the industry as a technician prior to a 25-year career with State Farm, said he believes the image problem needs to be tackled from within the schools, to make sure the automotive programs aren't just where problem kids are dumped, and where they are receiving training that will make them employable in the industry. "It's not going to get better overnight, but we have to start putting better people into the system," Medved said. "The problem is we have bad seeds going into the ground."
• Others said there's a need for fundamental changes within the industry and increased efforts to weed out fraud being perpetrated by both shops and insurers. "You're putting those seeds into contaminated ground," industry consultant and chairman of SCRS Lou DiLisio responded to Medved. He and I-CAR's Rick Tuuri both said marketing or advertising isn't going to help the industry's image if the way many shops and insurers conduct business leaves consumers with the impression - rightly or wrongly - that things aren't entirely above board.
• A variety of possible projects to improve the industry's image were discussed. Some said the growing number of companies doing reinspections of repaired vehicles could help, as could the services that enable shops to post photos of repairs in progress for customers. Trish Serratore of ASE said as part of ASE's effort to recognize the professionalism within the industry, it is working to get all 50 states to declare June 12 as "National Automotive Service Professional Day."
Several of the insurers, paint manufacturers and other large companies represented at the meeting said they would look into having their marketing and public affairs departments participate in future meetings or projects. And while some shops already repair and donate vehicles for needy families or participate in child seat safety efforts, some at the meeting said these are the types of projects in which NABC could push for wider participation.

Over the past decade, the NABC has used several projects to improve the internal and external image of the collision industry. It pulled together the funds and volunteers needed to build a Habitat for Humanity home in Kansas City; it raised $500,000 over 18 months to help build a medical center at Camp Mak-a-Dream, a Montana camp for kids with cancer; it responds to negative portrayals of the industry in the media; it presents "Pride Awards" annually to recognize those within the industry for their charitable or humanitarian efforts; and it created a guide to assist shops in holding open houses during October's "Pride Month."

For more information, call the NABC at (888) 667-7433, or check its website (www.autobodycouncil.org).

John Yoswick is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, who has been writing about the automotive industry since 1988.

Industry trainer and consultant Tony Passwater agreed, saying the industry draws from largely the same pool of students as other trades, such as electricians or plumbers, but he believes those trades have a more positive public image in part because the link between their hourly rate and the time they spend working on a job is more readily understandable to consumers.

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