Thursday, 21 October 2010 17:17

NACE Continues as Collision Gathering Place (Albeit Smaller)

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As it has for 28 years, the International Autobody Congress and Exposition (NACE) served as an annual meeting place for the collision repair industry when it was held in Las Vegas in mid-October.

A bit smaller of a meeting place, given the continued sluggish economy in the United States, but still likely the largest gathering of the industry this year.

Ron Pyle, president of the Automotive Service Association, which sponsors NACE, reminded about 1,000 attendees at the opening session that the event’s success enables ASA to provide key funding for a long list of industry organizations. Just since 2004, Pyle said, NACE has provided 83,534 hours of training to 47,764 students. And NACE also has donated $2.5 million in booth and meeting space at the event to industry non-profits.

The opening session has traditionally also included a type of “state of the industry” presentation by the shop owner who serves as chairman of the event, and a keynote speech by a well-known celebrity, sports or political figure, or motivational speaker. This year, however, Pyle said NACE organizers chose to kick off the event with a presentation that would give attendees something they could “go and put into practice in their business.” Marketing consultant Kelly McDonald offered advice on how shop owners can use the growing diversity of the population to improve their business.

McDonald, for example, noted that for the first time in history, four generations of Americans are in the workforce, and each brings its own styles and expectations to the workplace. The youngest generation of workers, she pointed out, have grown up with new gaming systems every year, so are very adaptable to new technology. They are accustomed to multitasking, she said, and indeed may excel when given many smaller tasks rather than one big project.

This youngest generation (currently 19- to 32-years-old) is 70 million strong, second only to the Baby Boomer generation in size, and is also projected to be the wealthiest generation in American history. McDonald said marketing to this group shouldn’t include efforts to be “hip.” They instead want straight information, and want to work with businesses they view as being diverse, “green” and supportive of the community or charitable causes.

She cited several examples within the collision repair industry of shops using diversity in the population to their advantage. Keenan Auto Body, which operates nine shops in Pennsylvania, reaches the growing Korean and Russian populations in its market by advertising in specialty newspapers aimed at those audiences. The company recruits new employees from within these communities, working with an immigration attorney as needed to help get these potential employees’ residency and work documents in order. By then having speakers of those languages on staff at its shops, McDonald said, Keenan attracts customers who like interacting with “someone like them” or who may have limited English skills.

A Look At Standards
Another session at NACE focused on the value of certification or standards within the industry. Among those on the panel was Leslie Upham of Thatcham, who discussed that organization’s role in the implementation of shop and repair standards in the United Kingdom. Upham said creating such standards should include input from all segments of the industry, but also should be done on a prescribed timeline.

“Take time to get consensus, but don’t take too long,” said Upham, adding that the process in the U.K. took about a year.

She said the standards set guidelines for “man, machine, methods and materials,” and three levels of certification are available to allow for different types of shops (those doing only cosmetic repair, for example). Certified shops are allowed to use the “Kitemark” logo, which is a independent quality mark recognized by 80 percent of U.K. consumers.

She said there are about 1,700 collision repair shops in the U.K. involved in insurer programs, and Thatcham’s initial goal is to get about 1,400 shops certified. It is about half-way to that goal, with about 700 certified shops, two-and-a-half years into the program.

The number of shops in the U.K. has fallen from about 18,000 20 years ago to about 4,500 today. The panel was asked if certification programs lead to shop closures. Jeff Patti, an insurance company executive who is leading one of the efforts to create standards in the United States, said he sees such standards more as a differentiator, to help consumers locate a shop with the appropriate equipment and training.

“It’s kind of a crap shoot right now for a consumer. When they take their car to a shop they have no idea of the qualifications of that repair facility,” Patti said. “And yes, unfortunately, some smaller shops may go out of business, but it is what it is. We have to be mindful of that, but we as an industry have to provide the consumer with a proper repair.”

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