But Audatex, CCC Information Service and Mitchell International have now responded to that concern by essentially saying it’s not something shops need to be concerned about.
The formal responses came in a somewhat delayed fashion to a formal question posed to them in January by three national repairer groups.
Aaron Schulenburg, executive director of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS), said back in April that CCC was the first to provide a formal response to the associations' request.
“The response addressed that they have a mutual concern in protection of data, but didn't really address the questions that we'd asked relative to an opt-out policy or discontinuation of collecting the data," Schulenburg said.
Mitchell’s response came in late April, Schulenburg reported at an SCRS board meeting held in July.
“Their response basically indicated that Mitchell continues to believe that it’s in the best interest of the collision repair industry, insurers and the motoring public (for Mitchell to) continue to provide aggregated, anonymous data as a critical business tool for the industry,” Schulenburg said.
He said Mitchell’s response indicated that it does not supply statistics or data in a form in which a single shop’s data could be identified, and does not provide profitability information or detailed data from shops to outside parties.
“So their response was essentially that they believe their current process are good for the industry and that there is no threat,” Schulenburg said. “I think there are a lot of repairers that we represent who feel otherwise in the way their data is presented and as it comes back to them in reports and things along those lines.”
The response from Audatex, Schulenburg said, arrived in mid July.
“The response essentially indicates that uploading the data to Audatex is a choice that the repairer makes,” Schulenburg said. “The Audatex master agreement makes provision for the use of data that is provided to Audatex by insurers, repairers and independent appraisers for the purposes specified in the agreement…(and that) Audatex is committed to protecting personal data and information, using aggregated data only that reflects estimate content after stripping out client information.”
Schulenburg said SCRS will now discuss how to proceed with the other associations (the Automotive Service Association and the Alliance of Automotive Service Providers) that sent the request in January.
“It’s a little confusing why it would take such a lengthy amount of time to receive those responses,” Schulenburg said, “But at least six months later we have answers to what we felt was a pretty simple question about their current practices.”
Also at the SCRS board meeting in July, held in San Antonio, TX, Schulenburg said State Farm’s mandated use of an online parts ordering system is generating increased communication and involvement among collision repairers, which, he said, is actually leading to the formation of some new state and regional associations.
“We’re seeing new groups pop up in Utah, Idaho, Alabama and even in Texas,” Schulenburg said, “I spoke with the folks in Idaho the other day, and this was the first time in 11 years that they’ve had an association meeting in the state, so it is wonderful to see.”
He said the Idaho meeting attracted about 50 shops, which is especially significant given the fact that there are fewer than 300 shops in the state.
Schulenburg said just as state associations help shops understand they are not alone, he said SCRS brings that message to those state associations as well. He said he thought of that when he was in Sydney, Australia, this June, as one of several SCRS representatives speaking at a repairer conference in that country.
“It was fascinating to me to travel 10,000 miles and 20-plus hours and have the exact same discussions that we have here in a country half a world away,” Schulenburg said. “Shops there face the same pressures, the same level of friction, the same level of disrespect shown toward our trade.”
He said the shop response there, however, tends to be more direct, including rallies and pickets against insurers viewed as making unacceptable demands. Even shops on an insurer’s direct repair program didn’t hold back in letting that insurer, if represented at the conference, know how they felt.
“They were very upfront, very direct and very pointed with the questions and comments they had for the carriers,” Schulenburg said. “It was very different than I think some of the types of discussions that repairers in the U.S. attempt to have here, such as at CIC, where I think there’s an ongoing sensitivity that if we’re straight-forward and direct and pointed with what we say, the insurers won’t come any more. There’s concern by some people in that room that you need a more sensitive or politically correct approach to the message to ensure that everyone continues to show up. While the rallies and pickets may not suit the U.S., I think the direct nature of the conversation certainly should. Conversation isn’t worth having unless it’s honest, genuine and direct. If people don’t want to hear what you have to say, there’s no sense in having them in the room anyway.”
In one piece of SCRS association business, Schulenburg also announced that board member Stephen Regan had submitted a letter of resignation to the board. Regan, a political and communications consultant who has worked with the Massachusetts Auto Body Association (MABA) and who joined the SCRS board in 2008, said a change in his employment would limit his ability to attend future SCRS board meetings.
Schulenburg said that SCRS Chairman Aaron Clark will appoint a replacement this fall for Regan, whose term was to expire in April of 2015.
“We’ll certainly miss Steve Regans’ contributions,” Schulenburg said. “He’s been a great asset to the board for a great many years.”
John Yoswick, a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, who has been writing about the automotive industry since 1988, is also the editor of the weekly CRASH Network (for a free 4-week trial subscription, visit www.CrashNetwork.com). He can be contacted by email at jyoswick@SpiritOne.com.