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Thursday, 19 December 2013 20:49

CCRS Members Reach Out to the Next Generation of Repairers

The Connecticut Collision Repair Specialists (CCRS) was founded in April 2008 when Angelo Campanella, a shop owner in Stanford, CT, and Lisa Siembab, a shop manager in Berlin, CT (and now the Executive Director of CCRS) wanted an organization that encouraged all segments of collision repair to start working as one industry. They were not pleased with the state of the industry or the industry in the state.

CCRS’s founders sought to promote working together with insurers and repairers. Representatives from six shops attended the association’s first meeting, and CCRS has grown steadily since then, accomplishing a great deal in a short time.

A silver sponsor member of NABC, CCRS has participated in NABC’s Recycled Rides Projects for two consecutive years, and with the support of their members, they have restored and donated 14 vehicles. CCRS has also donated over $10,000 to Operation Comfort, a project that trains wounded veterans for a career in the automotive collision repair industry.

Perhaps their biggest accomplishment has been finding a potential solution to a growing concern in the industry: people. Technicians are getting older, but too few youths enter the collision repair industry. Around four years ago, Siembab received feedback from local technical high schools that students were not being hired because shop owners preferred experienced employees who were ready to work immediately.

The Board of Directors for CCRS eagerly stepped up to resolve this dilemma. Siembab developed and pitched a job placement program to school administrators in which CCRS members agreed to partner with local high school programs to train their students and prepare them for a shop environment.

According to Siembab, “CCRS committed to hiring six students each year because we need to get new blood into the shops. In addition to donating money to the technical schools’ programs, our members have taken on the role of training and mentoring these kids. Our members are patient and know which level to start them, providing them with experience in a fast-paced shop environment. The program is challenging but positive, and several of our member shops have hired these graduates and worked with them to produce well-trained, effective technicians.”

CCRS also donates funds to local high school collision repair programs, money raised through their annual golf outing. They provide scholarships for I-CAR courses and have even sent students to Skills USA. Several CCRS members serve on high school advisory boards also, and all of these efforts contribute toward creating students who are more employable after graduation.

Of course, shops and current technicians also contend with the challenges of keeping up. With all of the technological advances being made by vehicle manufacturers, acquiring training and modern equipment to effectively repair these vehicles is essential, though costly. The expense is necessary for shops hoping to maintain operations. In fact, Siembab predicts that “shops without a solid financial foundation won’t be around for long. The industry seems to be consolidating, so they won’t be able to keep up.”

CCRS tries to assist members by sponsoring sporadic training days through I-CAR. At these events, six courses are offered, and employees can acquire credit hours towards earning, or maintaining, their I-CAR Gold status. The association will be hosting the next CCRS Training Day in January 2014.

Currently, CCRS consists of 75 members with around 40 of them being repairers who fall into the General level of membership, open only to shop owners. The remaining members are Company Sponsors (such as parts and paint suppliers) and Corporate Sponsors, “companies with an active interest in the success of the collision repair industry,” Siembab explains. The Corporate Sponsors, a category which includes several insurers, want to ensure that CCRS represents their interests in a positive light, but they play more of a behind-the-scenes role within the association, though insurers are always welcome at CCRS meetings and have even hosted a few.

Siembab believes that one of the biggest benefits members receive from joining CCRS is the camaraderie that comes from knowing they are not alone. Other shop owners face the same challenges pertaining to employee retention, profitability and so forth. CCRS hosts a Repairers Roundtable to further this feeling of community between their members, providing an opportunity for repairers to discuss current problems and share ideas. Siembab sees this as a safe haven for requesting help and advice.

“Our members know that running a business in today’s industry is hard; making a profit is hard… but they aren’t alone! The next guy deals with the same challenges. We can work together, support each other and learn from one another,” Siembab explains. This embodies CCRS’s belief that “working together is the most important work we do.”

Because the majority of CCRS members are shop owners, the association struggles with keeping members involved in daily operations. Siembab explains, “it’s a challenge to pull members from work to attend training, to be a consistent presence at meetings, or to visit other facilities and learn from them. They aren’t just owners; they write estimates and are involved in the repair process. We designed our meetings around the daily challenges that repairers face in their shops and provide relevant information pertaining to the individual shops in order to improve attendance because we know our members have to experience value from our meetings if we expect them to attend and to renew their memberships.”

These efforts align with CCRS’s mission statement: “As collision repair professionals, we are dedicated to continual improvement – we are committed to a proactive and positive approach for the collision repair industry within Connecticut—for our customers and colleagues within the collision industry. Our focus is education, sharing of information and continuing unified efforts to make our business successful and beneficial to those individuals we serve every day.”

Siembab stresses, “we don’t want to be the biggest association—we want to be the best! That’s why we only want the best shops involved with CCRS, those that want to grow, that don’t mind being challenged and are willing to develop relationships with all sides of the industry. These things are crucial to success!”

This desire to be the best is the reason CCRS has established by-laws and standards that members are expected to meet. Within 12 months of joining CCRS, member shops must complete the Class A requirements as established by CIC. Currently, all members have met this requirement, and additionally, 40% of the I-CAR Gold facilities in the state of CT belong to CCRS, a fact Siembab sees as “an incredible accomplishment,” yet they strive for more. One of CCRS’s goals is for all of their members to become I-CAR Gold facilities. As always, CCRS focuses on “setting the bar higher,” Siembab boasts.

One way in which they hope to set the bar higher is through a new legislative initiative called the Consumer’s Right to Know Where Their Car is Being Repaired. Many dealerships in CT no longer contain body shops, and when consumers leave their car at the dealership, the collision repair work is being outsourced to a local shop without the consumer’s knowledge. Furthermore, consumers are being led to believe that they must go to the dealership who will fix their car, but they are wrong on both accounts. CCRS believes the dealer should be required to provide full disclosure and to acquire permission from the consumer to send their car elsewhere. They already have obtained agreement from those who are willing to sponsor the bill, so their current focus is on finding someone to write it.

In response to PartsTrader, Siembab says, “CCRS is open to learning and understanding the benefit of an online open format parts procurement tool in the state of Connecticut. As an organization, we are dedicated to reducing cycle time and improving quality repairs for the consumer. Naturally, we consistently seek ideas and concepts that can have a positive impact on the repair process.”

CCRS’s position statement on the Right to Repair says: “there are many opinions regarding the Right to Repair Act that some states have adopted. The CCRS Organization consists of members who consistently invest in training and education, as well as continual upgrading of equipment to reflect the ever-changing technology by the OEMs. This proposed legislation will not impact those shops who currently invest in technology and training. However, for those shops who choose not to invest in OEM certification and training, it would have an impact. Our view is that improvement is a moving target and should not be dictated by legislation, but rather by an ongoing commitment to continuous improvement.”

Connecticut Collision Repair
Specialists
P.O. Box 1042
Rocky Hill, CT 06067
860-778-6967
www.ctcrs.com

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