Providence Auto Body's owner, John Petrarca, still operates the family-run business he established more than 30 years ago in Rhode Island.
John Petrarca founded Providence Auto Body in Rhode Island in 1982. He has been a member of the Auto Body Association of Rhode Island for 45 years and is the current president. Autobody News asked Petrarca about some of the key legislation the association has been involved with as well as what it is like to work in a family business.
Q: How long have you been part of the Auto Body Association of Rhode Island (ABARI) and what has your primary focus been?
A: I have been a member of the Auto Body Association of Rhode Island for decades. I was originally a member in 1970. I am currently in my fifth term as president. Over the last 16 years, ABARI has worked tirelessly to professionalize our industry, protect consumers, support healthy competition, and advocate for fair and reasonable compensation from insurance companies. In order to accomplish this, we have had to educate our association, consumers and legislators. As a result of our efforts, we have very consumer-friendly laws that are unique to Rhode Island.
Q: Can you tell us about the anti-steering law ABARI helped promote?
A: We successfully lobbied for a very stringent anti-steering law, which requires insurers to print a boldface notice to consumers of their ‘right to choose’ on all insurance id cards and appraisals, and it also must appear on auto body shop signage. We are the only state in the country that requires auto body technicians to be certified. We require every vehicle with more than $2,500 of damage be inspected by a licensed auto damage appraiser. A vehicle 30 months or newer in age must be repaired with OEM parts unless the owner agrees to aftermarket parts in writing. The actual cash value (ACV) of all total loss vehicles must be determined by the NADA or Kelly Blue Book retail value, and no vehicle can be deemed a total if the damage does not exceed 75 percent of the value without the owner’s written consent. Insurance companies must use one manual to appraise a vehicle in its entirety and must consider fair calculation of paint and material charges based upon usage rather than per hour. Finally, Rhode Island has codified a labor rate survey requirement. Every insurer must conduct a labor rate survey and report its results to the Department of Business Regulation.
Q: What is the other significant piece of legislation that ABARI helped pass?
A: Continuing with ABARI’s focus on consumer rights, last year our legislature passed law requiring auto body repair shops be designated as Class A or Class B. Class A shops must be certified by at least one motor vehicle manufacturer in aluminum repair; must have all technicians certified; and must give a lifetime warranty on all repairs. The new law also requires that each insurer conduct a separate and distinct labor rate survey for each classification.
Q: What is ABARI’s current area of focus?
Currently, ABARI’s focus is educating its membership on the new requirements and assisting shops as they gear up for the classification process. I am very excited about this new development because as with all of the legislation ABARI supports, this law protects consumers by giving them the information they need to make a proper and informed decision about their vehicle repair. It also forces shops to face reality… aluminum is here, hi-tech state-of-the-art technology is in the average vehicle on the road, and if you don’t stay current, you’ll be out of business soon.
Q: After your extensive experience with ABARI, what advice can you offer to other associations?
A: Our association has been successful because we have been united as a group, and we have always focused on promoting legislation that protects consumers and gives them information they need to exercise their rights. Information is priceless, and ABARI’s philosophy has always been that an informed consumer is a step in the right direction. Neither industry (insurance and collision repair) is always correct, and associations should put as much focus on how they can improve their own industry, as they do on improving insurance regulation. However, at the end of the day, just like in our own business, it comes down to our customers. Focusing on legislation that helps to ensure a safe and quality repair, and removes some of the obstacles and hassles encountered along the way have been a very successful strategy for ABARI over the years. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Associations need to stick together and be patient.
Q: Can you tell us about your own experience running Providence Auto Body?
A: I started in the auto body repair business 50 years ago. I have been passionate about cars and customer service since then. Vehicles have changed significantly, but customers haven’t. I believe the key to our success is that we treat our customers like family. If I would not allow my children or grandchildren to drive in a vehicle, I won’t let my customers either. I was the first in the state to offer a Lifetime Guarantee on all repairs, and I believe that a business can achieve perfect customer service. As a result, we have thousands of loyal customers who trust our service and appreciate the hassle-free experience we provide. There are 50 dedicated employees, many of whom I have been fortunate enough to employ for more than two decades, who work hard every day to ensure that our production can keep up with demand.
Q: Is your shop certified in aluminum repair?
A: I have always believed in investing in state-of-the-art equipment for the quality of the repair and for the speed of production. A year ago, we became the first auto body repair shop in Rhode Island to be certified in aluminum repair by Ford. We are in the process with other manufacturers who certify in aluminum and look forward to many exciting announcements in 2016.
Q: What has your experience been like working in a family-owned business?
A: We are a family business, which is as rewarding as it is challenging. My wife manages our office staff, and our rental company, and we have been working together for over 30 years. My children grew up working in the business as young adults, and are now both attorneys with law offices next door. They continue on in the company as legal counsel. Taking legal advice from your children was not easy to handle at first, but I have learned to listen, and am grateful I am able to see my family everyday. Of course as with any family business, a unique set of challenges can be present when disagreements arise. However, after working together so many years, you realize how rare it is, and how lucky we are.
Q: Is there anything additional you would like to share about the industry in general?
A: Aside from my role in ABARI, I have been fighting for consumer rights through my business for decades. We have exposed shops that engage in shoddy repair work, and in unacceptable business practices, and 20 years ago I embarked upon an advertising campaign that began the process of educating consumers about their right to choose their repair shop, the right to not use aftermarket parts on their new vehicle, etc … It is a wonderful feeling when you encounter people and they tell you, ‘Of course I know I have the right to choose, I listen to your commercials!’ An industry can be changed for the better one customer at a time, but patience and endurance are the keys to success.