But Hanks is getting LaCIA up and running faster than she thought imaginable. This past summer, Hanks and an industry partner discussed the concept and decided to gauge interest, though they were uncertain how the project would be received. By the time they held their first meeting in Baton Rouge, LA, hundreds of collision repairers, vendors and dealers responded to their cry to “make this industry better for all those serving it and especially for our customers”, the association’s main goal, according to Hanks.
At that meeting, Hanks planned to meet with their attorney, an appointment that took place just a week later on December 12 and during which they determined the Board of Directors and worked on the legalities of establishing the association. Though everything isn’t “officially official yet, we are very close,” Hanks shares. Since there are no members yet to elect the board (as will be done in the future), Hanks played a large role in choosing this first Board of Directors. “We brought together several individuals from around the state who, I felt after talking with them, would be suited to be on this initial board.”
At this meeting Hanks was also named Executive Director of LaCIA and she will remain active in everything regarding the association. Additionally, she notes that the meeting was “Excellent! I think we have an awesome group of individuals who will be serving as our first board, and they are as excited about it as I am.”
Another important stride taken at this meeting was the determination of the association’s name. Prior to their first meeting on December 3, the association was tentatively titled the Southeast Louisiana Collision Repair Association, but they quickly dropped the first portion of the name because they have received strong support from shops statewide. The most recent revision of their name was made on the 12th because Hanks and the newly formed board “felt that [Louisiana Collision Industry Association] included more of those who work in this industry.”
Including more of the industry is important to Hanks because “I think we are dealing with a nationwide industry crisis, and what better way is there than coming together as a group to overcome these obstacles?” Furthermore, in an email distributed to those who have expressed interest in the association, Hanks noted, “I feel the sense of urgency we all have, and something has to change. Whether we like it or not, we have a nationwide industry crisis going on. Other states are finding their strengths in numbers and proactively pursuing their common interests together. I do believe that by doing nothing, it only ensures we lose… We all have so much to learn from each other, and we are more powerful together.”
Interest in LaCIA has been seen not only by industry professionals in LA. Other local associations have also been very supportive of this endeavor. John Mosley and Steve Plier, presidents of the Mississippi Collision Repair Association (MSCRA) and the Alabama Automotive Repair Industry Society of Excellence (ALARISE) respectively, attended the meeting on December 3 to show their support and offer guidance. Other speakers included Attorney John Eaves Jr. and industry consultant Ron Perretta. Hanks is grateful for the support, explaining “we all want this industry to be the best it can be so we can all have a better livelihood.” Hanks is hoping that the association will be in place in time for the multi-association meeting on April 11–12 in Biloxi, MS, where Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Florida and Georgia will be represented.
Local suppliers and jobbers have also been extremely supportive of the initiatives relating to the new association, and though LaCIA will be run solely by shop owners and managers, the suppliers are providing monetary support and helping spread the word as things get off the ground. According to Hanks, “when we are all doing better, they know they will naturally benefit from it, and they [want] to help make it better for everyone. They want all of us to succeed. We couldn’t have asked for a better partner than that.”
Hanks says that Louisiana Automotive Dealers Association (LADA) president Bob Israel has emailed her to find out more information in order to get dealerships with collision shops involved. LADA was represented at the meeting.
“We’re hoping that, once we get the dealers and vendors backing us, we can really take a stand against State Farm and anything else,” said Hanks. “Education will be another top priority. The Mississippi shops said once shops started talking from state line to state line, it cut back on a lot of the grief insurance companies can give us when they’re standing here saying, ‘We won’t pay for that,’ or, ‘No other shop charges for that.’”
The importance of collaboration is emphasized in LaCIA’s mission, as displayed on their Facebook page, which is to “serve in the best interests of the collision repair industry through education, support, leadership and business connections in our trade. We hope to achieve the open sharing and exchanging of ideas which will help make this field better for everyone who serves it. From the porter to office assistants to shop owners and dealers, we are here to provide everyone a voice and hope for the future of our livelihood.”
Though the association’s agenda won’t be established until the next meeting in January, Hanks has a lot of goals and aspirations for LaCIA; “we want to know not only how to make our customers happy and feel in control of their decisions, but we want to know how to make this industry, as a whole, happy. We have already talked about training… we have dealers who are already on board, and their associations have made waves in the legislation, and we hope to follow in their footsteps, so legislation is a very important part of what we need to do. There’s so much we can accomplish with this association; it should be an exciting time for all involved, and I will work tirelessly to make sure every member is heard.”
Hanks plans to support the Right to Choose because “we believe it is an excellent business practice to let the consumer decide where to get their vehicle repaired. If the business is shady, they won’t last very long because the customer base will leave, but if we have entities steering customers to those shady operations, they won’t go away and will only cause destruction in our way of life. We, above all, have our customers’ best interests in mind as we go forward with this. They have a right to feel safe after they have their investment (automobile) fixed by a company they trust.”
For more information about LaCIA and their progress or to join, contact Executive Director Alysia Hanks at: alysia@lakewaycollision. com.