ACRA began in 1986, "When a group of independent shop owners were looking for a better way to get information on the latest technological changes and the equipment necessary to repair the unibody cars coming out," Golden recalls. “They also wanted to work together to improve the image of the collision repair industry and to bring more professionalism to their image.”
Since its inception, ACRA has progressed quite well. "We have experienced times of tremendous growth and other times where interest has faded, but we have always remained focused on education for our shop owners and vendors,” Golden elaborates.
The ACRA mission is, "To provide education for shop owners and managers to help them run more efficient and profitable businesses." ACRA puts a lot of emphasis and concentration on the importance of continuing education within the industry, so they ensure that each meeting includes an educational segment presented by local vendors or faculty at the college. Their June 2014 meeting will feature an I-CAR class as part of their efforts to provide valuable education to ACRA members.
ACRA services the entire state of Arkansas, but Scott notes that it's challenging to attract shop owners and managers from all over the state because Arkansas so large. To partially alleviate this dilemma, ACRA attempts to hold at least one meeting each year in a different part of the state.
Currently, ACRA consists of approximately 31 members who attend monthly meetings to gain insight on how to improve their businesses in an ever-changing market. In addition to their continual goal of providing education, ACRA also strives to grow the organization with engaged and enthusiastic members.
Like most collision repair industry associations, ACRA contends with the struggle of attracting new members to rejuvenate and strengthen their organization. Golden explains, "Revenue is a challenge. We receive annual dues [from members] and donations from vendors, but we need to grow our base. We have transitioned from mailing our monthly newsletter to emailing our bulletins to manage our costs better.”
ACRA holds member meetings on the second Tuesday of every month (except December) in the Body Shop Department at Pulaski Technical College. Scott and Golden are grateful for their great relationship with the college, and ACRA reciprocates by offering support to students at the facility, who are invited to attend their educational meetings. This system also allows the shop owners and managers in ACRA to get acquainted with the students who will become future employees.
Additionally, ACRA collaborated with North Point Nissan, who donated approximately $20,000 in damaged new parts over the past few years, allowing Pulaski Tech students an opportunity to get more hands-on experience. In turn, this also benefits ACRA members as it ensures that these future technicians acquire the necessary skills and experience to become effective employees.
Because of their dedication to future technicians, ACRA tries to support their local SkillsUSA competitions. Scott takes pride that one of their students from Pulaski Tech placed seventh in refinishing at the SkillsUSA Nationals several years ago.
In recent years, members of ACRA have participated in Recycled Rides, a charitable program that works to refurbish vehicles that are donated to families in need. Jody Gatchell, who heads their community-focused committee, also contributed his services to paint a fire truck pink for the city of Conway, AR, to help generate breast cancer awareness.
When questioned about the biggest challenges impacting the industry today, Golden noted, "Changes in technology and the advanced electronics on vehicles will continue to present shops with challenges. Staying involved with associations like ACRA will help shops see what equipment and training is necessary to correctly fix the cars of today. Historically, advancements in technology—from unibody cars to air bags to high-strength steels to drive-by-wire suspension—have always been the core challenges for shops that want to provide high-quality, safe repairs to their customers.”
Scott believes that recent changes in some insurers' DRP requirements also pose a challenge for collision repair facilities. In particular, he began monitoring PartsTrader about five years ago when it became effective in New Zealand and continues to keep an eye on the issues it presents. The program has proven itself to be yet another challenge to contend with, and because it was recently implemented in Arkansas, ACRA is exploring various options for dealing with PartsTrader.
To Golden, "PartsTrader is another change in our industry. Moving forward, there will be more vendors in the future that work to develop software to compete with PartsTrader and to look at new ways to control parts. In the past, we have seen manufacturers try to get into the recycled business and many other attempts at change to the parts side of the business. Some have helped the industry, and some have fallen by the wayside. The parts business is evolving as it always has, and each business will have to decide for itself what fits in with its business model and what does not.”
Although rarely involved with legislation directly, ACRA closely monitors the bills introduced at the Arkansas General Assembly every other year. Scott clarifies, "Few of these bills impact our industry, though some affect dealerships. Our attorney explores these laws and their effects on our members when necessary, and those meetings are usually pretty well-attended. We also look at some national legislation to make sure our members are kept informed. For example, when 6H was instituted, we convinced the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality to hold classes to educate our members on the new requirements."
ACRA has not taken an official stance on the Parts Act, but Golden notes, "In most conversations where parts are discussed, we talk about the need for high-uality parts that perform the way the vehicle was designed to perform. Today’s cars are very complex, and the systems within the car are designed to work together to ensure safety. Parts used in the repair process must ensure those systems continue to work together as designed.”