The convention was held at the Lincoln College of Technology, a perfect venue for the event. Over 65 vendor booths populated the main hall and educational programs were in the classrooms. The Industry Panel Discussions were built into the Technology Exhibition. “The success of this event was a joint effort between the Indiana Auto Body Association and Lincoln College of Technology instructors and staff,” said Passwater. “I can’t thank them enough for its success.”
The show opened with Tony Passwater delivering the theme “The Future Is Not Locked In Stone.” The meeting moved right into a panel discussion “The Future of the Collision Repair Industry,” which featured, Nick Notte, Sterling Auto Body Centers, Jim Keller, 1Collision, Tim Adelman, ABRA and Erick Bickett, FIX Auto. These industry leaders collectively represented MSOs, insurer-owned shops, networks and franchises speaking very candidly about their business models and the future of the industry.
Discussion centered around the current market shift and action steps to meet new business demands. A few points from this discussion: There will be more strategic alliances with insurers and shops; insurers may fund consolidators; cost of training needs to be addressed with the insurers; MSOs offer insurers a predictable outcome such as a valuable single point of contact, call centers, etc; lower costs; marketing is more important than ever; insurers looking for less cost of claim, LAE (Loss Adjustment Expense); help carriers reduce LAE; independent shops use their entrepreneurial spirit; shops need to offer a predictable outcome; shops need to work on their SOPs and be consistent. The question asked by one panelist summed it up, “What are you doing to prepare yourself?”
Ray Gunder, of Gunder’s Auto Center, Lakeland, FL, Larry Cernosek, Deer Park Paint and Body, Pasadena, TX, Greg Coccaro, North State Custom, Bedford Hills, NY, and Wade Ebert, American Auto Body, Springfield, IL, filled the next panel discussion, “Taking Back Control of Your Business.”
Aaron Schulenburg, Executive Director of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists, introduced the panelists and asked them to talk about how they got started in the business and how things have changed. The entrepreneurial spirit was truly represented on this panel.
Greg Coccaro recounted how he and his brother borrowed $500 and started fixing cars, primarily foreign cars. They built a successful state-of-the-art collision center based on their commitment to their customer and exceptional work. This shop is now a Mercedes-Benz Certified Collision Repair Center serving New York’s prosperous Westchester County.
Ray Gunder described his love for the business and in the late 1960’s started his own shop, which is now Gunder’s Auto Center, a large and successful collision center. Ray’s wife, Deannie, and two adult children, Travis and Jodi, work with him to carry on the 40-year Gunder tradition.
Wade Ebert’s Dad had a particular love for Corvettes. He started fixing them but one day he noticed, “All my friends grew up and are driving station wagons.” That was the beginning of American Auto Body. Ebert said “I decided to take a shot and work with my old man.” He is now the second generation at American.
Larry Cernosek from Pasadena, TX, graduated from college with a degree in marketing and communication. However, an injury halted his career. When he received a $3,000 settlement, Cernosek bought a $2,000 pickup and started towing cars. That was in 1975. He now owns Deer Park Paint and Body and Cernosek Wrecker.
The speakers on this panel were all independent shop owners and brought a different message to the audience, representing the backbone of the independent collision repairer. A few key points from this discussion: Understand who you are and what you want to do; You have to rely on yourself to make changes in your business; Know your own labor rate; Do not rely on the insurance estimate—it is not the blueprint of repair; Meet your legislators; Meet your Insurance Commissioner; Charge for procedures; If you don’t ask you don’t get; You’re going to have trouble swallowing a warranty when you don’t get paid for the procedure.
Gunder has taken an aggressive legal approach in Florida to get compensated for the work his shop performs. Greg Coccaro’s lawsuit with Progressive ended this year in Greg’s favor. The Texas Insurance Commissioner personally visited Larry Cernosek’s shop because he wanted to meet the man who sent in so many complaints to his office. American Auto Body was awarded an out-of-court settlement by State Farm in 1999.
At the end of this discussion, Schulenburg asked them one last question, “Are you more successful today?” Each man said ‘yes’ but all said it is not any easier, although personally they are satisfied with what they do. Ebert’s reply encapsulated the speaker’s sentiments: “There is great satisfaction in knowing wholeheartedly that you work for the people that put the keys in the ignition.”
In addition to these two informative panel discussions, this convention offered technical training classes by I-CAR, Car-O-Liner, Chief, Matrix and AllData. Rick Leos from Toyota gave a class introducing Toyota’s ground breaking Predictive Estimating System. Mike Anderson spoke on “Outsell Upsell and Close.” Rich Evans, well-known TV star of Car Warriors and other shows, packed the house with his ‘Vehicle Custom Layout and Design’ demonstration which was of particular interest to the younger collision students attending.
George Avery, Claims Consultant with State Farm Insurance, and Dale Sailer, VP Business Development with PartsTrader, gave an update of that pilot program. Aaron Schulenburg commented, “One of the problems the industry is having may be because this is a mandatory program.” State Farm does require Select Service shops to use PartsTrader. The program is not yet system wide. The pilot program is still developing in five different areas of the country.
Over 600 people attended the show. The Indiana Auto Body Association hosted an Opening Party Friday evening. The juxtaposition of the two powerful industry panels reflects the challenges and opportunities the collision repair industry faces. Panelist Jim Keller of 1Collision shared his thoughts: “In spite of the ice storm that hit Indy the night before, the show traffic was solid and the diverse industry-related panel discussions, seminars, and presentations were very enlightening.”