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Thursday, 31 October 2013 21:31

Rhode Island’s Don Cushing Wears Multiple Hats in Parts Wholesale and Auto Body Associations

World wide, collision repair is a complex industry with many factors weighing heavily on its practice and progress, and the environment in New England is no different. There are constant legal battles, training issues and new technology to contend with, making it difficult for many people to keep up with and stay ahead of all these changes. The easiest way for many to keep up with current trends and information is supporting industry associations with your  involvement on a local and national level.

Don Cushing of Rhode Island is the Wholesale Manager at Bald Hill Dodge Chrysler and Jeep. With nearly 40 years of experience in and around the collision repair industry, Cushing is a valuable resource for information and trends locally and nationwide. Cushing exemplifies this involvement with several important associations: the Mopar Masters Guild (MMG), the Auto Body Association of Connecticut (ABAC), and the Alliance of Automotive Service Providers of Massachusetts (AASP/MA).

“I take my career with Bald Hill DCJ and my involvement with the Mopar Masters Guild, ABAC News and AASP/MA very seriously, and I’m determined to make a difference! I use all of these avenues to network with customers and build relationships because without our customers we are nothing.”

After graduating ITT Technical Institute in 1974, Cushing began his career as a parts counterperson at a small dealership in Providence RI, and after a few months, he was recruited by a large dealership, under the direction of Ernie Wennerstrom, his current Parts Director at Bald Hill. After a few years working for various smaller dealerships during which he “yearned to get back to the wholesale side of the business,” Cushing was hired as the Wholesale Representative at a Chrysler dealership where he was employed for 16 years.

A change came in 1997 when Wennerstrom hired Cushing as Bald Hill’s Wholesale Manager and made him responsible for supplying over 1100 customers for their mechanical and collision departments. Cushing notes, “I have several parts representatives that work alongside me in my endeavors to gain customer base and formulate new and exciting ideas to increase the company revenue.”

Cushing became involved with MMG in 1998 when Wennerstrom introduced him to the Executive Board who were interested in having Cushing create their newsletter. Cushing’s contributions yielded success.

He says, “What started out as a simple updated pamphlet to members has now turned into a multi-page magazine featuring members’ stories, vendor profiles, vendor ads and industry news! The plus side of working for the Mopar Masters Guild is that I get to listen and hear what the ‘Best of the Best’ have to offer at guild events.”

The same year, Cushing began expanding Bald Hill’s customer territory into CT, and as Bald Hill acquired more customers in their neighboring state, Cushing met many collision repair shop owners who belonged to ABAC. Over time, he told them about his success with MMG’s newsletter, and in 2001, he helped them launch ABAC News, the official newsletter for ABAC. The newsletter, combined with the financial support of its advertisers, allowed ABAC to continue growing their educational and legislative programs.

Through his roles with Bald Hill, MMG and ABAC, Cushing also became involved with AASP-MA, and in November 2012, he was appointed as their Statewide Association Division Director. His duties are to serve the Board of Directors by using his experience as a vendor to contribute input on the many concerns and issues facing the industry.

Currently, ABAC’s most important topic is the Hartford Lawsuit. In regards to this endeavor, Cushing notes, “This class action lawsuit will certainly be a game changer in the way that insurance companies conduct themselves in the future, both on the local (Connecticut) level, northeast and nationwide.

Increasing membership, the education of ABAC members and shop owners and legislation are some of the ongoing issues that the ABAC is focusing on. These endeavors will prove extremely valuable as they move forward.” He also explains that a few of the ways that ABAC works toward achieving their goals is through seminars, OEM presentations, guest speakers at events and advertising.

Another important concern in CT right now is their Anti-Steering Bill, and Cushing has “always supported the fact that everyone has a right to choose the repairer of their choice.  There should be no influence from the insurance company on where a customer brings their vehicle.”

One of MMG’s biggest events is their annual meeting at NADA, and their next meeting is scheduled for January 2014 in New Orleans, LA. According to Cushing, “This annual meeting draws the best Mopar parts managers (and the top 100) in the country. The motto for the MMG is ‘the exchange of information by like-size dealers in a non-competitive environment.’ This meeting combined with several Performance Group meetings throughout the year keeps members apprised of new and innovative ideas that are brought forth from these gatherings.”

Recently, Cushing was elected as President of the Southern New England Mopar Service and Parts Master’s Guild. The group meets once a month, and their variety of guest speakers tends to draw a decent crowd. Cushing hopes that this role will also allow him to aid with necessary industry improvements; “I plan on using this position to help to further educate attendees in their daily operations and hopefully share some ideas and best practices (as we do with the Mopar Masters Guild) with each other.”

In regards to issues impacting the collision repair industry as a whole, Cushing notes, “As we move forward in the automotive industry, there are challenges that we all face. The Right to Repair Act is one. Working for a dealership and with our large customer base, we have always shared and assisted with information that our customers (collision and mechanical shops) need. I don’t believe that we should just sell parts to our accounts and not help them when they are in need. This is also one of the main reasons why I don’t support the Parts Act. We as a dealer of OEM parts have the resources to give our wholesale customers information on repairing their vehicles in the best and safest way possible according to our manufacturer specifications.”

Though PartsTrader has not yet impacted the New England area, Cushing believes that these type of insurer-mandated parts programs are the biggest challenge facing the industry, and he fears that it will soon spread to impact his company’s market area. “I can see alienation of customers, delayed deliveries, reduced profits and most of all, dissatisfied consumers. The only winners in this game are State Farm and PartsTrader.”

What can be done about PartsTrader, insurer steering, and other issues plaguing the industry?

Cushing advises, “I hope that all parties involved (mainly collision shop owners) work towards getting educated and ‘doing their homework’ before embracing this product. Let your thoughts be known. Be vocal. Get involved!”

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