(Left to right) Robert McKenzie, executive director of RDA; event co-organizers Georgia Thorson and Steve Plier; and Moose Simmons, Overnight Parts Alliance.
National paint companies, equipment and tool manufacturers, major vehicle OEMs and industry experts all came together during the Southern Automotive Repair Conference (SARC) in April.
Held at the IP Resort Casino & Spa in Biloxi, Mississippi, the two-day event was hosted by industry associations in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.
Georgia Thorson, the co-organizer of the event, said the goal of the conference is to provide an annual industry forum for collision repair professionals in the Southeast region of the United States. “We want to offer an opportunity for attendees to visit exhibits and receive important industry updates and information that they might not otherwise have,” said Thorson, who is also part of Refinish Distributors Alliance (RDA), one of the exhibitor sponsors. “It is a great way to stay abreast of new vehicle technologies and anything that promotes consumer safety and help shops succeed in the marketplace.”
It was nearly five years ago that Steve Plier, also a co-organizer of the event, planned the first SARC conference in Biloxi, where it has been held since. This year, there were approximately 450 attendees including those who managed a booth. In addition to national representation from more than 40 exhibitors, there were body shops, educators and governmental officials who visited from neighboring states as well as the Florida Panhandle and Texas.
As master of ceremonies, Robert McKenzie, the executive director of RDA, helped distribute prizes throughout the event with the help of Mike Anderson, the conference facilitator, and Mike Jones, a keynote speaker. The gifts, which included a welder, large screen television, a fully-stocked paint cabinet and a variety of gift cards, were donated by the host associations and exhibitors.
Plier said they have received positive feedback from both exhibitors and attendees that SARC is exceptional. He said the organizers and sponsors are always interested to hear what everyone has to say so they can make it better every year.
“Personally, I am disappointed that the attendance of body shops in the region is lower than what it should be for the type of event that we are putting on,” said Plier, owner of Consumer Auto Repair Excellence. “John Mosley, owner of Clinton Body Shop in Mississippi, told us that SARC is like bringing a piece of SEMA from Las Vegas to Biloxi, and that shops who don’t participate are really missing something. We are all concerned that it doesn’t reflect well on the industry when collision repair facilities don’t take advantage of local opportunities to gain valuable information and training that emphasizes providing proper repairs for consumers. We sincerely hope that through new marketing strategies we will get a larger audience of shops next year.”
In addition to panel discussions by OEMs and industry experts, there were a variety of presentations held throughout the event. For shop owners and employees who could not attend, Autobody News compiled a list of 10 takeaways to help businesses succeed.
1) “Positioning Yourself in the Collision Repair Industry” by Mike Anderson
In Mike Anderson’s presentation, "Positioning Yourself in the Collision Repair Industry," he spoke to attendees about what it takes to be successful. “Whether you are a collision repair center or a jobber supporting your customers, it is critical to understand how to best position yourself to succeed,” said Anderson, the owner of Collision Advice and the conference facilitator. “In order to do this, collision repairers need to focus on the business analysis metaphor of the three-legged stool: sales and marketing; production; and accounting, finance and human resources.”
Anderson explained how to attract and increase sales in today’s competitive environment. He also addressed the role that OEMs will play as well as what KPIs the OEMs and insurers monitor. The session covered the importance of having an online presence and reviews in marketing and selling your business, new estimating tools to help capture more non-included operations, and the most profitable sales mix.
2) “Better Understanding Yourself to Better Understand Others” by Mike Jones
Keynote speaker Mike Jones talked to SARC attendees about the importance of understanding yourself to better understand others. The human behavior expert and president of Discover Leadership Training motivates high levels of leadership, utilizing tools to develop untapped potential. He served six years in the U.S. Coast Guard, is an accomplished TV host and radio personality, flew a helicopter for the Houston police, and was a four-time recipient of the Houston Police Officer of the Year. The dynamic and inspiring presenter shared information with those in attendance on how to best create and manage teams to become more successful and profitable in business.
“When you understand yourself better, you become aware that your truth is not ‘the truth,” said Jones. “You become aware that others are living according to their own truths. The understanding and awareness of this will help you to see there are more ways of doing something than the way you see it.”
Jones said that people often feel that the way they get things done is by using common sense. “You are correct that it is your common sense,” said Jones. “Here is a question to ask yourself: ‘If your common sense is SO common, why is it SO rare?’ ” He said by meeting others where they are, they will become more effective in executing on the task you are asking them to do. “They will never be able to do their best if you require them to do it the way you best get it done. Meeting them where they are allows you to speed up the transaction and have fewer do overs.”
3) “The Mitchell Database: Powered by OEM Information, Keeping up with Changing Technology” by Jerry Gastineau
Jerry Gastineau, database development manager from Mitchell International, talked about “The Mitchell Database: Powered by OEM Information, Keeping up with Changing Technology.” He spoke to attendees about the Mitchell Collision Estimating Database, which leverages multiple types of OEM information. His discussion included information about what is involved with the changing technology of collision repairs, including aluminum, advanced high-strength steels, driver assistance systems, template-based estimating, and OEM recommendations.
“If you think that it is important to utilize OEM information when creating a collision damage appraisal, you are right,” said Gastineau. “If you are using the Mitchell database to create damage appraisals, you are already leveraging a significant amount of OEM information!” He said Mitchell recognizes the importance of OEM information in the collision repair process and invests considerable time, effort and energy into developing and maintaining positive relationships with OEMs to be able to develop and support the most accurate, OEM-based collision repair information available.
4) “GM—Supplemental Restraints/ Service & Repair” by Mike Joachim
Mike Joachim, field manager aftermarket from GM, shared information about “Supplemental Restraints / Service & Repair.” Joachim’s presentation covered the operation, inspection and servicing of General Motors supplemental restraint systems. Topics included inspection and replacement of system components, SDM programming, and GM wire repair strategy. Joachim stressed the importance of proper repair and system integrity, and of following GM’s published repair procedures using factory-recommended tooling and techniques. Attendees were also provided with additional online resources for collision repair facilities, their technicians and customer-facing staff.
“For safety’s sake, don’t rely 100 percent on your memory, or on your experience!” said Joachim. “Because vehicles, system design, and repair techniques change constantly, consult manufacturers’ service and repair information on every repair, even if you feel like you already know how to fix the vehicle.”
In summary, Joachim shared his own version of a thought from “Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor (1874)”: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it is what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
5) “The Secrets of America’s Greatest Body Shops” by Dave Luehr
Dave Luehr shared the “Six Secrets” that are currently being used by the best body shops to rise to higher levels of success than their competition. Luehr, the owner of Elite Body Shop Solutions and author of “The Secrets of America's Greatest Body Shops,” explained why NOW is the greatest time to be in the collision repair business for those with the right mind-set. He spoke to attendees about creating a winning mind-set, lessening the dependency on DRPs and building a sustainable business model to overcome competition. He also shared information about dealing with the challenges of family-operated businesses, and how to attract and keep customers for life.
“Shops everywhere really do have a lot of opportunity hidden within the disguise of troubled times and shop leaders who are able to stop blaming their problems on everybody else and take full accountability for their success or failure in life can absolutely achieve anything they set their minds to,” said Luehr. “It is not always a message that everyone wants to hear, but it is the message that needs to be heard!”
6) “Competing with Consolidation” by Brad Mewes
Brad Mewes, the owner of Supplement, talked about “Competing with Consolidation.” Mewes, a keynote speaker who was brought up in a family collision repair business, now assists shops as a financial industry expert. During his presentation, Mewes talked about the current state of the industry, the future of collision repair, the role of Wall Street financiers, other industries that have consolidated, and strategies that smaller operators can use to compete in this challenging environment.
“Understanding what the large collision repair chains are doing and how they operate gives you an advantage when competing as a smaller organization,” said Mewes. “My job is to help business owners grow their business and compete with businesses that literally have billions of dollars behind them. It’s a bit of business jujitsu—understanding what your competition does well, but also what you may do better than them with less effort.”
7) “Safety Shield Technologies (Nissan)” by David Robinette
David Robinette, the national field support manager at I-CAR, held a special class on “Safety Shield Technologies (Nissan).” Robinette focused on understanding the elements that make up safety shield technologies and shared information about the unique characteristics of the different collision prevention systems. Those who attended also developed a familiarity with the supplemental restraint systems including inspection and part replacement and additional restraint systems.
During the class, Robinette discussed how to diagnose if a vehicle is damaged and confirm that it is repaired properly and the systems are reinitialized.
The class was originally designed and built as an online course through I-CAR. “For this particular meeting, we were asked to take the online course and convert it into a live format for SARC,” said Robinette. “In its live format, there was an opportunity to discuss the different technologies and some of the things that affect their operation,” said Robinette. Two representatives were also present from Nissan to answer questions and give a futuristic view.
8) “Building the Business Case” by Jake Rodenroth
In his seminar “Building the Business Case,” Jake Rodenroth from asTech talked about the advanced technology now available on today’s vehicles and how it impacts collision repair processes. Rodenroth explained how shops can better understand and incorporate OEM service information into their SOPs, and the best practices shops should take to perform necessary scans and get paid for them. He also reviewed how to access available resources from OEMs and outside vendors in regards to proper documentation as well as the direction recommended to take for safe and proper repairs.
“Incorporating OEM service information into collision repair strategies is mission critical. Even basic fundamental operations such as removing a headlight, windshield or disconnecting a battery must be thoroughly researched,” said Rodenroth. “The days of assuming our technicians and estimators ‘know’ how to do this are over and overlooking the procedures often leads to increased cycle time, poor CSI and repair comebacks.” He said shops need to define what process works for them and hold team members to it to ensure the scans are done properly and have been fully documented.
9) “Supercharge Your Profits” by Jim Saeli
Conference attendees learned how to “supercharge” their profits from Jim Saeli’s presentation. Saeli, senior consultant and trainer from Management Success, focused on the importance of having the right employees on your team and how this can make a difference in a shop’s efficiency and bottom line. He talked about how your employees can make or break your shop as well as what it is that sets you apart from the competition. During the presentation, he also shared how to hire a dream team, how to determine which current employees are helping you grow, or slowing you down, and how to use your shop’s statistics as a tool to determine who is on your team.
“The key to creating a highly successful and profitable shop is your people. They are the backbone to any organization,” said Saeli. “The shops that focus on their people by creating a great work environment that is structured will attract the right type of person and allow you to build a true team.”
10) “DryTronic Technology & FixLine Repairs” by Osvaldo Bergaglio and Chad Seelye
Symach hosted an informational session to discuss solutions for forward-thinking owner/operators to grow their repair capacity in today’s collision repair industry. Osvaldo Bergaglio and Chad Seelye from Symach explained the Symach DryTronic technology and the exothermic reaction that cures paint in seconds, along with the Symach Application Process (SAP). “This process reduces application time for body filler, primer, waterborne base and clear coats by 50 – 60 percent,” said Bergaglio. Additionally, they talked about their unique FixLine, conveyor repair process that Bergaglio said yields touch times of only .5 day for one panel, one day for two to three panels and three days for four plus panel repairs. Symach then walked through the methodology they use to develop new body shops around the world.
Assured Performance also hosted a private session titled “20/20 Vision,” where attendees were taught how to maximize the benefits of being an OEM Certified Collision Care Provider. They learned what OEMs are currently doing to educate consumers on the importance of choosing a certified collision care provider. Those who attended were also given business improvement tools and marketing strategies that would be helpful in their shops.