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Friday, 01 November 2013 00:17

Independent Garage Owners of North Carolina Pushes Ahead

The Independent Garage Owners of North Carolina (IGONC) recently held their annual Automotive Service & Technology Expo the weekend of September 27–29, 2013 at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Convention Center in Cary, NC. According to Executive Director Bob Pulverenti, the event went well with around 200–250 attendees, but most were from the mechanical side of the association as IGONC has had a more difficult time getting collision shops and their vendors involved.

IGONC does their best to put together useful seminars, and this year’s event featured 14 seminars on management and business related topics. Pulverenti believes these types of industry events are important. They present a good networking opportunity for shop owners to meet and work together, plus they provide a casual setting for interacting with vendors and suppliers.

Pulverenti would like to see more collision repairers involved with the exposition but, he says, “it’s like pulling teeth to get the shop owners and technicians to come.” He notes that even the monthly seminars put on at the I-CAR training facility in IGONC’s office are not well attended by local collision shops. In fact, generating interest and participation is one of the biggest challenges his association faces.

Because people can research online and obtain a good portion of their information that way, many no longer see the value of associations, according to Pulverenti, “but we still have a purpose and fulfill a need.” Despite these challenges, IGONC has been able to maintain their membership, though they haven’t seen much growth since the recession began. While they had planned to expand into SC and VA in 2008, economic difficulties inhibited those plans, but they still hope to expand into those neighboring states once the economy improves.

IGONC is North Carolina’s largest member-sponsored, non-profit association servicing the automotive repair, service and collision industry. It was established in 1959 by a group of garage owners with the goal of helping members deal with the challenges facing their industry. Originally named the Independent Garage Owners of America which eventually became ASA affiliated, but over time, they ended their affiliation with ASA and have since become associated with SCRS and AASP. Pulverenti notes, “everything changes over time, and we have to reinvent ourselves constantly, but I still feel like we’re a relatively strong group compared to other associations.”

According to their mission statement, IGONC exists “to help make NC’s independent garage owners the absolute best in the country.” They  undertake the distribution of the most up-to-date information on automotive repair and business practices, protecting members from unfavorable legislative initiatives, and by building productive relations between members, vendors and consumers.

Though IGONC membership peaked in the mid-1980s with around 1000 members, they have managed to maintain around 550 members throughout the economic crisis of the past decade. Pulverenti believes this is due to creating a positive perception of what the association does, such as providing vendor benefits, education, information and training. IGONC also plays a role in legislative matters on behalf of their members, such as when they participated in a rally for Right to Repair several years ago in the nation’s capital.

Short-term, IGONC’s goals are to continue providing information to members and to seek benefits to help put money back in garage owners’ pockets. They also constantly monitor legislation, mostly locally but also on a national scale when necessary. Going forward, they plan to focus more on educational initiatives and to look at industry trends to determine how they can best serve their members and the automotive repair industry as a whole.

Since IGONC recently wrapped up their annual expo, they do not have much on the docket right now. According to Pulverenti, IGONC has a repair shop licensing bill they’d like to introduce when they sense the timing is more favorable.

Pulverenti notes that instituting legislation is one of the largest challenges facing the industry today. “Sometimes, legislators will introduce a bill, thinking they’re doing good for one or two constituents who complained, but they don’t really understand what they’re introducing or how it impacts the industry, whether in a positive or negative way.” He finds it frustrating because, even if IGONC compiles documentation, they are lucky to get an audience with legislators who do not have the time or interest to get involved, and he believes the only solution is for people from this industry to become legislators so they understand the challenges collision repairers face.

Regarding other issues facing the industry, Pulverenti notes that mechanical shops are dealing with pressure from mass merchandisers and car dealerships, while collision repairers face insurers’ pressure in terms of labor rates and steering. Labor rates for collision repair are set unrealistically when looking at the cost of operations and labor, but trying to convince insurers to increase the labor rate seems futile at times.

Similarly, PartsTrader also negatively impacts collision repairers. Pulverenti explains, “it’s a bad thing because obviously bidding on parts reduces the list price and profit margins, just like labor rates that are being controlled by insurers reduces their profit margins.”

Unlike ASA, IGONC favors Right to Repair in some form as they believe the information needed to safely repair a vehicle should be guaranteed accessible to repairers; however, he is convinced that as various states get these bill passed, it will become a non-issue. NC has a bill regarding Right to Repair in mind, but it has not yet been introduced as they are watching for developmens for similar bills in other states.

IGONC
PO Box 90426
Raleigh, NC 27675-8117
800-243-1560, www.igonc.com

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