SEMA report: Auto repairers cite challenges, need for new processes

Auto repairers hoping to retain a competitive edge need to consider their processes and business models now more than ever, a presentation organized by the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) noted during the 2012 SEMA Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Increasing vehicle complexity, consolidation, shrinking accident rates, and parts procurement changes are among the challenges facing repairers today that call for innovative solutions and both long and short term business strategies.
To help collision repairers understand the importance of applying new thinking to their business problems and provide insight in to how to foster innovation as a core value, the SCRS assembled a headline presentation, titled, “Game Changers – Innovation Forum” as part of SCRS’ Repairer Driven Education (RDE) curriculum.
The interactive session took place Friday morning of the 2012 SEMA Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center and was headlined by a panel of four industry entrepreneurs with established reputations for innovation: Michael Giarrizzo, Jr. of DCR Systems, LLC; Randy Stabler, owner of Pride Auto Body; Gary Wano, Jr., owner of GW and Son Auto Body; and Scott Biggs, CEO of Assured Performance Network.
In an expansive conversation lasting a full two hours, the four visionaries reflected upon their experiences as innovators and the issues each faced when they set out to convert new ideas into action in their own businesses. The program opened with a discussion of the characteristics that make up an in-novative entrepreneur.
“You’ve got to be one of those people who isn’t scared to go out on the skinny branches,” noted Stabler. “You can’t be afraid to fail, because making mistakes is just about the only way you can make the necessary tweaks to a process for which there isn’t a whole lot of precedent.”
“I guess the reason I find myself out ahead of the crowd is competitiveness,” Wano said. “I want to position my business ‘upstream’ so I can take advantage of opportunities before everyone else has a chance. I really enjoy that kind of mindset, which is why I’m always looking for the next thing that can keep me ahead. Frankly, I’m so driven to do it; I can’t see myself ever retiring.”
A high-profile area of constant innovation in the industry is in the production process, which led to a portion of the conversation focused on ‘lean’ business approaches. “You have to remember that lean is the most concise, precise set of steps to make the customer satisfied,” Biggs stated, “but execution is key. It’s a huge capital investment, and it can take its toll interpersonally, too. Thinking has to precede the doing, or you’ll get into trouble. It’s almost as if you have to train the brain of your employees to think a new way. Implementing a non-commission pay model or reducing front office staff in the name of efficiency is never going to be pleasant, but its impact certainly can be mediated.”
Expanding on the theme that the first investment for any innovation is in the thought process, Giarrizzo shared his ideas on how one can effectively condition a business culture to embrace change. “There’s no question that if you get buy-in at the beginning, your proposal will be much better received by your staff,” he said. “I think it is also important that you avoid crafting a process with standards that are so rigid that it can’t be adapted when an employee comes up to you with a good idea. You want standards but you want to encourage innovation, because improvement is a continuous process. Employee ideas are a good source of refinement.”
In addition, the panelists reflected on future industry developments, with Wano speculating that an emphasis on efficiency and the investment in equipment that can be used only on specific vehicles may well lead to specialization. Giarrizzo added that if this is the case, it is almost certainly going to cause a shift in the kind of employee that will be sought-after — someone that is younger, tech-savvy, and used to multi-tasking on a daily basis, which will make them adaptable to the kind of cross-training that will be required of the staff of the future.
“In the end it may well be the flexible thinkers with agile operations — the ones that can turn on a dime — that are best equipped to compete with consolidators and whatever else may be coming down the road,” said Stabler. “It takes courage and more than a little boldness on the part of leadership, but it clears the way for team successes.”
“It gave us all a chance to get exposure to the ideas and experiences of those that have broken new ground, time and again,” stated SCRS Executive Director Aaron Schulenburg. “This creates an important context for those in attendance, who as a result will be better equipped to embrace and instill ongoing innovation as a core function of their business.”
The Repairer Driven Education (RDE) series featured over 21 seminar offerings at the 2012 SEMA Show, many uniquely designed and being offered only in this venue. Each course is individually selected or crafted by SCRS because the content specifically focuses on infor-mation that is relevant to collision repair professionals and appeals to the diverse array of marketplace perspectives within the collision repair industry.
 Through its direct members and 39 affiliate associations, SCRS is comprised of 6,000 collision repair businesses and 58,500 specialized professionals who work with consumers and insurance companies to repair collision-damaged vehicles. Additional information about SCRS including other news releases is available at the SCRS Web site: www.scrs.com. You can e-mail SCRS at the following address: info@scrs.com.

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