By Travis Doyle, AASP-MN Collision Division Director & Aaron Swanson, AASP-MN Secretary/Treasurer
During the AASP-MN Annual Meeting, the board rotations took place. Aaron Swanson of LaMettry’s Collision stepped into the Secretary/Treasurer role and Travis Doyle of Arrowhead Auto Body will continue as the Collision Director. The two of them teamed up to share their unique perspectives on how the industry has changed over the years.
My career has included working at a small independent shop in the ’90s, a number of years at two different ABRA locations, and 13 years at American Family Insurance. I found myself back on the body shop side, working at LaMettry’s as a compliance coordinator, when deteriorating comradery and relationships became the norm on the insurance side. I had one manager at American Family who told us “just be fair.” That manager was gone within two years. Managers were doing increasing numbers of desk audits. Estimators used to be able to negotiate, look at what the bottom line was and move forward with a verbal “repair per shop estimate.” There was comradery between the adjustors and the estimators. There is no comradery function built into today’s world of AI and algorithms. You don’t know who or what is on the other side. We went from severity levels to audited lines, but even with those changes the power dynamic is shifting. Supply and demand put shops in a stronger seat of power. Interestingly, the supply and demand shift is more about the complexity of cars, pandemic parts, labor shortages and slowdowns on the insurance side, with multiple and delayed supplements and increased claims. The supply of shops is the same, but the demand is up in new and changing ways. AI on the insurance side is designed to help address these issues, particularly the staffing issue, but for now the automation is inefficient at best.
We opened our first family shop in the late 90s, so I have been around the shop in one way or another for a long time. More recently, as my own career has taken off, we opened our second location. I have watched as the Duluth area market has shifted and changed over the years. The one thing that really stands out to me is the strength of the independent model. Large conglomerates have come into the market and tried to run shops with a manager heading up operations, but no matter how good those managers have been (and I know they are good because several now work at our shops), the way you oversee a shop is different when you are managing one versus leading it. There is a different level of autonomy and insight into how to make changes to meet long term goals. Being a business manager and a company owner are interconnected but starkly separate at the same time. As cars are getting more complicated, this separation of roles is showing up in other areas too. Technicians are no longer the ones primarily responsible for fixing a vehicle. It takes a well-trained team to properly blueprint a vehicle, look up all the procedures, one time use parts, order parts and communicate with the customer. This has added more production assisting roles in collision facilities, like repair planners and scan/calibration technicians. Electric vehicles and wide-spread high-tech innovations like ADAS are going to keep contributing to the one-person-can’t-do-it-all trend.
Both of us agree the trends in the industry point to more permanent changes. Any longing to reduce conflict by relying on hard-built relationships is wasted if the plan of action doesn’t account for the increasingly complex and fractured environment we operate in. Shops need to focus their energy on communicating and building trust in entirely new ways with everyone involved: team members, insurance adjustors, customers and even the larger community in which they operate.
Want more? Check out the May 2023 issue of AASP-MN News!