by Chasidy Rae Sisk
It’s no secret to collision repair professionals that blending a panel necessitates more time, skill and even material than a simple refinish job; however, for decades, shops have been forced to accept half the labor hours on a blend, based on formulas utilized by the major information providers (IPs).
Although Audatex, Mitchell and CCC each define refinish times differently, all three IPs utilize a uniform blending formula of 50 percent of refinish time on two-stage refinish, with CCC and Mitchell allowing 70 percent of refinish time to blend three-stage colors – formulas which have finally been demonstrated to be a gross underestimation of what is actually required, thanks to the recent blend study conducted by the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) in collaboration with AkzoNobel, Axalta, BASF, PPG and Sherwin-Williams.
“For decades, we’ve asked the IPs to address this issue, and they didn’t. So, rather than continue to ask, we performed the study ourselves, in the company of all five major North American coatings providers and an independent audit firm to validate the process, the data collection and the reported results,” explained SCRS Executive Director Aaron Schulenburg. “Rather than compare each company’s operational time, we agreed to express it in percentages. We compared the process of applying color to a full panel versus blending to accommodate a color match. And when we published our white paper and presented our findings at the Collision Industry Conference in November, no one was surprised by the results.” (Read the recap of the unveiling of the study results at grecopublishing.com/hd1222cic2022).
Demonstrating the consistency of the overall average which reflected a variance of less than six percent between all five participating companies, he shared the overall average when looking at all colors, companies and variations was “31.59 percent greater than the full refinish value. That’s certainly different than 50 percent less than.”
But what do shops think about the blend study? A few collision professionals from the Commonwealth shared their thoughts.
“The SCRS blend study is simply confirming something that collision repairers have always known: Blending takes more skill and more time to perform seamless blends than full refinishes on panels,” according to AASP/MA Vice President Matt Ciaschini (Full Tilt Auto Body & Collision; West Hatfield). “It also requires additional products not used in full refinish which take time to apply.”
AASP/MA Affiliate Director McColl Rhodes (Nesco Sales, Inc.; Bondsville) concurred. “I doubt anyone is surprised by the results. If you have performed a blend, you know that it takes skill. At our shop, we have decided to stop writing for blends and strictly write for refinish times only because of this exact reason.”
AASP/MA Collision Chairman Dan Wenzel (Wenzel’s Auto Body; Pocasset) also agreed with the study’s finding, pointing out that a study was conducted years ago on partial refinish which proved that less than 20 percent of basecoat time was color application. “Realizing that the bulk of that time is cleaning and prepping the panel opened a lot of people’s eyes. In fact, I don’t believe wetbeds were even a consideration when these studies were performed 30-plus years ago. Paint time is also how our materials are calculated, so we’re also getting shorted that way too. It’s also important to recognize that prepping and blending a panel requires a higher skill level, so shops are relying on their experienced personnel for these tasks to avoid even bigger problems. And we have to pay those higher skilled employees accordingly, so it makes even less sense to be collecting less for these jobs.The SCRS study addresses a lot of really important and salient points, making it hard for anyone to deny that blending takes more time, skill and product.”
Since the release of the blend study white paper, SCRS has engaged in positive dialogue with all three IPs, each working through their own processes internally, with at least one who has agreed to conduct their own research and respond by the end of Q1. “Some of this is discussion, and in other cases, it’s commitment to research and updates. We provided meaningful data that was conducted impartially and which provides enough information to get them to re-evaluate this 50 percent ratio that does not reflect what shops actually experience,” Schulenburg indicated. “It is our understanding that each IP has received a tremendous amount of feedback from the industry and their collision shop end-users, as a result of the research we’ve presented in the blend study.
“CCC has committed that based on the recent database inquiries regarding MOTOR’s guidelines for blending adjacent panels, and in accordance with MOTOR’s standard operating procedures, MOTOR will conduct observational studies of the blend process,” he added. “MOTOR will provide an update at the end of the first quarter of 2023. This is a great example of an action that we had previously requested prior to the study, that is now taking place because of the study. It’s our hope that the feedback, the research we’ve produced and a closer look at complexity of colors and advancements in color systems will lead anyone who earnestly researches this topic to the same conclusion that we came to.”
Massachusetts shops are convinced that the IPs need to reevaluate their formulas but have divided feelings on whether they actually will.
“Unless they perform their own study to counter this one, I think the IPs have to update their formulas,” Wenzel proposed. “The SCRS study is very thorough and just reinforced what shops already knew. With the calculation being so obviously off the mark, they have to make a change…or give us a really good reason to explain why they won’t. SCRS conducted a really valuable study; I just hope it opens some eyes and that the IPs recognize it for what it is.”
“It is up to shop owners, technicians and estimators to hold the software companies accountable minimally to do their own studies,” Ciaschini insisted. “It seems like they are relying on decades-old data to derive these modern paint times, and we cannot allow it to continue. The collision industry is half of their customer base, so we must hold them accountable if we have any hope of convincing them to change the databases.”
But can shops use the study’s results to negotiate with insurers?
“It should be a negotiating point with the insurance companies,” Rhodes hedged. “But I really don’t see any IP updating their systems since insurance companies are their biggest customer. And without that information being updated in the systems, shops won’t have a leg to stand on. Appraisers will just refuse to negotiate on the current book time. I have a feeling that we won’t hear much more about this study, but I hope I’m wrong and the industry finds a way to implement this knowledge in a useful way!”
“As great as I think the SCRS study is, our regulations dictate that we will follow a manual, which means the databases have to change first,” Ciaschini lamented. “There are parts of the study that directly affect how shops are looking at refinish so as to charge for operations and materials used in a modern paint system for the modern refinishes on today’s vehicles. For example, the ground (or ‘G’) shade is a shade of sealer that goes on the panel to determine the coverage and color variation of the basecoat.”
Although his original impression was less-than-optimistic, Ciaschini also offered a suggestion on how the industry might be able to implement the study in their day-to-day businesses to produce better experiences: “Some see this as a not-included operation, but if every shop started writing all refinish operations like this, insurers would start to see a small portion of what modern refinish charges should be. Adding stages would be just the tip of the iceberg of what SCRS displays in the study, and if we also started writing blends as full refinish time in our repair plans, we’d get closer to a true reflection of what is happening in paint departments in the collision industry, as demonstrated by the SCRS blend study.”
Wenzel suggested that shops take a more assertive approach. “We know the study is useful; it’s just a matter of whether the insurance companies are willing to listen, or if they’re going to put their heads in the sand and insist, ‘The times are the times.’ Too many shops are prepared to accept that answer, so it’s really a matter of how far each shop is willing to take it. Are you going to educate your customers and bill it out accordingly so you can collect what you deserve? A reasonable insurer would look at the SCRS study and take it into consideration, but if they’re not willing to be reasonable, it might be time for us to take reasonable steps to protect our own interests, especially now that we have the data to support our claims.”
Schulenburg offered a similar viewpoint.
“The study shifts the conversation from anecdotal, to evidence-based. It’s data to point to when evaluating whether or not to use the formula presented in the guides. It’s important to reinforce that all three estimating products are just that – guides – not fixed or rigid solutions, even if that is how they are sometimes used. Until there is change, the study provides clear transparent information that can be used like any other documentation to substantiate a repair operation or charge on a repair order.
“The saying goes, ‘If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.’ We decided to do it differently, and with substance, and I think there is a reason the results align with the industry’s perception of the task,” Schulenburg added. “Ultimately, repair facilities are responsible for independently choosing how to identify and bill for their services. Waiting for someone else to make a decision – whether it is an IP, insurer, etc. – may be the equivalent of always doing what you’ve always done. I am aware of many repairers who are already actively using the information in their repair planning process effectively, a decision they’ve made based on the information available to them and their own knowledge of what is necessary within their business.”
He also believes, “There is value in helping to carry the water. If you are familiar with the study (available at scrs.com/blendstudy), have you shared it with your jobber? Have you raised awareness amongst your team members? Have you communicated your perception of the results to your information provider? All of these are conversations that help benefit the end-user.”
SCRS sees the success of the blend study as an opportunity to address similar issues in the industry in situations where the processes or the numbers simply don’t make sense or are not reflective of what technicians encounter in real-world scenarios. “Colors today aren’t the same as they were 30 years ago. Cars aren’t the same, and customers’ expectations aren’t the same,” Schulenburg stressed. “It’s all so much more complex, and our investment in this critical research helps serve as a foundation for discussions that impact a great number of people in our industry.”
Collision repairers can expect to see additional studies conducted by SCRS in the near future to help advance the industry and make a difference for small and large shops across the country.
Want more? Check out the March 2023 issue of New England Automotive Report!