by Chasidy Rae Sisk
Massachusetts collision repairers raised the standard of what it means to unite and take a stand for the industry when over 300 industry professionals gathered on Beacon Hill to fight for higher labor rates – and their rallying battle cry reached the ears of industry leaders all around the country who cheered their efforts from a distance.
“It’s impressive that so many auto body professionals got together to fight for their livelihood…and rightfully so because no one in their right mind who knows anything about this industry feels $40 or even $50 an hour is a reasonable rate,” stated Jerry McNee, president of the Alliance of Automotive Service Professionals of New Jersey (AASP/NJ).
“Our costs have gone up, and when you combine those business expenses with the amount we’re now paying technicians, shops are losing money on every car they’re fixing…or they’re just not fixing them properly, unless they’re crossing every T and dotting every I,” McNee continued. “Insurers set this precedent and refuse to entertain any rate increases. It’s time to stop accepting the status quo, and AASP/MA’s rally made it apparent that Massachusetts repairers are demanding a change!”
As business owners collecting the lowest labor rate in the country while operating in an area with some of the nation’s highest living costs, it’s no wonder that auto body professionals in the Commonwealth have had enough!
“It’s evident that you have a market in distress with some of the highest costs in the industry and the lowest labor rates,” expressed Society of Collision Repair Specialists Executive Director Aaron Schulenburg. “They’ve been fighting a battle on this issue and trying to resolve it legislatively for over a decade, and the repair facilities in the Massachusetts market have worked really hard to convey to their state officials just how dire the situation is for their businesses.”
Jordan Hendler, executive director of the Washington Metropolitan Auto Body Association (WMABA), sees the rally as “a really good example of the industry working together for a common cause. In this industry where our colleagues are also our competitors, it’s really refreshing to see a group of repairers who are upholding our community above their individual shops, especially when it comes to labor rates.”
“Creating awareness of the issues faced by shops is imperative,” agreed Mike Anderson (Collision Advice). “It’s so hard to get people to act on these problems, and I applaud AASP/MA and the industry professionals who rallied for taking actions; however, I implore them: Don’t let it stop there! Now that you’ve created awareness, you need to build on it and continue to grow that grassroots effort.”
“I commend AASP/MA for taking this to the State House,” Burl Richards, president of the Auto Body Association of Texas (ABAT), praised the rally efforts. “This type of action is needed across the country in order to get this industry back on track. We need ‘doers,’ and we need associations like this to stand up and take the lead on these issues. With that being said, the actual shops have to take the time to be involved and recognize that they are in control of their own destinies.”
What’s the best way for an individual shop to take control of its destiny? By joining (and actively participating in) its local association, of course! Association membership offers many benefits for repairers, including education, camaraderie and more, in addition to legislative activities.
“Several states have explored legislation for reimbursement of non-included operations, and some have been successful in their efforts,” Anderson shared. “But those initiatives only succeeded because of the strong associations in those markets and their ability to come together to focus on the things they have in common like staffing, training and technology, instead of getting stuck on what makes us different. Associations emphasize our common ground.”
“Anytime businesses can leverage the scope of a larger combined voice, they can benefit from the prominence that comes with that,” Schulenburg noted. “As a small business, it’s hard to both manage day-to-day operations and advocate for yourself, and it can also be challenging to see outside of your own situation. Associations benefit from a more expansive viewpoint made up of many of their members, rather than just singular experiences. I think that’s why organizations like ours and AASP/MA place such high priority on both bringing information to the members and also using the membership feedback received to be a representative voice.”
Richards offered a list of the benefits shops can derive from association participation.
“Auto body shops face a lot of challenges, and many of these issues can be addressed by getting involved with your local association: education in regard to proper and safe repairs, ideas and examples of how other shops manage and oversee their shops, ways to improve employee retention, generally keeping up with the status of the industry, communicating with other shops is key to being successful, legislative agendas that are aimed toward industry and consumer safety, proper reimbursement, understanding your cost of doing business and so much more.”
“Providing education is one of the most obvious benefits that associations offer because it allows repairers to come together to mutually learn,” Hendler pointed out. “These training sessions help shops find common ground on things like following OE repair procedures. With so many changes impacting our industry every day, the need for training shouldn’t be a contentious point for anyone.”
“Running a collision repair shop in today’s world is complex, and shops aren’t getting it on their own,” McNee insisted. “A lot of these guys don’t even understand their KPI numbers, but association meetings help develop some parameters. An even bigger benefit is the real heart-to-heart conversations we can have before and after those meetings, when we can rub elbows with the right people and talk about our shop’s successes and failures. Shops absolutely need that, and if you’re not actively participating in your association, you’re not getting everything you can from your membership. You’ve got to get involved.”
While associations strive to better the collision repair industry, it’s impossible for any group to be successful in its endeavors without the support of its members. Industry leaders shared some advice on how shops can derive the most benefit from their memberships.
“It’s about engagement, pure and simple,” Schulenburg stressed. “It starts with being a member. Then, that grows into asking, ‘How can you participate?’ Those who get the most out of their membership are almost always the businesses who understand that they can be a piece of the puzzle and work to be a part of the efforts. It’s not unlike a gym membership. The more you show up, use the resources and watch others around you who have accomplished what you are looking to accomplish, the better you are able to make advancements on your own goals.”
Building off the gym analogy, Hendler added, “Like a gym membership, the money to join keeps the doors open, but each individual shop will only get out of it what they put in…that means showing up for yourself! If you don’t use it, you’re still supporting other people’s endeavors, but you’re not doing anything for yourself. It’s great to help the rest of the industry, but don’t you want to see that individual benefit as well?”
“Too often, we see 20% of the people doing 80% of the work in this industry,” Anderson lamented. “In today’s world, there are many options for obtaining information, but nothing compares to showing up at an old-fashioned, in-person meeting and talking to your industry colleagues. Shops need to get involved with their associations if they want to make a difference in this industry that we all love.”
Although McNee felt it was great to see so many people participate in the rally, he asked, “Where the heck were the rest of us?! Associations need help to effect these changes that our industry needs, but unfortunately, many people are reluctant to get involved. It’s almost comical how shops will object to the cost of association membership, yet they’ll spend the same amount of money on beer every Friday night. We need your voices to strengthen our battle cries because the squeaky wheel gets the oil. What are YOU doing to help our industry?”
“It’s really very simple,” according to Richards. “Shops need to recognize that this is their industry and stop relying on insurance companies to dictate how things are done. Take your industry back, so you can start making the rules. This is done by organizing and supporting a body shop association, but you’ll only get the most out of your membership if you’re actively involved. Shops need to participate in the process because it is OUR industry after all!”
“Failing to get involved is like going to the polls a week after the election,” Hendler believes. “You need to pay attention and show up when it matters.”
The collision repair industry’s future matters. Your shop matters. Your employees and your livelihood matter. And AASP/MA is fighting for YOU. Isn’t it time to pick up arms and help continue this momentum to have a larger impact on your industry?
If you’re tired of the status quo, contact AASP/MA to find out how you can get involved today at aaspma.org.
Want more? Check out the July 2022 issue of New England Automotive Report!