Here Comes the Sun: Industry Leaders Reflect on 2021 and Look Forward to a Brighter 2022
by Chasidy Rae Sisk
How did automotive repair trade associations handle 2021? What’s next for 2022? Industry leaders share their insights, initiatives and more.
Each year brings its challenges and its triumphs, and although 2021 (like its predecessor, 2020) offered some unique hurdles, collision repair associations around the country rose to the occasion and continued to support members and the industry at-large through educational opportunities, virtual and in-person networking events and various forms of advocacy. Which efforts stood out the most for association leaders? What’s next on their agenda? Texas Automotive sat down with Auto Body Association of Texas (ABAT) Executive Director Jill Tuggle, Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) Executive Director Aaron Schulenburg, Alliance of Automotive Service Providers of New Jersey (AASP/NJ) Executive Director Charles Bryant, Washington Metropolitan Auto Body Association (WMABA) Executive Director Jordan Hendler and Alliance of Automotive Service Providers of Massachusetts (AASP/MA) Executive Director Lucky Papageorg, who graciously shared their insights on last year and their hopes for 2022.
Texas Automotive: What was your association’s biggest accomplishment(s) in 2021?
Jill Tuggle: ABAT’s 2021 Texas Auto Body Trade Show was our biggest accomplishment last year for two reasons. First, it actually happened!! And secondly, it was a success. We’d heard that the attendance at any kind of event or trade show was only reaching about 30 percent of what was typical, so when we hit our target number, we were thrilled.
Aaron Schulenburg: 2021 was an interesting year as the industry continued to navigate the challenges of the pandemic and find our way back to “normal.” SCRS enjoyed several accomplishments that stand out for me, but I believe the most important activity was leading by example to help shops get back to business. We identified creative approaches for delivering useful bits of information. In addition to our Monday estimating tips, we launched a new weekly video series, Quick Tips, in January 2021 featuring Mike Anderson of Collision Advice and Danny Gredinberg from the Database Enhancement Gateway (DEG); we’ve received really fantastic feedback from the industry on the usefulness of this type of content and we’re excited about the library of material we’ve built, which is free to everyone and available at youtube.com/SCRSCollision. This will continue forward in 2022.
Charles Bryant: One of AASP/NJ’s biggest accomplishments this year was the creation of our Health Insurance Program for AASP/NJ members through the Amato Insurance Agency (a division of World Insurance). The program successfully saves members of the industry and their employees so much on the cost of health insurance that other states, in addition to New Jersey, are starting to participate in the program.
Jordan Hendler: The association’s largest accomplishment – besides surviving in pandemic times – would be publishing the Labor Rate survey. That project is one of the more relevant and important things we do, aside from keeping our membership informed and updated with the latest industry changes!
Lucky Papageorg: AASP/MA’s biggest accomplishment in 2021 was our legislative push, beginning in February, which has carried us through to where we are today with a mobilized membership whose efforts to contact their state senators and representatives resulted in convincing 90 legislators to sign onto our two bills.
TXA: What was the most memorable or most fun thing that your association did in 2021?
JT: We hosted a contest at the Texas Auto Body Trade Show called ABAT Big Shots where contestants could prove that they are the best in the business at a virtual welding machine, virtual paint booth, actual seam sealer applications and estimate writing. The contest was wildly popular, and plans to make it even better next year are already in the works!
AS: In 2020 and 2021, SCRS found ways to accommodate the transition to interacting at a digital level, but there’s simply no replacing the one-on-one interactions that happen at live events. The 2021 SEMA Show provided the perfect return to big industry events and was hugely successful, despite the obstacles we all had to overcome to make it successfully happen. The event offered the return of valuable in-person educational and business opportunities, but it was also a truly fun event that gave us all a chance to see people we haven’t had the opportunity to connect with in a while. I love this industry, the people in it, and what it represents: Helping people when their vehicle is broken and they’re in need. Our members deliver a great service to their communities, and the work for consumers can be rewarding; however, it’s also a very difficult industry. The day-to-day can be hard, and I think the spark of excitement at the SEMA Show is a reminder of why we love working in collision repair and the automotive industry. The return to that onsite experience really re-energized all of us in a way you just won’t find anywhere else.
CB: AASP/NJ’s Golf Outing is usually one of the most fun things that the AASP/NJ sponsors during the year; however, as the result of COVID-19, we decided to cancel it this year. AASP/NJ looks forward to the end of the pandemic, so we can get back to normal and conduct more memorable events for members to get together, enjoy each other’s company and create new memories.
JH: Our golf outing is a total hoot! We have a great day of games and community, while fundraising for our industry initiatives – including our Jerry Dalton Memorial Education Fund.
LP: Our association’s last general membership meeting in November allowed us to gather face-to-face for the first time since the pandemic. The energy in the room was phenomenal, and it was great to see people in person again; everyone could feel the camaraderie, and we received a lot of positive feedback on the content discussed during the meeting. It was a great return to a sense of normality.
TXA: What are the biggest challenges your members are facing on a state level, and what is the association doing to address those concerns?
JT: Our problems are not few these days, but one of our biggest challenges on a state level is the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI). They sit idly and approve policies that violate the laws, rules and consumer rights that they have outlined for insurance companies to abide by. We have pleaded with them to take action to no avail. ABAT will not accept that “this is just how it is,” and we plan to challenge this issue through the use of our consumer forms, awareness campaigns and (if needed) our legal system.
AS: There are countless examples of the challenges facing collision repairers. I could go in a lot of different directions with this. But one of the difficult areas we have right now is confronting the dilemma of staffing and attracting new people into our trade. Finding ways to help people recognize the opportunities that exist in collision repair and encouraging them to see it as a career path, not just a landing spot, is an important initiative on a local and national scale. SCRS consistently works to generate awareness around this issue with our Affiliates, with other organizations within the industry, and by supporting programs like Enterprise and Ranken Technical College’s Automotive Collision Engineering Pilot Program, which helps build better pathways for entry into the field – and that’s exactly what the collision repair industry needs. By using our voice, we can ensure that we create solutions that help schools more capably deliver on what repair businesses are seeking, find ways to help small businesses compete with larger companies for quality entry-level employees and transform this industry into a place where people WANT to pursue a career.
CB: Dealing with the many challenges resulting from COVID-19 has been all-encompassing and includes concerns such as delayed first and supplemental inspections, the insurance industry’s push for photo estimating and the lack of available parts required to repair damaged vehicles. Through our research into the issue of shops preparing damage estimates based on photos without seeing the vehicle, AASP/NJ verified that such activity is a violation of the NJ Auto Body License Law and could result in heavy fines or even suspension of the shop’s license for preparing an estimate based on photos, phone calls or any other means, other than a personal inspection of the damaged vehicle. AASP/NJ made this information available to members, and many of our members now utilize it as a weapon to refuse to participate in the photo estimating process, which has resulted in nothing more than inaccurate estimates and major delays, and it is hurting the estimating process much more than helping it. AASP/NJ is currently in the process of compiling a special form that shops can use to remind insurers of the time limit allowed for insurers to inspect damaged vehicles. In situations where insurers have already violated the rules and regulations governing fair claim settlement practices, shops can utilize this form to alert insurers to the fact that the repairs have either already commenced or been completed, based on the shop’s contract with the vehicle owner. The form also includes verbiage indicating that, as a result of the insurer waiving their right and opportunity to inspect the damaged vehicle, commence negotiations and make a good faith offer of settlement, the insurer has also waived their right to challenge the repairs.
JH: The membership of WMABA is facing the same challenges as all other repairers in this country. It’s an ever-changing landscape filled with hurdles, such as the rise in virtual estimating coupled to lack of adjuster education, parts or supply chain issues, rising costs of everything and the lack of qualified candidates for every position in the business. Still navigating COVID-19 and pandemic-related challenges, shops are struggling with personnel and customer relations. It’s getting “better,” but it’s not where everyone wants it. We maintain connection through events like our virtual Membership Watercooler Chats, where every month at the same time and place our members can discuss what’s happening, what’s important to them and what’s working that they can share. It’s a really positive environment, and everyone who comes loves it!
LP: Massachusetts body shops are particularly frustrated with the lack of activity on the part of the legislature and governmental agencies, such as the Auto Damage Appraiser Licensing Board (ADALB), to address the issues we’ve been voicing with them in regard to Labor Rate and insurance appraisers’ failure to write proper estimates. AASP/MA’s efforts to circumvent these problems have taken shape in the form of our two bills: one to move the ADALB from the Division of Insurance to the Department of Professional Licensure, and the second for Labor Rate reform. We’re staying in contact with legislators and the powers-that-be to keep both issues on the front burner and try to address these concerns legislatively.
TXA: What are the biggest challenges your members are facing on a national level, and what is the association doing to address those concerns?
JT: I believe our two greatest challenges nationally are inflation and labor shortages. I personally believe that this record-breaking inflation in our country may be positive for our industry. For the first time, we have a widely-accepted increase in costs that cannot be argued, and this could be an opportunity for shops to finally seek proper compensation. If not, shops will need to start writing proper and thorough estimates – and stop the practice of giving away the farm just to get a job. Either option offers a favorable outcome. In the coming months, we will be encouraging shops to keep their Labor Rates posted and current as well as providing instructions on how to properly fill out Labor Rate surveys. The shrinking pool of technicians has been the broken-record issue for years, but now it is compounded with the fact that we can’t even fill general positions, such as cashiers, detailers and administrative roles. We are addressing the issue by educating shops on how to better equip and train their staff so that they want to stay employed at their shop as well as using social media sites to connect job seekers to employers. That is a small step that helps the problem on a minute scale, but to fix this problem, we need our country’s President to encourage folks to go back to work, instead of collecting mailbox money. As an association, all we can do is to empower people by teaching them to connect with their local legislators and voice their concerns. In order to fix the industry’s national problems, we have to use our voices and that should absolutely start locally.
AS: Collision repairers face so many challenges, and the most obvious is the remarkable pace of technological advancement taking place with the vehicles needing repairs, while members simultaneously combat downward pressure related to what they’re charging. The transition to virtual interactions and the pressures within that only exacerbated the issues that collision repair facilities encounter in the tug of war that is the estimating and claims process. Difficult relationships became even more difficult. SCRS’ efforts with OEConnection on the Blueprint Optimization Tool (BOT) helps shops capture and document performed operations in a way that identifies the vehicle’s needs earlier in the process and reduces friction with insurance carriers by providing a way to consistently communicate what’s required. DEG is another great example of the ways that SCRS looks at challenges and creates resources to remove friction.
CB: Presently, the three biggest challenges are the lack of trained technicians, the changes in repair technology and the lack of parts available to repair vehicles. AASP/NJ seeks to combat this by providing a Labor Pool where available technicians can seek employment and where members can locate potential employees when positions become available. AASP/NJ constantly hosts training opportunities to keep members aware of the technological advances taking place on modern vehicles. As far as the lack of parts availability, we are basically at a loss on how to deal with the issue but welcome suggestions.
JH: We are one of the associations that finds participation at national meetings to be crucial to our survival. Not only do we see what’s coming down the pike, we also made connections with top-level companies and insurers which come in handy when we have a local issue. Having those relationships has been a huge benefit to our members who find themselves in a bind, either with a customer, vendor or insurer. It’s been one of the greatest untapped gold mines of our group!
LP: The lack of labor force available and keeping up with all the technological advances being pushed down the road on us are problems that continue to be a huge burden on our members, but another concern is the large drive toward automation in the claims writing process. Insurers have accumulated a large database of amounts that should be paid for various repairs based on point of impact and want to lump everything under one umbrella, instead of evaluating each repair on a case-by-case basis. The association is working to make consumers aware of how detrimental that cookie-cutter process is to them. AASP/MA uses different forms of media, including Facebook and radio, to demonstrate how insureds are being shortchanged by their insurers and offering suggestions to help them avoid being taken advantage of.
TXA: What are your association’s top priorities as we move into 2022?
JT: In 2022, ABAT hopes to lay the groundwork for a successful 88th legislative session during this interim year and to make positive change by forcing the TDI to finally behave like the unbiased and consumer protection agency that it is supposed to be. On their website, you can view their “promise” to consumers: “We recognize our responsibilities to both consumers and the insurance industry. We work to fulfill our legislative mandate to regulate the insurance industry while protecting the people and businesses that are served by insurance. We pledge to provide high quality service to all our customers.” We just want them to uphold this promise.
AS: Regardless of the year, SCRS’ priorities remain the same: Finding ways to advance the industry in meaningful ways! I expect 2022 to bring a lot more of that as we find opportunities to use our size, voice and people’s respect for the organization to influence the industry in a way that improves it for the people we serve at a business level as well as the consumers they serve. We hope to produce more information, share more educational opportunities and promote advocacy efforts to ensure there’s a voice for every person and business in this industry. We’ve got some ambitious projects in mind that we can’t wait to share, but everything we do begins with the collision repair professionals around the country. There’s a lot of information coming down the pipeline, and if you’re not already subscribed to our YouTube channel and following trade publications like Texas Automotive, don’t miss out! You don’t want to be one of the shops that isn’t privy to all the changes coming because you weren’t following along, and if you are paying attention, make sure that you’re sharing the information with your peers. SCRS members and supporters often ask how they can contribute in a meaningful way, and the most impactful thing you can do is carry the water: Help others access the knowledge we bring, because the more knowledgeable we are collectively, the stronger this industry becomes. Challenges will always exist, but we find out who we are as an industry in the ways that we rise up to address them.
CB: AASP/NJ’s top priority is to maintain the many member programs that we have established to assist our members with any issue that comes up during the normal course of doing business, such as our Labor Pool, Equipment Exchange, Hit and Run Program, discounted Health Insurance Program and the AASP/NJ Hotline, which is available to answer members’ questions and assist with any situation that may arise, all day, every day. AASP/NJ’s ultimate goal is to make our members aware that they are not alone and that they can always depend on AASP/NJ to help whenever a situation arises where they need our assistance.
JH: WMABA is 50-plus years old now, and we need to reinvent ourselves in this new world, just like repairers do. It’s important that we deliver meaningful education and information to our members, along with opportunities for them to have more “community experiences.” We haven’t been the talk of the town for quite some time, and I really want to see us get back to a place where we are the first line of defense – the first place repairers go with questions. Even if we don’t have the actual answer, I guarantee we know how to find it!
LP: In 2022, AASP/MA will continue promoting our Labor Rate bill and our bill to move the ADALB, and we hope to see these issues positively addressed through legislation. We’ll also continue to concentrate on increasing consumer awareness, and in order to be successful at both of those objectives, we look to increase the number of active association members to strengthen and amplify our voice.
With these association leaders at the helm, the future of the collision repair industry looks bright for 2022 and beyond. We at Thomas Greco Publishing are grateful for their efforts and for all our readers. We wish you all a HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Want more? Check out the January 2022 issue of Texas Automotive HERE!