by Chasidy Rae Sisk
It’s hard to believe that 10 years ago, ABAT did not officially exist yet. But in the association’s earliest days, it set out to address some pretty specific matters impacting collision repair shops in Texas. Since its inception, ABAT has made some huge strides for the auto body world and is still going strong as it celebrates a decade of dedication to this industry.
In early 2014, the idea began to take hold during an estimating seminar at Paint Works (Tyler). Burl Richards (Burl’s Collision Center; Henderson) and Chad Neal, owner of Paint Works, had engaged in several conversations about the need for a local association, and although an attempt the previous year had proven unfruitful, the pair were not discouraged. Taking advantage of having a number of Eastern Texas shop owners gathered in one place during the estimating seminar, Richards and Neal presented their idea for a new association – and ABAT was “birthed” shortly after.
“Chad and I basically capitalized on the opportunity that presented itself,” ABAT President Richards said at the time, attributing the favorable reception from shops to “the fact that PartsTrader had begun to be implemented, and these local shops were truly beginning to see that we had better join together, or the insurance companies were going to continue to control more and more of our businesses.”
Richards worked with his attorney to establish the new association which was officially “born” on May 7, 2014. Originally, the association was going to be called the East Texas Auto Body Association, but fortuitously, that name was already taken, encouraging the founders to embrace the interest they had received statewide and welcome members from all over Texas.
“This would not be happening if not for the enthusiasm and excitement shared throughout our region and beyond,” Richards shared after ABAT’s first meeting, held that June. “Everyone has been more than willing to assist and contribute when asked. It’s really been more about spreading the word, and once others hear about what is happening, they know that they are not alone and begin to realize that, together, we can truly take back our business for the best interest of our customers and the industry as a whole.”
From day one, ABAT’s primary objective was “to take back our shops,” according to Richards. “We repair vehicles, and insurance companies sell insurance; it’s that simple! Who knows better and is more qualified to make these repairs than us? We work for the customer, so it is our responsibility to properly repair and restore their vehicle to its pre-accident condition.”
Additionally, ABAT intended to offer educational opportunities to Lone Star shops to help them learn more from a technical angle as well as in terms of their rights. The plan to explore legislation to benefit consumers was also established very early on. Specifically, Richards pointed out, “Profit margins have decreased over the years, and we must become more profitable in order to provide the training and equipment necessary to perform repairs to the ever-changing technological advancements on today’s vehicles – and that can honestly be accomplished by being compensated for all repairs and processes that must be performed (not just the hand-picked operations that insurers want to pay for).”
As ABAT gathered steam in the middle of 2014, Richards expressed his pleasure with the association’s immediate growth. “The response we have received has been more than I could have imagined. Going back to just six months ago, I felt like I was on an island by myself, and now, I have more faith and excitement about the future of our industry than ever. We will put the customer first, and everything else will take care of itself.”
Before long, industry professionals from Texas had come together to form ABAT’s Board of Directors, a group whose diversity and passion for auto body excellence strengthened the young organization (see Richards’ President’s Message on page 4 for more information on the dream team that makes it all possible). Executive Director Jill Tuggle also got involved early on in a part-time capacity, promoting the association’s events and facilitating its many efforts to better the industry for Texas repairers.
Industry veteran Janet Chaney participated heavily in getting the association off the ground in its earliest days, and Richards notes, “She was a big help to us in the beginning and helped coordinate our very first trade show in Fort Worth. Janet was instrumental in showing Jill and our association the ‘ropes’ and introduced us to many influential people in this industry.”
As the organization grew, so did its need for full-time assistance, and ABAT offered the position to Tuggle who embraced the challenge with true Texan determination and grit.
“My vision for ABAT is to grow our association and be a unified voice for Texas. We will bring education, government affairs, communication, industry networking and have fun doing it,” Tuggle promised when she accepted the full-time position in 2017. “I am excited to see the momentum continue to grow. One of the most inspirational things I have seen in my career is the way these guys have knocked down their walls of competition and have started to work together and communicate to make our industry better.”
“Good things are about to happen!” Richards predicted a decade ago…and he was right!
Immediately striving to pursue the goals set out by the association, ABAT’s second meeting in July 2014 featured a discussion about the process of introducing legislation by none other than Representative Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches), the legislator who has since sponsored every bill ABAT has put forth.
ABAT introduced its first bill in 2017, legislation targeting the need for safe repairs which attempts to eliminate “gray” areas regarding what a proper repair is and how insurers indemnify policyholders. Although the House Insurance Committee approved the amended version by a six-to-three vote, the session ended before the House voted on it. Subsequent iterations of the bill have met a similar fate, but Texans aren’t quitters, so the 2025 legislative session will likely see another version of the bill, alongside proposed legislation for mandatory appraisal rights (flip to page 12 if you need a refresher on why Right to Appraisal is so important for Texas consumers).
Starting in September 2018, ABAT decided to partner with Thomas Greco Publishing to produce Texas Automotive, providing a new avenue to reach shops locally and nationally to keep them informed about what the association was doing to benefit the industry.
ABAT also continued its promised push to provide educational opportunities to shops throughout the Lone Star State by hosting regular meetings in different locations and also by planting the seeds for what would eventually become the Texas Auto Body Trade Show. Little more than a year after establishing the association, ABAT hosted its 2015 Collision Industry Day featuring Mike Anderson (Collision Advice). “We expect this to be the largest industry trade event in TX since NACE in the early 2000s,” Richards acknowledged in the weeks leading up to the event, which was coordinated by Chaney.
“Boy, were we excited when almost 100 auto body repairers showed up to get some valuable information they were able to take home with them!” Richards now recalls. “Their reception of the idea – and thirst for more knowledge – led ABAT to plan the first Texas Auto Body Trade Show the following year, doubling attendance to over 200.”
Since then, the show has grown exponentially year after year, with its most recent iterations attracting around 1,000 attendees. And the 2024 Texas Auto Body Trade Show is shaping up to be the biggest and best yet. In addition to the premiere educational slate and world-class exhibitors, ABAT has something new and exciting in store for this year’s attendees as the association plans to celebrate its double-digit birthday, but Tuggle is keeping tight-lipped for now, so be sure to register for the show taking place July 12-13 at the Irving Convention Center and stay up-to-date on what you can expect at abat.us/tradeshow.
Want more? Check out the February 2024 issue of Texas Automotive!