Education You Can Hang Your Hat On: Texas Auto Body Trade Show Delivers Industry-Leading Training

by Chasidy Rae Sisk

Sick of being bushwhacked by ever-changing technology? Don’t hang up your rope just yet! Instead of getting frothy or sitting back and letting your collision repair shop go belly up, get ready to amble down to the Irving Convention Center on August 26-27 for ABAT’s 2022 Texas Auto Body Trade Show!

In addition to exhibitors demonstrating the newest auto body equipment on the market and a whole slew of networking opportunities, THE destination collision event in the south boasts a dozen educational classes. From the search for fresh talent all the way through the process to post-repair inspections and everything in between, nationally renowned trainers will cover the spectrum of relevant industry topics, delivering the knowledge you need to move up from drag rider to point man.

The lack of qualified talent entering the auto body world has been shooting shops in the foot for years, so ABAT enlisted the aid of multiple industry experts to share actionable solutions that can help you attract more technicians.

“The national shortage of skilled collision technicians affects everybody in this industry,” emphasized panelist Raven Hartkopf (Collin College). “We don’t see many younger people joining this industry. Common questions are ‘Why do so few people want to work on cars?’ and ‘How can we prevent this in the future?’ – but the bigger question is ‘How can we remedy this shortage today?’ Truthfully, we can’t, but we can start making steps in the right direction by utilizing experienced technicians as mentors to help grow the next generation of techs.”

As a collision instructor, Hartkopf serves as “the ‘middle man’ between those who want to work in this industry and those who hire them. For a long time, there’s been a disconnect between recruiting and retention…shops have a certain way of doing business and treating employees that is short-sighted. These upcoming generations know their worth when it comes to wages, benefits and work-life balance, so shops will need to transform themselves and adjust to these younger generations.”

“Training and development needs to be part of daily conversation, not just something we talk about when there is a shortage,” tech shortage panelist Amber Ritter (Collision Repair Education Foundation) added. “Focusing on the problem is easy, but the collision industry has a lot to offer as a career, and it’s important to tell that story too. While we still have room – and the need – to grow, we can learn from those who are making positive progress.”

Ritter hopes industry professionals will walk away from the panel with “resources offered to students and programs from CREF, ways to be a part of moving the needle and a few examples of how businesses are succeeding in both recruitment and development.”

“Attendees who take this issue seriously will attain a better understanding of how to keep their doors open 10-15 years down the road,” according to Hartkopf. “Those who don’t own a business will learn how they can play a role in passing down their knowledge to the next generation of technicians.”

Students often cite low wages as a reason that they pursue career paths outside the collision industry, making it imperative that shops collect adequate compensation, an endeavor often thwarted by insurers’ insistence on paying “prevailing rates.”

AkzoNobel’s Tim Ronak will discuss what a prevailing rate is and explore the pitfalls of reporting contracted rates as part of a survey.

“‘Prevailing rate’ is a construct,” Ronak explained. “There’s no such thing as a ‘prevailing rate;’ it’s something determined by a third party, based on a proprietary survey that may or may not be available to those being impacted by it, so we can’t even substantiate the information that was used. It’s not about what information you use in the survey; it’s about making sure you don’t do certain things that may subject you to potential liabilities under the Sherman and Clayton Acts.”

Billing more hours at better rates presents another option for collecting proper compensation for completed repairs. Richard and Sam Valenzuela of National AutoBody Research (NABR) are ready to tackle this topic and more to help shops obtain a better “understanding of how to change the game between themselves and the insurers, enabling them to achieve better results collecting for more of their work at better rates,” said Sam Valenzuela.

“Given today’s economic environment of high inflation, labor shortages and supply chain disruptions all driving cost increases in labor, parts and paint materials, it is more important than ever for shops to collect payment for more of their work and at profitable labor rates,” Valenzuela identified reasons his presentation is so pertinent.

“Through its LaborRateHero, BillableGenie and NumberNerd software suite, NABR provides shops the data and toolset to get there. Through years of amassing the industry’s largest independent collection of labor rate surveys and paid insurer estimates showing payment of not-included procedures, labor rates paid, concessions and more, NABR has developed a deep understanding of industry labor rates and how insurers pay for not-included procedures around the country.”

Repair planning and writing an accurate estimate play a vital role in collecting what you’re worth. With 20 years’ industry experience as a former technician, estimator, manager, trainer and currently as the administrator of the Database Enhancement Gateway (DEG), Danny Gredinberg has “seen just about every challenge repairers face when it comes to developing a thorough repair plan utilizing OEM repair information for a safe repair outcome.”

During Gredinberg’s first presentation, attendees will learn how to use the industry’s leading free resource to “address omissions, inaccuracies and errors in all three major estimating system databases. We help address concerns about the language provided in the estimating system p-pages to help estimating system users get accurate information to complete their repair plans,” he detailed. “Additionally, with the use of OEM owners manuals, which are also available FREE to everyone, repairers can discuss why the vehicle manufacturer may require certain repair operations.”

Later, Gredinberg partners with Ron Reichen (Precision Body & Paint) to explore the importance of staying current and up-to-date with advances in vehicle technology.

“The way cars were fixed yesterday can no longer be applied to today’s vehicle advancements,” Gredinberg pointed out. “In ‘Not Your Grandfather’s Estimate: Part Two,’ Ron and I will push repairers out of their comfort zones to help them realize they can change parts of their business and adjust to ‘today’s’ way of repair planning and vehicle repair methods.”

Data sharing and privacy rank pretty high on most shops’ list of concerns nowadays. In fact, many states’ regulations require compliance to certain standards of protecting consumers’ private information.

“Personal identification Information (PII) cannot continue to be ignored in the collision repair industry,” information security expert Pete Tagliapietra (DATATOUCH, LLC) believes. “Yet, CIECA standards were not designed or developed to maintain information and/or data security. Collision repair shops must become aware of the legal requirements as well as the implications of sharing their repair information to unidentified entities.”

Tagliapietra’s presentation will examine how shops’ repair information is utilized by industry stakeholders and sold for profit, what information must not be shared to meet state regulatory compliance and what repair data is valuable (and why).

These days, most conversations about value tend to lead back to the increasing prevalence of vehicles being declared total losses. Robert McDorman (Auto Claim Specialists) will analyze “the differences between the unsupported and supported data used by the carriers to carry out the economic total loss scheme.”

“The vehicle’s actual cash value is the fencepost in determining liability as to repair or replace. Understanding the repair or replace process is the key to detouring the carrier from deeming a repairable car an economic total loss,” noted McDorman, who hopes to provide attendees with “an understanding of the Right of Appraisal process and how best to implement the strategy into your business, as a means of detouring this systematic scheme used by insurance carriers to realign their liability.”

Performing safe repairs according to OEM specifications offers a great way for shops to reduce liability, but “poor quality and unsafe repairs run rampant in today’s collision industry,” stated Robert Grieve (Nylund’s Collision Center; SCRS Executive Committee). “Shops need to perform the correct repair – the first time and every time.”

Grieve’s class on post-inspection repairs will “emphasize that how we repair vehicles matters. For the sake of the consumers we serve, auto body shops need to stop relying on only what we ‘know’ and start leaning on published OEM procedures. At the same time we’re protecting our guests, we’re also protecting ourselves and our businesses.”

When it comes to protecting your business, there’s no better method than knowledge, and that encompasses everything from physical techniques to business practices to legislative activities.

“Everyone should know the rules and laws that govern their businesses,” advised ABAT Lobbyist Jacob Smith, a passionate consumer and industry advocate who has been closely monitoring policy and working with legislature to promote safety for the past decade. Smith will join Texas legislators, Ware Wendell (Texas Watch) and several industry leaders in a “Lunch and Legislation Panel Discussion.”

“Safety is extremely important, but Texas has one of the highest death rates on the road in the nation,” Smith lamented. “Anything we can do to mitigate that and promote safety is imperative, and shops also need to know the rules by which they’re expected to operate in their state. By hearing from Texas legislators firsthand, participants will acquire insights into how the state operates and what its goals are, plus they’ll learn how they can get involved in positively impacting the industry by being proactive instead of reactive.”

Learning to act proactively provides a huge advantage for shops as the industry moves into the future…a future rife with advanced technology, such as electric vehicles (EVs), a growing trend that shops need to confront sooner if they want to survive the “Technical Tsunami” instead of getting lost at sea. ABAT prepares repairers for upcoming EV technology and repairability with a panel of OEM representatives who will share a preview of what’s coming down the pipeline and what you can do to keep up with emerging technologies.

“This is an exciting time in our industry!” claimed Mark Allen (Audi of America), whose technical background allows him to be involved in the development of Audi’s EV strategies from the after sales side which includes service training. “We need to be aware of what’s coming, and we need to breed excitement for current and future industry professionals.”

EV panelists will provide attendees with a general understanding of the items shops need to successfully repair collision-damaged EVs, including proper vehicle lifts, hydraulic lift tables and fork lifts. The discussion will also explore considerations related to shop layout and electrical requirements inside and outside the shop, as well as safety concerns and the proper way to store, handle and dispose of a damaged vehicle, batteries and other components.

“The goals and projections of all manufacturers to have a dominant percentage of EVs and plug-in hybrid vehicles in their product lines is a call to action as loud as the unibody structure was,” Allen observed. “This is the time to learn and redefine your business…and also a way to attract new talent into your shop.”

Whether you’re a greenhorn or a seasoned collision repair professional, you’re guaranteed to learn something new at the 2022 Texas Auto Body Trade Show. Register or learn more at


Want more? Check out the July 2022 issue of Texas Automotive!