by Ron Fisher
Outside The Box
Companies need to take risks to do what is best for their customers, but they have to be smart about it.
For people in the automotive collision repair industry, the NACE | CARS Expo & Conference is the “big show.” This year, a veritable “who’s who” in the industry came together in Detroit,
Michigan, July 21-25, to learn and to promote. Many came to showcase innovative new ideas with hopes of tapping into the ever- changing market that is collision repair. In turn, many repairers came to look at the potential of these new products and services to see if they could help them do better work and be more efficient.
Shop management, including modernizing collision shops and investing in new technology and processes, is a challenge in today’s market. It is also critical to the success of any business in these competitive times.
Brand Recognition and Conformity
A competitive market is why we see so many independents joining forces with franchises and groups in order to gain economies of scale that are not possible for a small business. The importance of brand recognition and loyalty is obvious. It is much harder to gain recognition with one location than with 500.
The strength of brands comes from consistency in service and quality of product. This is why companies are loathe to let individual locations go renegade and do things their way as opposed to the company way.
The same applies to the suppliers for these companies. Understandably, large companies want suppliers to conform to their formats and processes so that reporting and how they do business are seamless. Suppliers are working more and more to mirror what their customers are doing and to use the systems they are using in order to be the supplier of choice.
“Is conformity in the best interest of the customer?”
But is conformity in the best interest of the customer? What about innovation?
Examples of Innovation
Those of you who are baby boomers, think about all the innovations you have seen. We used to marvel at what our parents and ￼￼￼￼grandparents had seen in their lives in terms of inventions, but those pale in comparison to the changes technology and innovation have brought about in our lives in the last 30 years.
In 1985, how many people had a computer in their home? Now how many have just one — not to mention iPads, iPods, and smartphones? Thirty years ago, we paid by cash or cheque. Now both are becoming obsolete, as we quickly slide our debit cards over a machine to automatically process payment.
“None of this would have been possible if we had insisted on staying with the status quo.”
￼￼None of this would have been possible if we had insisted on staying with the status quo. None of it would have been possible if there were not people brave enough to take a chance and to say, “Maybe there is a better way.”
If you are thirty or older, you will remember when PCs were the only game in town — except for this weird company named after a piece of fruit. Its computer was a box monitor all by itself, and it was proud of being different. Businesses stuck with the PC, dominated by IBM back then. The artistic folks, however, supported this little upstart company that spoke in plain language and had excellent graphics. Look at Apple today. Just as importantly, look at the benefits that Apple products have brought to our lives as individuals and as businesses. The threat of Apple, much like the threat of good quality imported cars, woke up the giant and made the competition work harder to be better, to be more innovative.
So back to the question at hand: If you are a supplier to the collision repair industry, do you conform to the status quo? Or do you think outside the box and look at different ways of doing business?
If you really care about your customer you do what you believe is best for the customer. Being innovative and creating new products will make your customers more competitive and will make you more valuable to your customers’ success. It can become a true win/win situation.
The trick is to not do it in isolation. The customer may not always be right, but the customer does get to decide whether to deal with you or not. And your customers probably know their needs and their business better than you do. If you are honest with yourself, you know this is true, even if you have been part of their industry in the past—because things can change in ten minutes in this new world.
So what is the answer? Collaboration! If you want to gain “buy in” for your product or service, you need to be collaborative in your approach. You need to show that you are sincerely interested in your customers’ needs. You need to prove that you understand their business and that you are flexible in your approach. If you do that, you will be pleased with the response.
An Example of Innovation
We at Quality Recycled Parts (qrpbc.com) are in the process of launching a new ordering system to our customer base. We were trepidatious to say the least as we flipped the switch. We had done our due diligence and had some shops act as test sites for us and give us feedback. This allowed us to make some revisions before launching, but still it was nerve-wracking. We set up a transition team to handle any implementation glitches, and off we went.
Were there start-up problems? Sure, although thankfully they were minimal. We made sure to follow up with our customers as they transitioned to the new system, and in the process we asked for their opinions on how we could make it more user friendly.
What we got was a gift! Our customers — who are most of you reading this — were understanding and supportive and had great ideas for improvement. Thank You!! Our tech people were thrilled to get such useful feedback and are continuing to revise and refine the system as we begin the second phase of our rollout. This will include a mobile app for use on — you guessed it — Apple products and then other applications.(an Android Version has just been launched as of May 2016)
As we continue on this journey, we have entered into partnerships with leaders in the industry to refine and improve our product and look at ways of providing value-added services. Throughout this collaborative process, we have asked our customers key questions: What if you could do this? Would it help you if you could do that?
Quality Demands Innovation
We live in the era of drive-through service and instant gratification. People want to simply “plug and play” in everything they do.
But we need to realize that such an approach will not create anything new or special. A gourmet chef does not focus on speed and mass production when creating a special meal. An 18-year Scotch takes 18 years to become that special drink for special occasions.
“Things can change in ten minutes in this new world.”
What is memorable in your life? The fast food burger you had five years ago or that amazing meal that was a work of art? There is much to be said for the “fast food burger,” the tried and true products that we use every day.
The trick in business is that once you have a good, basic product, you need to do what Honda and many other successful companies do. Take that benchmark product and continuously improve it. Look at many of the leaders in the automotive industry. A Porsche 911 has had the same basic design for years—but it is a far different car now than it was 30 years ago. The same is true for BMW.
So what is the answer? Maintain the things that have brought you success, and then build on them. Do not be afraid to move outside the box, but do your due diligence. Work with your customers to ensure that each innovation is something that will add value to your product and better meet their needs.
Ron Fisher is the Director of Operations for QRPBC and a contributing Editor to Collision Quarterly Magazine