We are all in this together!

May 09, 2016

Scrape the ice off your crystal ball — 2016 is upon us! If you have not turned your mind yet to the New Year and the challenges it will bring, you had better do so soon.
Christmas tends to make business grind to a halt and create all sorts of distractions for businesses, employees, and customers. But, come January 2, everyone is panicking, trying to catch up and make sense of the first quarter before it is gone.

Many organizations conduct yearly planning sessions, which they often schedule for the beginning of the New Year. The problem is that by the time they get organized, it is February. Then, with a sense of panic, they begin to plot out completion strategies. Invariably, they set completion dates for sixty percent of their objectives for the end of the first quarter, blithely ignoring the fact that that date is already upon them.

Hopefully, I have made the case for thinking about your plans earlier. This would be great if you were reading this article at the time I am writing it—in October—but, unfortunately, it is not being published until the New Year, so you are already behind! Next year, dear reader, next year.
Planning is especially important now because the New Year is bringing a new era in the automotive industry.

At the Canadian Collision Industry Forum (CCIF) held in Calgary in September 2015, a survey of the participants was taken to determine what areas of the industry they were from. Surprisingly, around half were not even from the collision repair industry! They were from the recycling industry, the insurance industry, etc. This is cause for reflection. What does it mean that a forum for people in the collision repair industry was full of non-collision repair industry people? Had they just wandered into the wrong room and decided to stay? No, they were all there with a common purpose. They recognized that they needed to become partners and collaborators with their customers rather than just suppliers.

“No longer can the different branches of the industry work in isolation and expect to meet customer demands “

This was not the first time I had observed that the audience at a CCIF meeting was diverse. In Vancouver, the previous year, BMW and Toyota were both major sponsors and presenters. These vehicle manufacturers were there to discuss the trends in their end of the industry and how those trends would impact the collision repair end of the industry. They wanted to make sure repair shops were aware of the new technology and had the training and tools to deal with it. Why? Because the manufacturers wanted to be able to assure their customers that shops could repair their cars to the manufacturers’ specifications. They were aware that if customers had a bad experience getting their vehicles repaired, the customers would have decreased satisfaction with the manufacturers’ vehicles. Problems in the repair shop could harm a manufacturer’s brand.

“We were not just hurting each other by taking that adversarial approach, but we were also hurting ourselves and our customers.”

In Calgary, I began to think that the silos of industry are finally coming down. No longer can the different branches of the industry work in isolation and expect to meet customer demands. As some areas of the industry shrink and as brands multiply, individuals have less of a voice and are more dependent on other areas of the industry.

At the CCIF in Calgary, it was reported that ten years ago there were over 11,000 collision repair shops in Canada, and now there are approximately 4,500. The one positive outcome from this is that it is resulting in closer working partnerships and alliances. The truth is we are all in the collision repair business — whether we are insurers, recyclers, mechanical repair shops, or suppliers — because in every case our customer is the car owner. And our future is dependent on car owners’ overall experiences. With rapid transit being developed more and more in urban centres, and the environmental impact of automobiles becoming a more commonly discussed topic, we have to fight for our place in the world market and in the hearts of consumers.

The same weekend as the CCIF meeting, the Automotive Retailers Association (ARA) had its Annual General Meeting in Kelowna, B.C., and I managed to be in two places at once. I am glad I was able to attend because I witnessed something I had not seen in over 35 years of involvement in this industry. Ken McCormack, ARA president & CEO, shared these comments with respect to the meeting:

“At the Association AGM in Kelowna on September 19, the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure and Minister Responsible for ICBC Honourable Todd Stone stressed that his Ministry recognizes the work that the Automotive Retailers Association does on behalf of the automotive industry in B.C. In fact, the Minister made it clear that the ARA is recognized as ‘the voice of the automotive industry’ to government and other stakeholders.”

“The Minister highlighted the important work that the ARA has done with regards to accreditation and the need for even greater involvement by the ARA in the areas of training and education, which are a critically important component of the accreditation programs that the Association is developing. Going forward, the Minister has directed that all technical training and education currently conducted by ICBC will be transitioned to the ARA. He also directed that [ICBC’s] policies and practices, as well as the overall compensation that ICBC unilaterally imposes on the automotive sector, must be reviewed and this must be completed before the end of this calendar year (2015). These announcements by the Minister are the direct result of the advocacy work of the ARA.”

“In addition to developing accreditation programs for collision, glass, mechanical, towing, and auto recycling, the ARA is strongly advocating for mandatory trade certification and a greater vehicle inspection program for B.C. vehicles.”

“We can no longer put the self-interest of our particular branch of the industry ahead of everything else — because that approach will just come back and bite us in the rear bumper!”

The bottom line is that there are some very significant initiatives under development, but they will not be successful unless the B.C. automotive industry works together through the ARA to make them happen. We must be united in our vision. Partnerships must be strengthened between the ARA and its membership, and between the members themselves. Vehicle manufacturers, the federal and provincial governments, industry, and training institutions all must be seen as partners, not the enemy.

All too often in the past, the different branches of the automotive industry somehow felt they were in competition with each other for profits. Recyclers would think body shops were gouging them for repair times on what they thought was a perfectly good fender, and the body shops thought the recyclers did not care and were just sending out damaged parts. Sadly, in my experience, a little of each was often true, at least in some cases. But the wisest among us recognized that we were not just hurting each other by taking that adversarial approach, but we were also hurting ourselves and our customers.

Things began to change. The old saying that birds of a feather flock together comes to mind. Likeminded shops banded together with a common vision and started to work for a common goal. And then they aligned themselves with suppliers, who did the same. Why wouldn’t they? Why wouldn’t you work with someone who “got it,” someone who understood your challenges and issues and tried to work with you to resolve them, someone who would remove the roadblocks instead of add to them?

It’s Time to Work Together

As a mediator, I deal with conflict on an ongoing basis. I have found that in many disputes the parties have common interests but different positions on how to get there. We must all work together in a stronger and more sustainable working relationship. We must find solutions that serve all of our interests if we are to have a vibrant industry with a strong customer base and a good future.
The strength of the ARA as an association has always been its ability to leverage our collective voice. Historically, we have achieved many successes over the years, but we have never faced the pace of change nor the challenges from competing interest groups that we now face.

The epiphany for me — discovered first at the CCIF meeting and then strongly reinforced by the announcement at the ARA meeting — is that, “It is time to knock the silos down.” And it appears that the leaders of our industry not only recognize that fact but also have the appetite to do it, for the first time in my memory.

So what does it all mean? Simply put, we can no longer put the self-interest of our particular branch of the industry ahead of everything else — because that approach will just come back and bite us in the rear bumper! We need to recognize that the people in the other silos impact our business. In fact, they either are our customers, or they represent our customers. For a recycler, the end customer is the registered owner of the car that gets the recycled part. But how does it get there? Who is the customer who buys the recycled part? Typically, it is the collision repair shop or the mechanical repair shop that makes the decision to deal with the recycler. But many insurance companies are highly involved in that decision-making process as well. They want to provide their policyholders with assurances about the quality of their claims repairs, and they want to keep an eye on the financial bottom line. For that reason, they work with carefully selected shops, and they are concerned about what suppliers those shops work with.

So what are recyclers to do? Sit and complain about how difficult things are and about the fact that no one understands their plight? Dream of simpler times? Or should they consider all these people in the other branches of the industry as customers and partners and colleagues? Should they not also recognize the challenges and needs the other branches face and work together to resolve their problems? If they took that approach, would the end result not be a foundation for relationships, loyalty, and market share?

It is simple, right? So, how is this for a New Year’s resolution for every business in our industry: Should we not all take the time to shift away from judgemental attitudes, get curious about the challenges and needs of the other branches of our industry, and find ways to work together for the common good?

Ron Fisher, Director of Operations QRPBC, Reprinted from Collision Quarterly Magazine

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