Ob­ser­va­tions from the year that was

Motor Equipment News - - PANEL & PAINT -

Well that’s it, 2015 is all but done – time to drag out the Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions, cel­e­brate, and re­flect on the year that’s been! So how was it in your neck of the woods? Did you de­cide to ded­i­cate a few days to com­plet­ing an ap­pli­ca­tion to be in an in­surer’s re­pair net­work? If you did are you in the club, or out­side of it think­ing life’s got­ten eas­ier now that you’re off the tread­mill? Some have, and are re­port­ing it definitely is! Around the coun­try I’m dis­cov­er­ing more shops have one or more ded­i­cated es­ti­ma­tors, and in some places the own­ers have had to go back on the floor due to staff short­ages. Hourly rates have gone up, but times to do jobs are get­ting tighter.

The year 2015 saw an­other well­known and rep­utable un­der­writer be­ing swal­lowed whole de­spite the protests of the ma­jor­ity of our in­sur­ance bro­kers and ve­hi­cle re­pair­ers when the Commerce

Com­mis­sion slept their way through a de­ci­sion making process. Even a $750 an lawyer in­volved in the ex­er­cise agreed with me on that score. A re­write of our Health & Safety leg­is­la­tion has meant ev­ery­one needs to be aware of their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to­ward staff and peo­ple wan­der­ing in off the street, lest they have an accident on your premises. It’s not only the com­pany direc­tors who have to take re­spon­si­bil­ity; this is shared among those in man­age­ment. I trust your risk mit­i­ga­tion plans are now well doc­u­mented and are in prac­tice. Of­ten change comes as a col­lec­tion of smaller things that at the time may seem really quite in­signif­i­cant. How­ever, when you look back over five, 10 or more years, you no­tice just how dif­fer­ent things really are – and seem to be ac­cel­er­at­ing to­wards what we can only guess.

We once had a pro­lif­er­a­tion of in­sur­ance com­pa­nies, but scratch the sur­face and now there are really only two – and they own the ma­jor­ity of the more pop­u­lar brand names of the past. While we all enjoy it when we are able to beat the Aussies, the prob­lem is that we let them own our in­sur­ance com­pa­nies and our banks. Un­for­tu­nately th­ese are the two most com­mon chan­nels most peo­ple

use to buy in­sur­ance – so the deck is now stacked against a cus­tomer look­ing for a choice. How­ever, one thing that hasn’t changed is the grow­ing need for more pro­fes­sion­al­ism in the in­dus­try. “Hey Trev, this dude on the phone wants to know when he’s get­ting his car back”… isn’t some­thing the ve­hi­cle owner should ever hear when he’s just want­ing an up­date. In fact with a well-run or­gan­i­sa­tion he wouldn’t even need to ask.

Talk­ing about pro­fes­sion­al­ism, what is it with you young guys? I’ve just been talk­ing to the owner of a busy work­shop and he tells me he can’t even take a day off be­cause no one want’s to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for a day – let alone a week. I also hear that some of you guys won’t even read the job card and have to be in­structed with a felt pen what has to be fixed or blended. What­ever hap­pened to log­i­cal think­ing?

An­other work­shop owner tells me that in the all the time he’s owned the busi­ness; he’s put more young guys off in the past three years than the pre­vi­ous 28. So now he’s loathe to take on any­one un­der 35.

Once upon a time “the boy” had to do all the me­nial stuff like tidy­ing up and sweep­ing the floor, and in the process learned how the tools were used and in what or­der. Ap­par­ently things are dif­fer­ent now, but the rea­sons to learn a trade are even more poignant than in our more re­cent past. Trades­men are a lim­ited re­source re­gard­less of what in­dus­try they are from. The guys who were once at the bot­tom of the class who learned a trade are of­ten much bet­ter off in the long run when com­pared with those who stud­ied for a de­gree and gained a stu­dent debt.

This is es­pe­cially so for tradies if they went to the trou­ble of get­ting all the tick­ets and stepped up to take on the ad­di­tional re­spon­si­bil­ity of man­age­ment. Learn­ing about es­ti­mat­ing is an im­por­tant next step for any­one once they have mas­tered the ba­sics.

Last month I wrote about the com­ing revo­lu­tion in the col­li­sion re­pair in­dus­try. Yes, it is about tech­nol­ogy, but here’s the thing – the au­to­mated and ro­botic sys­tems still need peo­ple with good skills to be able to do the ma­jor­ity of the work.

Any­one who comes from the time be­fore the dusty over­alls, where bog had yet to be in­vented and all-metal fin­ishes were the norm, will be shak­ing their heads at the de­clin­ing skill level. How­ever, th­ese are the very peo­ple any­one new to the trade should be look­ing to for ad­vice and to be a men­tor.

Why? Sim­ple really – if you lis­ten you will learn some very valu­able meth­ods that will be worth an ab­so­lute for­tune one day in the not so dis­tant fu­ture when baby boomers de­cide they really don’t care how much it costs to re­build the dream car of their past. So while on the sub­ject of the skills of the past, it’s great to chat with some of the guys who have found a very prof­itable niche sim­ply be­cause they have one or two guys on the team who know how to hand-make pan­els and/or join them as re­pair sec­tions. Re­pair­ing or re­build­ing mo­torhomes, buses and com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles with a va­ri­ety of ma­te­ri­als is more sat­is­fy­ing than bolt­ing on new parts!

There are a num­ber of TV shows such as Count­ing Car, Over­haulin, In­side West Coast Cus­toms, Pimp My Ride, etc., that fea­ture the skills of some bril­liant and slightly zany ex­perts as they put their com­bined tal­ents into a project ve­hi­cle. It would be great to see a New Zealand version! Due to in­sur­ers build­ing their own in-house teams, we have seen the steady demise of spe­cial­ist in­de­pen­dent mo­tor asses­sors. It would seem from feed­back around the coun­try that to­day’s crop of re­cent con­verts from the panel trade have a def­i­nite lack of real knowl­edge gained from hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence.

It would seem the rule books writ­ten by in­sur­ers spec­i­fy­ing al­lowances fall well short when it comes to re­pair­ing com­mer­cial, high value, or spe­cial­ist ve­hi­cles, and staff asses­sors are left strug­gling to cope with even the ba­sics.

It would be pos­si­ble us­ing the vast data­banks our in­sur­ers have built up over the years to be able to de­ter­mine an al­go­rithm that could es­tab­lish a true win/win/win for re­pairs, in­sur­ance com­pa­nies

and their cus­tomers. From this the op­ti­mi­sa­tion of re­sources that in­clude a whole range of sup­pli­ers, parts and rates could be ap­plied and ap­por­tioned around the num­ber of peo­ple in any given area.

This would to­tally elim­i­nate the need for a whole load of in­ef­fi­cient prac­tices. How­ever, don’t panic, it won’t ever hap­pen as we are com­mit­ted to mar­ket forces – so the big can get big­ger and evo­lu­tion takes out those who can’t keep up.

Your life­line is the trends which are the vi­tally im­por­tant in­di­ca­tors of the di­rec­tion you need to be mov­ing in. Pay at­ten­tion to what’s hap­pen­ing in your part of the jun­gle, but also look out at the hori­zon from time to time. Watch­ing what your com­peti­tors are do­ing is one part of the puz­zle, what your cus­tomers and sup­pli­ers are say­ing is an­other.

Tech­nol­ogy like I men­tioned last month might be the key to the fu­ture you are look­ing for. Who will be the first to adopt ro­botic meth­ods to en­hance work flows and speed up pro­duc­tion in your patch? First movers will be hard to keep up with, and will very quickly have your lunch.

For­tu­nately, Mo­tor Equip­ment News has an on­line archive and you can check out the Panel & Paint page from Novem­ber to find out what’s com­ing to a shop near you. It’s hap­pen­ing all over the world and now it’s com­ing here. As al­ways please drop me an email (pe­ter179@ me.com) to share your views.

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