Observations from the year that was
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.