Cropper: Wait for the Boom

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This spring, it’s been difficult not to think that certain aspects of life might be returning to normal.

I’m not even talking about the so-called “new normal”—I’m talking about how my kids returned to in-person school in mid-March, after their spring break from virtual classes—regular old normal.

Last year they went on spring break and they never went back to class. So much has happened since then—going contactless, going digital with so many aspects of the repair process, filling staffing gaps—this summer could be looking up.  

Then again, we’re still waiting for the return of rush hour, which, as we all saw, evaporated during the pandemic year as those who could, were sent, like our kids, to work from home.

No matter the size of the city, traffic is just different than it was before. A light that you might have sat at before for two or three cycles gives you a green after just one. Drive times are shorter.

For what it’s worth and by many accounts, daily traffic is about the same—it’s the high impact times, the times that help support the collision repair industry, that just aren’t as busy. It’s difficult to miss stop-and-go traffic, but …

Snowblower Shortage

It’s absolutely shown up in shop numbers. For Alaska, according to CCC, the number of estimates written by shops has been down 28 percentage points, and from what I’ve seen, most other states are in line with that. Estimates are down by, at a minimum, a quarter, and that translates into repair orders being down even more.

All that said, I’m keeping my eye on miles driven as the key indicator of when we can expect to see even more normal. I haven’t seen much on the miles driven front, yet, but I remain optimistic that that indicator is going to begin to move up and up and up, and at my shops, we’re staying ready.

Why? It comes down to trying to buy a snowblower.

It was a non-stop snowy spring here in Anchorage, and there was so much snow that my friend wanted to buy a snowblower. Simple enough. 

You know what though? He couldn’t find one, they were sold out, and it was because more people than normal have extra cash on hand to buy things they maybe wouldn’t normally buy—like a snowblower.

And it’s not just snowblowers that are hard to find. Things that are significant investments, all over the country, are scarce, like bicycles and boats and vehicles and more. They are being snapped up, and it looks to me like a sign of things to come.

Stay Ready

Don’t get me wrong, the pandemic continues to be horrible for broad sectors of the economy, some people were, and are seriously hurting. 

Still, I think there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about what could happen in just a handful of months, and there’s a big, underlying reason why.

We have never seen federal involvement in a crisis at this level, ever, absolutely not in my adult life. There was extra unemployment, rounds and rounds of stimulus, folks saving money by staying home, 401K withdrawals without penalties, PPP loan forgiveness,  just trillions of dollars pumped into the economy by the government.

It’ll take years to see the full picture of all these actions' effects, but I think in the shorter term, once people get back to driving to work and taking the kids to school, we’re going to see normal, and then some.

Why “and then some”? I predict that, as folks break from long stretches at home, spending four or five days in a row never leaving the house, that we’ll see an increase in traffic incidences as people get used to, again, driving in rush hour. 

It’s going to go hand in hand with miles driven, which seem ripe to just explode this summer. It all could happen very fast and that’s why, like I said, my shops are staying ready, as should yours.

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