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What The Industry Will Keep From the Pandemic

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COVID-19 changed how every industry operated. For the collision repair world that meant contactless pick-up and drop-off, digital payments and many more innovations. It required a shift in time, and priorities, and perseverance from the industry. It also led to the reinforcement of numerous beneficial practices. 


Now with the pandemic winding down, what business changes were made over the past two years that are worth keeping? What trends developed, accelerated and were reinforced that will have some staying power? FenderBender spoke with Nick Notte, I-CAR’s vice president of sales, to forecast what we can expect to stick around. 


AS TOLD TO PAUL HODOWANIC


An emphasis on training. 


When COVID-19 struck, all of a sudden, we had more time. Shops that did stay open didn’t have much business and those that closed had even more time. We were available all hours of the day and these new types of connectivity became common like Zoom and Google Meet. That bodes well for our industry moving forward. 


Many of the shops in the industry, I give them credit, didn't lay off or furlough anyone unless they absolutely had to. Which means, they were pushing them to take training. That should continue now. Whether they came into the shop to do it or logged in from home. While we were down 25-30 percent of planned training, we still had 818,000 online courses taken in 2020. We trained just under 83,000 people in a COVID year and added 291 new Gold Class shops, most of whom had never done training before. 


I do believe some shop owners and managers saw it as an expense and as an interruption to production, but after COVID I think they saw the value that training provides. I know it gets more difficult when the shop is busy, but I expect a greater emphasis and reliance on training. Especially as electric vehicles are approaching, training will be more important than ever to make sure they are keeping themselves and the cars safe. 


Specification for some, diversification for others. 


The enterprising shop owners really found out they could increase their revenues and profitability by keeping work in-house, and that expanding mechanical work just makes sense with all the ADAS calibrations that need to be done. Instead of farming out a transmission job, they can probably do that work in-house too. A quick oil change can be an easy addition. We’ve been talking to repairers for months now about ADAS training and keeping that in the shop instead of subletting it. COVID forced them to keep it in-house and think about extra work that they always saw as a burden to them. I think they saw that this work can be profitable. It makes us a complete automotive option for our community. Consider that moving forward. What can your shop do to diversify? Oil changes are one way, but there are many others. 


But also, as the big three national MSOs expanded into new markets, and regional MSOs like Crash Champions and Classic Collision continued to expand, we saw an increase in specialization and shops focusing on just a certain type of car.  That’s a trend that we were going to see anyway, but COVID jump started it even more so. 


Convenience heightened to another level. 


More than anything, the pandemic reinforced the need for convenience. Shops completely changed the way they did intake to avoid any contact and increasingly were going to customers’ homes or places of business to pick up or drop off a vehicle. That will continue to be a priority for customers. Shops that prioritize convenience over everything else will win. 


The need for convenience was always there, but shops that can find better and more innovative ways to make their services convenient, the better off they will be. Whether that is remote pick-up or drop-off, taking online payments or a greater emphasis on online scheduling. We saw a lot of businesses do this and it actually increased their productivity as it forced them to innovate and reimagine the process. So not only is it a win for the customer, it is also a win for the shop’s bottom line.

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