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Insurer-Repairer Relationships

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If there’s one thing Rod Enlow offers the collision repair industry, it’s experience. And lots of it. A nearly 40-year veteran of the automotive industry, Enlow worked at USAA Property and Casualty Insurance in San Antonio, Texas, for 26 years. As USAA’s primary liaison with the collision repair industry, Enlow built the business plan for USAA’s Auto Technical Training Center and managed the training operations for the Physical Damage programs. While traveling for the company, he had the opportunity to meet with collision repair operators across the country, becoming aware of repairers’ day-to-day issues.

In 2003, Enlow retired from USAA Insurance and formed his own consulting business, Renlow Auto Technical Consulting Inc., where he could put his knowledge and both-sides-of-the-fence experience to use. In 2004, he was appointed vice president of industry relations for the Coordinating Committee for Automotive Repair (CCAR).

Now, Enlow spends his time providing a balanced perspective to the industry as he consults with repairers and works to educate shop operators about the importance of training in safety, health and pollution through S/P2, a training initiative through CCAR-GreenLink.

Here, he shares his thoughts on how the relationship between insurers and repairers has changed over the years, the major challenges and opportunities that face repairers today and how he envisions the future of insurer/repairer dynamics.

What are the most important issues CCAR is addressing right now?
Compliance assistance is how CCAR got started, and that is a constant focus of our organization. In cooperation with the EPA, CCAR operates CCAR-GreenLink, a national compliance assistance center that’s available free of charge at ccar-greenlink.org.

The CCAR-GreenLink site is recognized globally as a leading source of environmental compliance and pollution prevention information for automotive operations. A recent addition to our site is the EPA’s new “Paint Rule” training video, which has been posted in a “streaming” format to allow visitors to view the program without having to wait for the entire document to be downloaded.

Training is also a key element, both for working technicians and for the coming generations of technicians now attending our nation’s secondary and post-secondary schools. EPA and OSHA regulations state that employees must be trained in environmental and safety issues before entering the workplace, and training must recur at least annually, and S/P2, our award-winning Web-based training on health, safety and environmental awareness was established in 2002 to increase our industry’s compliance and awareness with these requirements.

What is especially heartening to CCAR and our board is that, even though these same regulations do not apply to students in a school setting, countless automotive instructors and school administrators have seen the value of incorporating S/P2 into their curriculum. As a result, we recently surpassed the four million mark in S/P2 tests taken just since fall of 2006. This is a testament to the way CCAR, through our S/P2 training courses, is changing the world one student at a time.

Why is there so much emphasis on environmental issues right now?
An unfortunate truth is that the automotive industry, in the aggregate, is the largest polluter on the planet. That’s a terrible thing for us to have to bear and certainly not something that we want to tell our grandchildren. Still, we have to deal with it, and we must do something to change the way we look at the entire issue of pollution and what that does to technicians’ health, safety and longevity.

People in our business rarely die suddenly from pollution or poor pollution prevention practices, but they certainly can suffer a shortened lifespan as a result. It is amazing that even today we don’t see a lot of “old painters.” There is a good reason for this, and much can be found by just a simple walk-through of many of our collision repair facilities operating today. There are just too many shops that place “best practices” on a back burner and concentrate on keeping their doors open. No one wants any business to fail in today’s lean economy, but if you have to cut corners where it comes to the health and safety of your employees, is it justified?

You were invited to speak at the 2009 International Body Shop Symposium in Berlin and led a session called “Re-Skilling the Industry.” What are some of the highlights of that talk?
I showed an industry in which, on a global basis, we are not doing the right thing for the planet, the people—and especially for the folks that are employed in the shops repairing our vehicles. Many insurers need to take a closer look at the shops on their preferred networks and make it a priority that they will only approve shops that demonstrate awareness through annual training for their personnel and that have a written plan for pollution, fire or health-related emergencies. After all, the insurer’s customers go into that shop as well, and they should be at least worried about protecting their health and well-being if nothing else.

Additionally, the insurers’ appraisal staff must go into these shops on a daily basis to perform initial appraisals and post-reinspections. What conditions are they exposed to as a result? Everyone at IBIS now knows what they need to do now and in the future.

What kinds of trends are happening internationally?
Other countries deal with the issues of pollution prevention, health and safety in different ways. It was good to see that, when you boil it down, best practices are still best practices no matter what part of the planet you are visiting. Of course, CCAR’s S/P2 training specifically addresses what is needed in the United States for shops to be in compliance with EPA and OSHA; but again, these practices are not that far from what you find around the world in developed industrial economies.

During your time with USAA Insurance, how did the relationship between insurance companies and the collision repair industry change?
When I began with USAA in 1977, one hundred percent of our appraisals were being prepared by independent appraisers, who obtained an agreed price with the shop of the member’s or claimant’s choice. Later, we developed and built a large USAA employee appraiser staff, which offset many of the independent appraisals. It also allowed us to perform “during” and “post” inspections of the work being performed to ensure that it met our appraisal criteria for repair and replacement.

We developed the concept of the STARS (DRP) program and began the slow rollout of this program throughout the enterprise. I would say that as far as USAA was concerned, we always wanted the shop to manage a decent profit and do the right thing. Some folks may have forgotten that the main reason insurers came out with DRP programs in the first place was to eliminate the LAE (loss adjustment expense) of having staff or independent appraisers prepare the initial appraisal, deal with agreeds and all supplements. Not having these expenses—salary, company cars, benefits, laptop computers, etc.—saved the insurers a lot of money and also sped up the repair process, since the shop no longer had to wait for an appraiser to show up at their shop.

You’ve participated in many Collision Industry Conferences (CIC). How is it valuable?
CIC is an interactive venue for the open and frank discussion of issues that affect every facet of the collision repair industry. I was one of the few insurers who dared to enter the wild and wooly world of CIC back in the days when insurers usually had a bull’s eye painted on their foreheads. Someone, seeing my name tag, asked me, “What are you doing here?” I said, “I know that the answers to proper repair aren’t found just in training schools and our appraisers need to know what the problem areas are in the industry so they can be better trained and equipped to deal with these situations when they arise, so here I am.” Now, many insurers regularly attend CIC and participate in panel discussions as well.

How do you envision the future of insurer/repairer relationships? How might they continue to evolve?
Insurers who recognize that shops are the technical resource and insurers are the financial resource, and who stick by shops that treat their mutual customers with world-class repairs and extensive communications during the repair process, will be able to survive in any economy. Shops need to do what they do: repair, train, repair and train some more. Today’s vehicles are more sophisticated than ever before. This trend will continue and make tomorrow’s vehicles even more of a challenge, as well as more hazardous to repair due to new materials which are unknowns at present.

What do you see as the main challenges and opportunities facing repairers today?

Profitability—How to keep the doors open, make a sustainable profit and still do everything “by the book.”

DRP vs. non-DRP—How to embrace those programs that allow the safe and efficient repair of vehicles and getting away from others that do not.

Marketing—Nothing is better than a strong customer referral network, customers who will tell everyone they know about your shop and why they should take their vehicles to no other place in the event of an accident.

Health—Maintaining a healthy, safe and environmentally responsible operation for your workers and encouraging new employees to adopt the best practices that they observe from everyone around them.

If you could give collision repair center operators one piece of advice, what would it be?
Hang in there; develop your own marketing plan and provide customer service that is second to none. As a result, your business will be balanced between insurer-provided and customer-referred work.

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