During one very unlucky 14-month stretch, Jeff Hendler was involved in a handful of car accidents. That experience would ultimately change his career path in a way he’d never anticipated. The five accidents—none his fault—required him to deal with as many different insurance companies for claims and repairs. A life insurance agent at the time, Hendler got help from a client who was a collision repairer. As the mess of dealing with insurance and repairs came to an end, his client asked whether he’d do just one more car-wreck-related thing: testify in a state hearing for a new claims practices regulation. Hendler agreed.
After the hearing, Hendler noted that the insurer lobbyists were a strong and well-organized group. For repairers to have any influence, he told his client, they’d need to come together as one voice. Much discussion ensued, and soon enough, a collision trade association was created—and Hendler was elected to be executive director. Now, with more than 20 years of experience in the industry, Hendler is an influential member of the Collision Industry Conference. Here, he shares his thoughts about the ups and downs of two decades in the business.
You do a lot of motivational speaking for collision repairers. What kinds of things get them down, and what perspective do you offer to boost them back up?
I am only motivational if the ideas I present to the repairers are acted upon. If they don’t act, then I haven’t given them the concepts to motivate them to change. I think of myself as a “presenter of ideas”—ideas designed to enhance the daily lives of those who attend my workshops. I don’t think collision repairers are any different than anyone else in business: They are frustrated by the things they perceive are out of their control. What I offer is a game plan to quantify what is happening and an ability to manage what you know about your business.
Twenty years in the industry lends itself to great perspective and insight. Considering what you’ve learned and observed over the years,
what’s been the biggest change in collision repair within the past couple of decades?
Without a doubt, it has been the ever-changing “interferences” imposed from the insurers. It is hard to hit a moving target, especially if there are multiple targets. Each insurance company has its own set of initiatives; those initiatives often change; and, of course, they differ from one insurer to the next. The shop attempts to focus on the needs of the vehicle owner while also trying to appease the insurer. In the so-called old days, shop owners only had to focus on the vehicle owner. Insurers should rely on the shops that produce the best repairs and keep the customers happy.
Collision repairers face a lot of challenges; what’s the biggest one right now?
The first challenge is the over abundance of repair facilities. The United States has three times the number of shops necessary to produce the repairs. The laws of supply and demand absolutely play havoc with those repairers who are willing to update their shops, invest in equipment, train their personnel and make the sacrifices necessary to stay ahead of the curve. Despite doing all the right things, they’re challenged by every backyarder that finds an empty building and attempts to compete in the marketplace.
The secondary challenge arises in trying to distinguish your facility from the masses. This is accomplished through better equipment, training, personnel and systems that allow your facility to excel in cycle time, customer satisfaction, overall repair costs and gross profits.
Does it feel like the business is tougher now than it has ever been?
Yes, tougher, and extremely so. Just understanding the concepts of business is a threat to every tradesman who already possesses the ability to repair the vehicle. Being a business owner does not make a person a business manager. In today’s marketplace, with shrinking profit margins in every department, business management is more important than ever. The bottom line is that everything that has come about in the past several years creates 10 more reasons to be able to better manage your business.
What are the top things collision repairers must do to be successful in the current business climate?
Focus on what they can control. Partner with vendors that produce the best products and provide the best service. Provide training for employees and provide a work environment that encourages success. Become active in the community and promote a friendly customer atmosphere. Don’t try to produce the greatest volume of repairs, but the best quality of repair with the highest profitability.
Fill us in on your role with the Collision Industry Conference (CIC):
I am one of the founders of the CIC, which was originally known as the Collision Repair Conference, and I am the only person who has never missed a meeting. I metamorphosed into the administration role as the one who kept the communication going between meetings. Al Estorga was the first chairman, and I just assisted him in getting things organized. At one time, I was the chairman as well as the administrator; it grew from there.
The CIC has always focused on the issues and challenges facing the industry. Often, the discussions themselves lead to better understanding and change—but it comes slow, very frustratingly slow! Every meeting reflects the life of the repairer. The issues they face are the topics that set our agenda.
You’re a golf lover—a member of the Professional Golfer’s Association of America, even. Given that golf often lends itself to being a good metaphor for many things in life, what lessons can it offer the collision industry?
No matter what happens on the golf course, you have no one to blame but yourself. You hit the shot—every one of them! Successful people make mistakes, but they don’t make the same mistakes again and again. The sooner that all entities within the collision repair industry recognize that we have created every challenge we face and that only we can come together to resolve the issues, the sooner we can accomplish greater success. At the end of a round of golf, a competitor signs the scorecard. This is the proof that what they signed for is what they produced. At the end of the day, we will sign our scorecard, and I want to make certain that what I am signing for is what I wanted to accomplish—and that I am proud of it.