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Ray Fisher on the Roles of Associations

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In over 25 years in this industry, I can never remember things being this bad. I know that you work for an association, but why won’t the associations put a stop to some of these issues?

Your question speaks loudly for so many in the collision repair industry today, and since many facets cause this frustration, let us identify a few and then look at the associations for the solutions.

Probably the most common complaint that I hear is steering, followed by lower profits, less work, abuse of the estimating systems, blend within and paint material caps. The industry believes that steering began with the Direct Repair Programs or DRPs, back in the 1980s. The reality of it is that steering actually happened way before that time between repair facilities and local insurance agents. Profit margins will always shrink in any business environment where supply is larger than the demand, and we do face an “overcapacity” issue as the number of repairable vehicles continues to decline. Abuse of the estimating systems and paint material caps can only happen when someone says “yes,” also affected by the state of the economy.

The larger trade associations — ASA, AASP and SCRS — are all very effective national trade associations; the industry just does not realize their effectiveness. Are they without error at various times over the decades? The answer is “certainly not,” but their “good” certainly overwhelms their “bad.”  However, they serve as “One Voice” for the industry, and the trite statement “there is power in numbers” is very much true. For example, if a trade association represents an industry of 50,000, they are representing conservatively about 325,000 people when you include employees. That can then reach 3.25 million people very easily (if those employees inform 10 people) — that could be a lot of informed voters!

Another important service that a trade association provides is information and “best practices” to the repair industry, allowing the shop owner to make informed decisions and to keep up with all of today’s fast-paced change. Probably the largest challenge that the industry has is integrating craftsmanship with advanced technology, all the while maintaining profitability, production and quality. Consumers today are demanding: They want it quick, they want it cheap, they want quality, and they have no loyalty — “hassle-free service.” The problem is, in many cases our industry has always been loyal to its vendors, suppliers and customers and does not understand this new mindset or how it could even exist (it is the new generation that grew up with Internet shopping and prices).

As you mentioned, I do work for a trade association. One of the frustrations that we face is the false expectation that when we take a position on something, we can then collectively tell our members to do it, which would be a violation of the anti-trust laws. Suddenly, we begin hearing “nothing seems to happen after that” because it appears we took a stand, but no “call to action.”  The “position” means that based on our mission statement, which represents the automotive technician trade, “this is where we stand as an industry.”

Associations provide many avenues for the repair facility to be represented anonymously. We act as liaisons with local, state and federal government (plug here — ASA is the only automotive trade association that has a full-time lobbyist in Washington, D.C.), vendors, information providers and insurance carriers as trends demand. It is here that many fail to see the success made by the three largest associations, because so much is done behind the scenes and “bragging is not flattering.” 

The fact that all three trade associations funded a full-time position that will provide “one-stop shopping” for information provider questions/disputes in the coming months is a sampling of the commitment that all three have to making it better for the industry.

Most importantly, trade associations are only as good as the activity and support of their industry members. Get involved; make a commitment to yourself, your business and your employees that you want to do better and join at least one association.

With the elections just a year away, don’t be like the person who never voted, but then ridiculed the person in office — your voice does count!

Ray Fisher is the president of ASA-Michigan. This article represents his opinion and does not reflect the views of ASA-Michigan.

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