As I write this column, I’m on a plane climbing above 30,000 feet, on my way to the International Autobody Congress and Exposition (NACE) in New Orleans.
Directly behind me is Ben Rouw, general manager of Steel’s Collision & Glass in Monticello, Minn., and the recipient of this year’s Emil Stanley Merit Award for his commitment to continued education and industry advancement. Nearby is longtime industry advocate Darrell Amberson, who recently took on the role of vice president of operations at LaMettry’s Collision Inc., based in Eden Prairie, Minn. Toward the front of the plane is I-CAR Technical Director Jason Bartanen, whom FenderBender has relied on numerous times for his collision repair expertise. Several other industry professionals are joining us on this flight—one sitting in front of me is reviewing a repair order on his laptop.
Why does any of this matter? I know that by the time you read this, NACE will be in the books for 2012. But as I prepare for the event and look at the industry snapshot on this single plane—professionals dedicated to continuing their education and moving the industry forward—I can’t help but think that collision repair has a bright future.
I know many shop operators don’t believe that, especially since controversy erupted over State Farm’s parts bidding program through PartsTrader. During the last six months, fenderbender.com and my email inbox have been deluged with communications from repairers who are angry, disillusioned and depressed about the state of shop/insurer relations. I’ve heard shop owners say they are just hanging on until they can retire, or that they would never recommend collision repair as a viable career to future generations. It seems that every update we write about PartsTrader brings another wave of these letters.
But sitting on this plane, surrounded by professionals who have committed many years to improving the trade and still have a passion for advancing the industry, I’m reminded that collision repair is not in a downward spiral. Shop owners have faced and overcome many obstacles, especially in recent years. The future doesn’t look any less challenging, but as long as there are professionals who continue to seek solutions and ways to better the business, there are plenty of reasons to be inspired and optimistic about what this industry can achieve.
We feature those inspirational professionals each month in the pages of this magazine, along with real, shop-tested strategies to help your business improve. If you’ve got your own inspirational story to tell, or success strategy to share, send me an email and we might feature it in the magazine. You could help lift your peers’ spirits, and hopefully their bottom line.