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Hosting Continuing Education Classes

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Dave Hamby, owner of Express Auto Body in Georgetown, Texas, opened his shop in 2006. The shop was doing $3 million in annual revenue by 2009.

How did Hamby manage to grow so quickly? Insurance agents. Relationship development with insurers is the cornerstone of Hamby’s marketing plan. He hosts continuing education courses for insurers at his shop to do just that.

Hamby visited countless insurers in his market during his first year in business to let them know about his shop and to increase job referrals. The result: almost nothing. “Insurers get zillions of visits everyday from shop owners asking for their business,” Hamby says. “But most of the time, they have nothing to offer those insurers in return.”

Fortunately, Hamby had another trick up his sleeve. He realized that offering a valuable service to insurers, like continuing education, could keep his shop top-of-mind for insurer referrals in a way that visits to pitch his shop never could.

Cheryl Senko, manager of continuing education and network training for PPG Industries, says continuing education is a great service to offer insurers because it’s something they all need. Most insurers nationwide need 24 credits of continuing education every two years to maintain their license, Senko says.

“Holding these continuing education courses is one of the fundamental things we’ve done to grow.”
— Brian Greenley, owner, Maaco Collision Repair Auto Painting & Glass

Hamby decided on continuing education as a growth strategy, and he now holds monthly courses for insurers in his shop. And he’s seeing the payoff: Referrals from insurers are now Hamby’s second highest source of business.

Shops that do this become much more credible organizations in the minds of insurers, Senko says. It builds awareness about your business, creates relationships with insurers, and puts your shop top-of-mind for referrals—which many shop owners report dramatically increases their sales ability.

Build A Relationship

Brian Greenley, owner of Maaco Collision Repair Auto Painting & Glass in Littleton, Colo., implemented a continuing education program at his shop in 2005 to build trust and business awareness with local insurance agents.

“I get a lot of shop owners asking me for referrals,” says Bob Smart, commercial lines manager for Commercial Insurance Group in Highlands Ranch, Colo. Smart has been in attendance at Greenley’s continuing education offerings. “We constantly have people who come give us muffins, doughnuts or pens to get business from us.” News flash: That tactic is a waste and doesn’t work at all, he says.

Smart adds that Greenley’s education offering has been the most significant factor in creating a foundational relationship between himself and Greenley’s facility.

Greenley says his shop is now the biggest franchise in the entire Maaco chain, with 82 repairs a week and $4 million in annual revenue. “Holding these continuing education courses is one of the fundamental things we’ve done to grow,” he says, adding that insurer referrals have increased by 40 percent since he implemented the continuing education program, and they now make up 30 percent of his business.
Holding these courses makes you an expert in the collision industry, Senko says. When insurers see your shop, your people and your processes, they develop a personal connection with you and your operation. “And they’ll feel more comfortable sending their policyholders to you for repair.”

Paint Consultation

Putting these courses on can be a bit of a logistical headache if you try to do it yourself, mainly because most states have strict requirements regarding continuing education that you have to abide by. Your paint supplier is the best resource to help you—and typically for very little cost.

Each paint company has a slightly different approach to this, so talk to your local jobber about how your paint supplier can help you.
Greenley, a long-time Sherwin-Williams customer, sought assistance with his continuing education program from Michael Pellett, training center manager for Sherwin-Williams, and his local sales representative Kevin Kingsley.

The continuing education courses, which are conducted live, are available at no cost to Sherwin customers, says Pellet, whose company teaches 20 courses yearly.

“Shops just need to coordinate the event with their local Sherwin-Wiliams representative,” Pellett says. Sherwin provides shops with a state-registered course and instructor for free in most states—Sherwin absorbs all administrative costs on behalf of its customers.
Pellett says Sherwin offers this service because it’s a win-win situation for everyone involved. “We know that if we can help our collision shop customers better market and grow their business, we assure our mutual success.”

Hamby’s paint supplier, PPG, offers a very similar service to members of its Certified First Network. Senko says the Certified First program provides instructor development training to become CE certified for no cost to participants. Some shop owners, like Hamby, choose to instruct the courses themselves.

Hamby says it’s been to his advantage to instruct the courses because insurers see him as a true expert in the collision repair industry who they can call with questions.

PPG will help shop owners become state certified at no cost, Senko says. The only cost associated with offering continuing education courses through PPG is a $55 fee to register the course at your facility, and a $10 fee per attendee.

Senko advises looking to your paint supplier for help to save you time and simplify the process because every state has strict continuing education guidelines to comply with:

• Every course taught must be state-approved biannually.

• Every class scheduled has to be registered by the state.

• Every student in attendance has to be registered by the state.

“It’s a lot of paperwork; it can be a real headache if you try to do it yourself,” Senko says. “If you miss any of it, you’re eligible for fines or to have your providership revoked.”

Senko says that your paint company will take care of all the logistical work on your behalf. Paint companies also put themselves in the position of liability, so if something goes wrong during the class, the paint company—rather than your facility—will be held liable for fines.

Maximize the Value

Offering continuing education courses is a good first step in building insurer relationships, but you can’t expect to just offer the course and then sit back and watch your business grow. Shop owners are responsible for the overall success of their continuing education offering. Smart offers a few ideas to achieve maximum value:

• Market your offering. Utilize the database of insurer contacts you’ve accrued over time, and contact each one. Sal Contreras, marketing director at Mike’s Auto Body in Concord, Calif., spearheaded the shop’s annual offering of nine continuing education courses. He contacts every insurance agent in his marketplace through email invitations, personal visits and “fax blasts” of a course flyer about one month prior to the course date. The course listings and dates are also provided on the shop’s website.

“It gives them an opportunity to become impressed with our quality of work. It’s a good, hard sales pitch on why they should consider using our shop in the future.”
— Dave Hamby, owner, Express Auto Body

“Even if those insurers you contact choose not to come, they’ve at least seen your shop name and have exposure to your business,” Contreras says.

• Hold the course at your shop. If you hold the course at an outside location, like a hotel, insurers never get an opportunity to see your operation. You miss out on giving them a compelling reason to refer customers to you.

• Have a clean, professional facility. Holding these courses could be more detrimental than helpful to your reputation if you have a less-than-desirable shop, Smart says. Insurers won’t want to have anything to do with you if you have a dirty, dingy operation. A clean, professional shop will impress insurers, and they’ll walk out with a high-quality impression of your business.

• Plan properly for the expected attendance. Make sure you have a room and seating that will accommodate the number of people you expect to attend. Hamby says he tends to have six to 18 insurance agents at each of his courses. He makes sure to have plenty of space and chairs to comfortably accommodate the attendees in a classroom-style setting. He also offers a lunch and refreshments to attendees following the course.

• Give a shop tour. After the course is completed, Hamby takes the course attendees for a shop tour. They walk the shop floor, talk to the technicians and illustrate some of the concepts that were discussed during the course.

“It gives them an opportunity to become impressed with our quality of work,” Hamby says. “It’s a good, hard sales pitch on why they should consider using our shop in the future.”

• Be consistent. Repetition is really important, Hamby says. You can’t just hold one continuing education course and expect to see an increase in business. You have to do it consistently, and maintain communication with the agents between offerings.

Hamby offers one course every month to ensure he has a constant flow of new insurers in his shop throughout the year. He spends about 12 days each month preparing for each course. It takes up a fair amount of his time, but that’s mainly because it takes some additional planning because he instructs the courses himself. (Greenley spends about 10 hours preparing for each of his courses through identifying prospects, contacting agents, and scheduling the meting. Greenley spends up to 25 hours per class total.)

Hamby spends just over 10 percent of his $4,500 monthly marketing budget, about $500, for continuing education. That includes the money he spends to promote and carry out the course.

The numbers of repairs you get in relation to the cost and the number of hours you spend making the class happen is extremely high, Hamby says, noting that he’s repaired the personal vehicles of nearly every one of the 100 insurers he has taught. And many of those agents send three to five referrals to Hamby each month.

Educate, Then Grow

Once they’re inside your shop, insurers have an ideal opportunity to see what sets your business apart from the rest. Commercial Insurance agent Smart always thought that Maaco shops were unfavorable facilities. Greenley’s course changed his mind.

“Seeing the facility, meeting the shop owner and watching their employees work definitely gives the shop more credibility from my perspective,” Smart says. He now sends 80 percent of his clients to Greenley’s shop due to the “familiarity and relationship” they’ve developed, and he has recommended that his co-workers do the same. “After seeing Greenley’s shop, I told the other agents in my company that it would be a benefit to our clients to send them there.”

The continuing education program has improved all facets of Greenley’s business. “It’s improved the image of my brand and the Maaco brand in the marketplace and [helped us] gain market share.”

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