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Achieving the Impossible

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There’s nothing like a good industry conference to open your mind to what others are doing, to invigorate your own passion for collision repair and of course to network with people in order to help generate new business. I write this as I’m at the U.K.’s Autobody Professionals Club annual Night of Knights conference and awards ceremony, where there have been some great presentations from businesses that produce some amazing services and products. 

Most notably was a terrific keynote speech by Rosie Swale Pope who in 2002 ran alone around the world, sailed across the Atlantic in a 17-foot boat, has done 27 back-to-back marathons. At 68 years of age, she is an inspiration to all of us that struggle to get up in the morning, who complain about everything and have moments where life all seems a bit like hard work. Full of passion and energy, Rosie demonstrates that the impossible is possible, and that if you set your mind on something, almost anyone can achieve their dreams. 

Sometimes to reach these dreams and goals you have to slightly break the rules, break with convention, turn things on their head and stop listening to the negative people around you that find bad in almost everything. This was also the message from another speaker, Eddie Longworth, shareholder in the new startup collision shop group, Halo. Halo only has four stores at the moment, but they are certainly growing fast and getting attention from both shop owners and insurers. Eddie’s message was simple, understand what your customer wants, and then deliver it. 

The first challenge to that is actually getting your customer to tell you what they want. Sometimes they can’t articulate it, sometimes they don’t actually know until someone shows them, or demonstrates the seemingly impossible. Let’s take cycle time, for example. If the industry average is 10 days, how could a shop possibly deliver consistently in two days? That’s seemingly impossible, right? Well, not if you change a few rules, break with convention and turn collision repair on it’s head in a way never seen on these shores before. How could it be possible to carry out a 32-hour repair in just two working days and in just one day be able to complete a 15.2-hour repair order?

In many instances, I see shops that don’t really understand (on the surface) who their customer is, and therefore an inevitable conflict is generated between insurer and repairer. Certainly in a conflict situation, no one ever wins and the misunderstanding and distrust each other have of one another’s businesses will never resolve into a win-win solution. A two-day cycle time is impossible without the cooperation of both the insurance carrier and the collision shop. It’s also not possible without the buy-in of the supply chain, as we are all only ever as good as the people that supply our businesses.     

One of the challenges most collision shop owners have is that they feel, quite understandably, that they have to go through a sequential remodelling of their business in order to increase performance and deliver what their customers want. As an analogy, some years ago, it was British Airways who thought that in order to better compete with other airline carriers, they had to do things better—offer faster routes to nicer airports with better food than their competitors. In other words, they tried to do things just a little better than their competitors to win more business. It was new upstart Ryanair that came into the market and tore up the rule book. They flew to airfields that were in the middle of nowhere, with a shed as a terminal. They said that if you want to have food, you have to buy it and you pay extra for anything you want over a basic service and that included checked baggage, payment by a credit card and airport (rather than online) check-in.

The  advantage is that they are cheap. Tickets for some destinations are as low as $30. Ryanair is now the largest and most profitable airline in Europe. They turned the industry on its head by tearing up the rule book. They knew that incremental change would not be good enough, just like being able to repair cars slightly faster than your competitors. It’s not a unique selling proposition to say that you do it slightly better, slightly faster or slightly cheaper than your competition. In order to get noticed, there has to be a sea of change, a paradigm shift in your offer. 

Is it possible to repair vehicles in two days, of course it is, but only by turning all of the beliefs and processes you carry out in a traditional body shop on their head. Do you think if we asked Rosie Swale Pope if she could repair cars in two days she’d say no? I know she’d find a way. 


Jon Parker is managing director of the Byteback Group, a U.K.-based information technology and services company aimed at advancing the collision repair industry. Parker can be reached at jparker@fenderbender.com.

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