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CIC Chairman on Participating in CIC

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Russell Thrall has been involved in the collision repair industry his whole life. As a second-generation collision repairer, he started cleaning the shops owned and managed by his father when he was a young boy. At 14, he started working as a part-time technician, and by the time he was 17, he was a body shop assistant manager. Thrall segued his experience writing a newsletter for a local collision repair association into a career in publishing. In 1991, he became a technical writer for Chilton’s Automotive Body Repair News, and from 1993 to 2000, he served as editor of Collision Repair Industry INSIGHT. In 2000, Thrall founded CollisionWeek, which he still publishes. Thrall also serves as technical services manager for the I-CAR Education Foundation.

Thrall is chairman of the Collision Industry Conference, a two-year post he began in January 2009. Thrall spent some time with FenderBender’s Jennifer Niemela after the April CIC meeting in Atlanta to discuss industry standards, relations with insurance companies, and the difference between attending and participating in the CIC.


You’re in something of an activist role as the CIC chairman. Your two-year post ends with the November meeting. How does the organization work?

CIC is a volunteer group organized around committees that rely on contributions from various sectors of the industry. A chair and vice chair of each committee are appointed. CIC has a planning session every two years, in conjunction with the new chairman taking over. We try to do a little survey work and combine it with the input of attendees of the planning session. That sets the agenda for the committees.

[In 2010, CIC committees included: consumer relations, database task force, definitions, education and training, trade practices, governmental, human resources, industry trends, insurance relations, parts, standards, repairer-insurance relations task force, special presentations and technical presentations.]

The CIC Standards Committee has been working on a big initiative for a while now. What’s the gist of that, and where does it stand?

The standards committee has been working to define the business process and training standards in collision repair. That’s a gargantuan effort. The work they’re doing there is really important and it’ll be a multi-year effort. It was already two years old when I took over, and will continue for a year or so after I’m gone. The scope was to develop and publish a basic framework for quality development and material usage on a national level. That’s been a major effort. The first iteration was defining the need for standards and what standards actually are. We’re trying to build consensus around what the standards will be. It’s enormously valuable to the industry. Once they have this final draft, the industry can then work to implement those. To be able to implement any specific recommendation, it’s up to the industry. At CIC they can go and embrace that work and make something out of it. Shops want those standards. The professional collision repairer wants something they can use in their own facility to continuously improve their operations and also improve the level of investment they’ve made.

Another potentially game-changing effort is taking shape in the Insurance Relations Committee, too, right?

Thorny relationships arise between insurance companies and repairers. The committee is trying to build a consensus on things repairers and insurance companies can agree upon that could benefit their mutual customers.

Is there hope for the relationship between insurers and repairers?

Collision repairers and insurers are on opposite sides of an economic transaction, so there’s always going to be a certain amount of friction and disagreement. The idea is not to solve every problem. Some of these things we were talking about 20-odd years ago, we’re still talking about today. And the underlying cause is still the same. The committee can knock off individual items every now and then. Every situation is different. The work they’ve been doing on the trade practices committee has certainly helped build some consensus. We can start to see, here’s what the repairers have consensus about, here’s what the insurers have consensus about. In some things they’re at least identifying there might be a solution there. They both have different needs. On the insurance side, fraud control is important. Insurers, much like repairers, feel they’ve developed a process that makes them unique in the marketplace. One area that has some of the best practices is digital imaging. They can define the common practices that would be acceptable to both sides. The committee has a full-blown presentation for July about this.

How willing is the insurance industry to work with repairers?

The amount of insurance industry participation in the CIC has been steadily growing through the years. In the mid-’90s the chair of the conference was an insurance industry executive. The level of participation grows rather steadily. It’s a challenging time for the industry on both sides. With the rise in fuel prices and decline in vehicle miles traveled, there are fewer collisions and accidents and fewer insurance claims being filed. Both sides are feeling a bit of pain right now during what some call the “driving recession.”

There was an interesting event during the April meeting, when I-CAR instructor Toby Chess had been about to make a presentation on non-OEM parts, and he had to cancel at the last minute. What happened?

That’s a good question. We’re actually kind of working on it right now. CIC had asked Toby to give a technical presentation on non-OEM parts, because of the concerns about their potential safety issues. Right before he was to go on, he got word there might be a legal issue about his presentation. Before giving his presentation, he felt he needed to consult with an attorney. We had about 30 minutes’ notice, so the presentation didn’t happen. We’re going to work through the confusion and get Toby’s information at the next meeting. We broke new ground that day. Never before had we canceled a presentation because of legal issues. It’s not good ground. It has a chilling effect.

At the last two meetings, the Consumer Relations committee brought the voice of the consumer to the industry. What was that like?

The consumer relations committee has been doing some good work identifying consumers’ concerns for insurers and repairers. In July and November the committee presented video interviews featuring actual consumer experiences with the collision repair process. Our daily life revolves around collision repair, but the consumer only does this once every few years, and there’s a first time for everyone. It was entertaining in part, and certainly enlightening to see the confusion that exists.

Talk about what the parts and education committees have been up to.

The parts committee has been working on a variety of projects over the past year. Early on last year, there were conversations about the manufacturing and what were the concerns of the repairers and non-OEM parts. They’ve also been working on OEM design patents issues.

The education and training committee has been doing a lot of work with I-CAR to roll out the education organization’s professional development matrix. The committee has been working on that the past couple of years, and the roll-out happens in July 2010. As I-CAR develops curriculum, they’re using CIC to get feedback.

It’s impressive that the volunteer commitment is on the rise. What do you think causes that?

I really think it’s the work of the committees and volunteers. People want to participate.

In addition, we’re timing our meetings more effectively. Twenty or so years ago, it was just NACE and a whole week of meetings, and you’d go to CIC in January or April. Now three meetings are held outside the trade show, alongside other industry gatherings. During the spring meeting [which was in April in Atlanta], SCRS has their annual meeting and some events. The summer meeting [in July in Chicago] is timed around the I-CAR events, and I-CAR will be rolling out some professional development materials this year. The November meeting has typically been held around NACE.

You’re not going to be held at the same time as NACE this year, though.

The CIC body voted on keeping the November date [rather than moving the conference to coincide with NACE, which has been moved up to October].

What can people in the industry do to get involved in the CIC?

I always make the distinction between attending CIC and participating in CIC. It’s really about participation and working toward a common goal. If you’ve got an issue in your facility and you’re concerned about it, probably hundreds if not thousands of other people are experiencing the same thing. There’s probably a group of 20 folks working on that issue. The participation in the committees is open to anyone. Go on the website, see what you care about, then send an email. Most committees have monthly conference calls prior to their actual presentations. That’s the easiest way to get involved.

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