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Exploring the Emerging Heavy-Duty Repair Community

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During the Advanced Technology & Diagnostic Repair Forum at the 2017 NACE Automechanika show, Brian Nessen couldn’t help but notice a few alienated (and vocal) audience members.

“We kept finding these heavy duty shop owners, raising their hands, saying, ‘There's nothing here for us,’” Nessen says.

While heavy-duty trucks introduce a plethora of issues normal collision repair shops rarely encounter, the heavy-duty truck market is similarly experiencing rapidly growing vehicle technology and insurance hurdles that require shop owners to constantly evolve and adapt.

So, while various industry conferences and consultants can address many universal collision concerns, one fact remained true for years: There was no go-to community for heavy-duty shop owners.

Well—there wasn’t a community. Until now.

That’s because Brian Nessen and his company, Stone Fort Group, established the HD Repair Forum, which consists of an advisory board featuring 10 of the top heavy-duty collision repair shop operators in the country. The issues this group addresses will, they hope, provide relief for the roughly 5,000 U.S. shops that, for so long, felt ignored—culminating with the upcoming 2018 HD Repair Forum Conference.

 

The HD Repair Community

Infinity 3D Laser Measuring demonstrated its technology at trade shows for years—but, suddenly in 2016, a new customer was asking to be heard.

“At NACE (in 2016), three truck shops scattered around the country said (about our product), ‘This is wonderful. Could you do it for trucks?’” recalls Sam Deering, COO of Infinity 3D Laser Measuring. “So, at the SEMA Show a month later, we made some changes to the software to show what the truck system could do. And we got a lot more interest there.”

Since tapping into the heavy duty market, Deering has observed that, much like the broader collision repair market, the heavy duty audience is quickly changing. For years, baby boomers dominated the trade. But as those shop owners retire, there’s a sudden influx of business owners looking for guidance on emerging technology for heavy-duty repairs.

“[The baby boomers] can look at damage and know all the damage that’s occurred in other locations of the truck,” Deering says. “New guys don’t have that experience. They don’t know how to navigate. So with our system, they will look at the computer screen and see an MRI of the truck frame, front to back.”

 

The Players

A majority of the shop owners that make up the HD Repair Forum advisory board (see sidebar) are represented by those millennials looking for guidance—including Chris Sterwerf, who has experience in creating change for heavy duty repairs on the mechanical side.

Sterwerf, COO of Fairfield Auto & Truck Service in Fairfield, Ohio, has worked with the Auto Care Association regarding the Right to Repair Act, which was initiated to deal with access and repair capability for on-board computers. This act has largely benefitted independent shops—excluding heavy-duty shops, for which Sterwerf is fighting.

“It’s always been about mechanical. They’ve had a loud voice,” Sterwerf says. “It’s nice for them to now find a home for collision repair. That industry has been splintered and needs to find a home.”

The group also hosts Dean Hancock, owner of Bob Johnson’s Truck & Body in Cayce, S.C., who is part of Mike Anderson’s heavy-duty-focused Axalta business council.

 

The HD Repair Forum Advisory Board 

The HD Forum advisory board consists of what Stone Ford Group partner Brian Nessen claims are the top heavy duty shop owners in the country:

  • Chris Sterwerf, Fairfield Auto & Truck Service, CFO/COO
  • Howard Elsenpeter, Hoglund Body & Equipment, Body Shop Manager
  • Dean Hancock, Bob Johnson’s Truck & Body, Owner
  • James Svaasand, Penske, Vice President-Collision Repair Ops & Dev
  • John Mueller, DCI Fleet, Director
  • Steve Wolfe, Diversified Body & Paint, President
  • Jason Shesky, Truck Zone, President
  • Ed Rietman, K&R Truck Sales, Inc., Owner
  • Rodney Rowland, Lakeside International Trucks
  • Mark Polzin, Budget Truck Rental 

 

The Forum’s Main Objectives

The HD Repair Forum advisory board met for the first time this past October, and will continue to meet a few times each year.

Here are the topics the board determined are the most relevant to its audience at its first meeting:

  • OE repair support
  • Industry economics and trends
  • Estimating
  • Lean initiatives
  • Weight reduction and the impact on repairs
  • Insurance challenges and opportunities
  • Hybrid and electric vehicles
  • Cycle time
  • Parts sourcing
  • Staffing, tooling and operational best practices
  • Training, retaining and hiring employees
  • Shop and business compliance

The group will also plan for the HD Repair Forum’s inaugural conference early next year.

 

The Conference

The 2018 HD Repair Forum Conference will take place April 10–11, in Fort Worth, Texas.

The event will open with a general session followed by presentations and panels on operational issues, best practices, trends and technical topics.

The event includes a reception for attendees and sponsors, as well as other high-level networking opportunities. This conference is open to everyone involved in heavy duty collision repair.

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