How Change Can Work for You

Feb. 1, 2008
Those who adapt are likely to be the ones who survive.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” —Charles Darwin

Whether or not you agree with Darwin’s theory of evolution, you may agree with his observation that the ability to adapt to change generally beats both strength and intelligence. You can probably think of at least one time some smart guy outfoxed a very strong shop owner. But you may also be able to recall some not-so-smart shop owner who just happened to be in the right place at the right time and made out very well because of it.

“With iPhones and Blackberries, kids realize that the future is a computer on your hip or your wrist, but most shop owners are far from utilizing these new technologies.”

Adapting to change is rarely easy. It almost always requires some capital investment, either in equipment or personnel or both. That’s probably why so many of us make the necessary changes too late to gain that early competitive advantage. Most shop owners started putting in computers in the 1990s, about a decade after most other industries. Now, nearly 10 years later, I find very few who do much more than computerized estimating and paint mixing. Even those who do have computerized management systems are not likely to take advantage of its ability to track conversions from estimates to jobs, or to identify where jobs are coming from to determine where to spend marketing money.

While their kids are carrying iPods, iPhones or Blackberries, many shop owners are still struggling with basic stand-alone computer functions. The kids realize that the future is a computer on your hip or your wrist, but most shop owners are far from utilizing these
new technologies.

Getting The Jump On The Future

Much is made in the industry press of insurance company efforts to manipulate and dominate shops, but what gives them the power to do this (outside of acquiescence by shop owners)? Actually it’s technology. They have the computer power and the technical knowledge to identify in great detail every shop’s performance—including every strength and weakness.

Is it possible to fight fire with fire? Might a tech-savvy shop owner get the jump on an insurance adjuster before being presented with an unsatisfactory choice? One example comes to mind. The best automotive recyclers are trying to change and solve the recycled parts grading dilemma with programs like the Pinnacle Yard Management system or the Audatex EDEN system. While these parts-grading systems may not yet be perfect, I’ve found very few shops that bother to seek out recyclers who use them. While insurers more often demand the use of more recycled parts, perhaps the future-oriented shop owner can get the jump on those demands by getting more useable parts from a certified recycler.

Global Change, Local Perception

For quite a while now, equipment made in China and other foreign nations have been selling well here because of price. Many shop owners have Chinese spray booths and spot welders because they were priced far below U.S.-made products. But for the moment, change is on our side in one dimension: Because our currency has declined in value against many other currencies, now could be a good time to find an advantage in “buying American.”

Changes needed to adapt to waterborne paint may include the purchase of new equipment, and U.S. products may actually be cheaper for once. American-made frame machines and welding systems needed to work with the increasing use of aluminum, fiberglass and carbon fiber parts may be better values right now. Being responsive to change in this arena could save you money.

While these changes in equipment and parts open a door of opportunity to the alert shop owner, the biggest advantage may be in recogni­zing customers’ changing view of body shops. As most automo­bile manufacturers jump on the hybrid bandwagon, car buyers will be asking the tough questions, like “What happens if my hybrid is in an accident?” There are new fears of high-voltage electricity and expensive repairs replacing battery packs and more.

The shop owner who leads the pack in answering these questions for potential customers may be the one to get the business. We may feel that average customer concerns are overblown and that there really isn’t much difference in repairing nonhybrid vehicles. But the public doesn’t know this and therein is your advantage. Be the one “most responsive to change” in your market and you may well be the one who survives longest and best.

Tom Franklin, author of Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth, has been a sales and marketing consultant for more than 40 years.

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