What Future for the Collision Industry?

COVID-19 has provided the ideal opportunity for repairers to focus on their business and plan for the future. (Photo : Shutterstock)

Given that the COVID-19 pandemic situation continues to change day by day and even hour by hour, it can be hard to predict.

Yet some trends are emerging. One is that while claims and work for many collision centres has significantly declined over the last few months due to lockdowns and stay at home orders, the situation has provided savvy collision operations an opportunity to take stock, adopt new processes and put plans in place for the future.

Secondly, the way in which COVID-19 is able to spread means that even as lockdowns begin to lift, social distancing will likely be with us for some time come, meaning that many people who might have relied on public transport will be looking to private cars for mobility. As Mike Anderson of Collision Advice succinctly put it, for collision repairers, COVID-19 has essentially created a dam for repair demand and the dam is going to break…

Being prepared

That means collision repairers and their stakeholders need to ensure they are prepared for the mass wave of insurance claims expected to happen in the coming months as people take to the roads once again.

To help them, 3M recently hosted a webinar designed to provide collision repair owners, technicians and industry professionals with an update on a range of tools and training services available to shops through 3M itself as well as bringing together a group of well-renowned industry experts for an in-depth panel discussion related to COVID 19.

Facilitated by PR agency Ketchum, the session kicked off with an introduction from Dave Gunderson, Vice President, 3M Automotive Aftermarket Division.

A died-in-the wool car guy with over 30 years of experience in the industry on a global level, Gunderson noted that the current situation we find ourselves in is truly unprecedented.

With 3M’s operations spanning the globe, Gunderson said that analysing the situation in China can provide a good insight into the impact of the COVID-19 crisis here in North America. He noted that since the pandemic hit China hard in December/January, the lifting of lockdown measures has resulted in the economy starting to gear up once again.

He noted that predictions show China as witnessing a V-shaped economic growth curve, whereas in North America and certainly the U.S., growth is expected be more protracted, even as some states and provinces slowly start to reopen for business.

Kilometres driven

Gunderson said that one of the key things for the collision repair sector, is not actually GDP growth itself but the impact of that on the number of kilometres driven. He noted that even in China, the opening up of the economy has not correlated to an increase in public transit use but the number of kilometers being driven in terms of passenger vehicles has grown significantly since February.

Gunderson noted that when it comes to 3M’s collision repair sector customers, top of mind at present is training. Whether shops have been able to retain staff during COVID-19 or whether they’ve had to scale back operations and furlough employees the message remains the same— what kind of training should I be investing and how can I go about getting it?

“Seventy-two percent of our shop customers recognize training as a need,” said Gunderson, “and 40 percent came back to us and said can you provide this training online?”

With many people currently at home, access to virtual training content is becoming increasingly important.

Well-positioned

Gunderson noted that given its storied history and vast experience, 3M Automotive Aftermarket is well positioned to provide shops and technicians with the training they need, along with Standard Operating Procedures and the necessary tools and equipment.

Not only is the training itself important, but the processes adopted are vital to ensure the success and profitability of a collision shop over the longer term.

3M Application Engineer Ryan Marrinan, provided a deeper dive into some of the training topics that Gunderson touched upon.

Marrinan, who has spent 20 years in the collision repair industry as an automotive specialist and technician, with more than a decade working as a consultant to 3M, discussed the importance of best practices and ways in which repairs can be performed in a more efficient manner.

Prior to COVID-19, these included hands on training at 3M’s internal training centre at its St. Paul, Minnesota campus, as well as the 3M Online Training Academy, that enabled shop managers and technicians to log in and find the repair practices and SOPs relevant to them.

This has proved especially important, given the rapid advances in vehicle technology and changes in repair procedures witnessed over the last decade and has proved popular and useful for shops and technicians.

With COVID-19, both hands-on and online training has evolved to include a series of webinars. These are one-hour sessions that are uploaded multiple times a day. In order to provide the widest range of information, they run the gamut from front office practices to in-depth technician repairs on passenger vehicles and heavy trucks.

With 3M’s global reach, the webinars are offered in multiple languages and attendees from around the globe are invited to sign up and register.

Marrinan notes that these sessions are offered both in the morning and evening, so different attendees in different parts of the world are able to access them at different times.

We’ve been getting a lot of input from Australia and Asia,” he said, with people in the pacific regions tuning into these training seminars because we know they are also looking for this information.

— Ryan Marrinan, Engineer, 3M

Additionally, 3M has also been adding YouTube content. “We’ve been taking bits and pieces from our industry nights and e-learning and breaking it down into smaller sessions,” said Marrinan. These are targeted in bite-size portions, often 5-8 minutes with an emphasis on specific procedures, such as how to perform squeeze type resistance spot welds or replicate OEM appearance with seam sealer beads.

The idea is to provide quick, accessible and detailed information that enables technicians to get an efficient answer to a particular challenge while busy at work in the shop.

Efficiently as possible

Marrinan noted that the whole concept of this was based on feedback in the field and having the ability to address specific technical questions as efficiently as possible.

Other offerings including quick tips on 3M’s social media channels and a new series called Ask Me Anything where questions are put forward and answered live, giving customers and technicians a chance to listen and learn no matter where they happen to be.

Marrinan said that all these initiatives are designed to help shops, technicians and other stakeholders improve their processes and provide timely, relevant information to not only know Standard Operating Procedures and best practices, but to equip the industry for the weeks, months and even years ahead.

Speaking of that, the 3M webinar also included a panel discussion which brought together some well-known industry experts to discuss the COVID-19 situation and how things could pan out as we move forward.

Joining Marrinan for the discussion, was Mike Anderson from Collision Advice, Kristen Felder of Collision Hub and Scott Pierce, Strategic Account Manager, 3M Automotive Aftermarket.

The panel discussion covered a variety of COVID-19 topics, ranging from the biggest impact on the industry caused by the pandemic, to emerging trends, how shops are performing and steps to take to ensure the industry continues to thrive once the situation passes.

Based on industry analysis and feedback, currently the biggest concern for shops, is fear of the unknown and the ability to weather current market and financial conditions.

Mike Anderson noted that in the U.S. at least, shops that deal with smaller regional banks and lenders have tended to receive loan relief and Paycheck Protection Program funds much faster than those that deal with larger, national financial institutions.

Kristen Felder said that COVID-19 has sharply brought into focus the ability for shops to work on their business. “This downtime has given a lot of shops the opportunity to look at where they are and think a lot more about employee development,” she said.

Felder noted that before the crisis hit, many shops were busy dealing with day-to-day operations, getting vehicles in, getting claims authorized and performing the work. In many cases, staff were seen as commodity and if there was a technician shortage, or another estimator was required it was simply a matter of allocating resources and filling the gaps in shop production flow.

Felder said that now, focusing on employees and looking at staffing holistically and the concept of “family within the shop environment” is welcome and very positive development, which long-term, will likely lead to better productivity and profitability.

Re-thinking mobility

Scott Pierce said that COVID-19 and the social distancing protocols to curb the spread will have many people re-thinking the way in which they conduct their lives and certainly mobility. As a frequent user of rideshare services in the past, Pierce himself noted that moving forward, he is unlikely to return to them and instead look for personal transportation options instead.

Given that sentiment and as lockdowns are lifted, all the panelists agreed that pent-up demand for getting out and exploring will mean people will soon be racking up kilometres and if they go on holiday, take vacations that are closer to home, which will mean more driving overall.

Anderson noted that while remote working will likely continue following the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer cars on the road during traditional commuting hours means that those drivers that are on them will likely speed more frequently. This; combined with the overall distance being driven across North America will mean a greater chance of vehicle collisions and more work overall for shops.

In order for the collision industry to be prepared for this expected wave of increased business, taking steps now to improve training, improve processes, leveraging technology and investing in staff are paramount in planning for a successful future, whether it’s at the shop, insurance or vendor level is critical.

 

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