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Deconstructing the Culture of Collision by Peter Sziklai

Peter Sziklai, Owner and President, Tsawwassen Collision. PHOTO Courtesy Tsawwassen Collision

Business practices in the age of change.

Was it Peter Drucker who said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast?” That’s certainly the case with the collision repair industry. It has been set into the industry and shops and is consequently slow to change.

It is hard to change something that has worked for 50 years.

Vehicles have changed, and the involvement of OEMs has changed. What has not changed is the business model of the insurance companies and most operators.

And in reality, it’s the relationship between the repairers and the insurers that sets the game.

Car manufacturers are giving very specific rules for collision repairs to an industry that has been working under a different set of rules for 50 years.

The industry culture does not deal well with these two sets of rules colliding. Following OEM rules to the letter is impossible but ignoring them is also not an option.

Repairers have to respectfully, intelligently interpret those rules. Intelligent industry voices are using the concept of “OEM aligned” or “OEM centric.”

Valid interpretations

So it’s challenging to suggest a best-practices template for every shop because there are going to be differing but equally valid interpretations.

One shop owner will look at the rules, and their experience will probably lead to a different interpretation from the shop owner down the street and almost certainly different from the operator in another province.

They’re all in the range of good, honest work, where the final product is first-rate and safe, but there will  be differences in how they get to this good safe result.

You never compromise safety. You never ignore all repair specs and just let the estimators and techs do what they have always done.

Best practices mean there’s a high level of awareness at the management level, a high level of operational awareness with the front line estimators and very good consistent information going to the techs.

Those techs should always be provided with a solid level of training and equipped with good, current equipment to do their work.

Some say you have to keep the customer happy. But that’s doing a disservice to the car. The customer, who’s the owner of the car, has no idea how the car is built or how the ADAS systems are interrelated.

It has to start with the right thing being done to the car and keeping the customer happy by providing good information. Based on your integrity, your knowledge, your capability, you have to make sure that the car is right.

Be aware of the rules

If you’ve been keeping up with changes on collision repair, you’ve been training your staff, you have good equipment, and you always put out a safe car – not necessarily following every rule every step of the way – then you’re following an OEM centric or OEM aligned repair.

Simply put, you have to be aware of the rules, you have to trust in your own experience and you have to have trust in your technicians’ experience.

Then you combine your operation’s collective real-world experience with the rules as they are now, and you put out a safe car.

And you have to be ready to evolve. Vehicle technology is changing so fast.

Combine what you know with a readiness to learn, a respect for the modern car, and you’ll be in great shape.

Eventually, we hope that the manufacturers and insurance companies will get it figured out so we are not caught between two sets of rules.

In the meantime, set your standards, stay true to safety and be ready to evolve with new information and guidance.


Peter Sziklai has been a collision shop owner in British Columbia since 1983 and has owned Tsawwassen Collision Ltd. since 1995.  He has been active in the BC ARA, serving on the board of the Collision Repair Division including a term as Chair. Sziklai has also served on the CCIF Steering Committee and has a website, rfina.ca. You can reach him at [email protected].
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