CCIF Toronto 2023: One-on-One With Jeff Labanovich

Autosphere » Collision » CCIF Toronto 2023: One-on-One With Jeff Labanovich
Jeff Labanovich, Chairman, CCIF. Photo Huw Evans

Chairman discusses the evolving role of CCIF and how to bring meaningful solutions to issues facing the collision repair industry.

As CCIF Toronto 2023 got underway at the Delta by Marriott Toronto Airport on February 3, Autosphere had the opportunity for an exclusive one-on-one interview with new Chairman Jeff Labanovich. We asked him about how he first got started in the industry, some key highlights of his career; how he first got involved with CCIF; what some of the key focal points will be for the forum going forward; as well as how the collision repair industry can continue to grow and prosper in the months and years ahead. 

Autosphere: Jeff, thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us today. Starting off, tell us a little about your background.

Jeff Labanovich: I actually started off my career in the automotive recycling industry. I got involved with a family-run business and ended up acquiring it, before selling it to a U.S. company operating in that space. From there I migrated over to the Canadian Automotive Repair and Service Council, a non-profit organization that’s really based around developing and delivering training in the automotive space. A key project here was building a skills gap analysis—that enabled somebody to understand where the gaps or deficiencies in training were and create a set of corresponding set of courses they could take to improve their position. And it was that journey that took me to CCIF and also led me to acquire my first collision centre. 

AS: With such an entrepreneurial background, how do you feel those skills have helped, not only in career succession but also in helping provide solutions for the collision repair industry?

JL: After I purchased that first collision centre, I was able to acquire a second location and became a multi-shop operator. I was also recognized by CARSTAR as franchisee of the year. What I discovered was that I had developed some strong skills and expertise around operations, and that this expertise was stronger and more recognized than I often gave credit for. This led to opportunities on the corporate side of the collision repair franchise businesses and also conversations about joining and having an active role on the CCIF Steering Committee. Past CCIF Chairs Patrice Marcil and Paul Prochilo encouraged me to take the reins and develop a solutions-based committee.

AS: Can you tell us about some of your key objectives now you are in the CCIF Chairman role?

JL: I think the concept of a solutions-based committee is a very important one. We have to make sure we clearly define and articulate the role and outcomes of CCIF. There are currently, multiple challenges facing the collision industry, including labour shortages, supply disruptions, margin compression and profitability. CCIF is there for us to come together, network, and discuss our common issues and common goals. What I feel we don’t do often enough is discuss and/or celebrate our common wins. We need to celebrate that more often because there’s a lot of achievement in this industry and there are things that can really excite us. It can be very easy to focus on what’s wrong, but in order to counter that and come up with some really practical and implementable ideas we need to focus on the positive aspects and outcomes. 

AS: Looking to the next 2-3 years are there any particular areas of focus?

JL: Margin compression is currently a major challenge for our industry. At heart I’m a collision repair shop operator, so looking at ways to improve things at the shop level is very important. And in order to do that, we need to understand the pieces involved and the requirements from each of the key stakeholders, including the shop, the insurer, the supplier and the banner or network. We all have to coexist in order to make it work properly. Everybody needs to win, otherwise, the whole thing fails. Another key one is continuing to attract new people to the industry. The COVID-19 pandemic was a huge disruptor for everyone but one of the biggest disruptions we had as an industry, was the accelerated retirement of many experienced industry professionals, including appraisers, adjusters and collision repair technicians. There was a lot of knowledge transfer that we missed out on because of that. Today we are facing a major skills shortage, so I think a key point is how we, as an industry, and also through organizations like CCIF, better promote what it’s like to work in collision repair.  And this could be anything from working as an insurance adjuster to an estimator to a paint rep or vendor rep as well as a collision technician painter, manager or administrator. Our industry is a complete ecosystem and the range of skills required is very broad, so we need to see more people exposed to that. There’s also a misconception of our industry that’s unfortunately still there among the general public. When I walk into a collision centre today, it is often spotless and more akin to a dentist’s office, a far cry from the cramped, dark and dingy shops we had 50 years ago, though unfortunately, that stigma persists. Today we work in an incredibly entrepreneurial, technologically advanced and rewarding industry. It truly is a great place and provides great opportunities for young people today and they don’t just have to be fixing cars to be successful in this business. 

AS: You mentioned margin compression. Can you explain a little more about that?

JL: Margin compression and profitability at the shop level are a big issue right now. And I don’t think we can solve it by increasing labour rates. There is validity in increasing door rates but that is just one component of improving the situation. Overall, we need to look at it from the perspective of how we can be more efficient at running our shops. We have to be smarter, and we need to look at how we can continue to eliminate waste. We have to train our people better and we have to continue reinvesting in our businesses. We have to be smarter with our cash flow and yes, we have to be compensated at a fair rate for the work we produce. This requires input and collaboration from all stakeholders involved. If we just said, we need more money, then there is a good chance that insurance rates would go through the roof and that would have a ripple effect, not just on our businesses or our industry, but the entire economy. Yes, vehicle complexity has and continues to advance at an exponential rate, and sometimes it can be hard to keep up with it. With that said, I think overall, as an industry we’ve done very well in absorbing these changes. The key thing is ensuring that not only are we able to do the work that’s required to repair the vehicle, but that we are properly compensated for it. And that means understanding what it actually costs to return a vehicle back to pre-collision condition and all the steps required, including the setting up of and performing scanning and calibrations, as well as doing the actual physical repair. In some cases, shops may be right in-line with what’s fair compensation but in other places, I can guarantee these conversations are not taking place and they need to be. If we see shops that have more dollars coming in, not just for the actual repairs, but for labour and for parts, that business is going to do a much better job of attracting people who are looking for a career in this industry.

AS: One thing you have mentioned, is the need to attract more collision repairers to events to CCIF. Can you explain a little about that?

JL: When I look at the makeup of the attendees at events like CCIF, we do have a lot of banners and corporate representation and they often outnumber shop owners and managers. And while a corporate team can go to the event and relay the content and messages from it to the shops in their network, it is far more powerful when those shop owners and managers are actually there, engaging and taking part. Having more shops at events like ours, I think really shows a greater level of commitment to both them and the industry. At CCIF, we want to change things and continue to raise the bar. So, let’s have those hard and open, transparent conversations that are needed, as well as a goal, purpose and conclusion. That’s something we focus on as CCIF Steering Committee members since we are all entrepreneurial and driven as individuals. Yet there is still more we can do. As chairman, I’ve challenged our team to re-evaluate the subcommittees we have on several issues. These include not only finding ways to attract more people to our events, including collision repairers and OEMs but who from their organization attends, what content they listen to and what they’re able to apply to their businesses. And I think, that by digging down to the sub-committee level and really focusing on 2-3 specific topics and getting everyone involved—including our industry partners, sponsors and attendees—we can truly gauge the measure of success and provide meaningful, actionable solutions for our industry. 

AS: Any final thoughts?

I am just so thrilled at the attendance we’ve had for CCIF Toronto in 2023. I know it’s been said before, but it does feel like pre-pandemic days again—it was just so exciting to attend the networking event and the sessions and see not only familiar faces but a lot of new people. There was real energy and the fact we were able to sell out the event and fill the room says a great deal about the enthusiasm and vibrancy of our industry. That being said, even though events are back, we’ve still got to be very methodical in how we move forward and open things up. Nevertheless, standing there and looking across the crowd of 480 attendees, was awe-inspiring. It also reinforced the fact that at CCIF, we have an obligation to not only live up to but exceed the expectations of our partners, attendees and the collision repair industry.  


Categories : Collision, Editorial
Tags : CCIF, Event, Management


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