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Technology can drive repair shop growth

Saturday, October 1, 2011 - 00:00
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Richard Forness

If you have been following this column, you have noticed a few recurring themes: estimating as a sales process, as well as the importance of education. I've also stressed the impact of technology on everything we do, every day and all day.

I've been talking with shop owners and estimators concerned about just keeping up, let alone getting ahead in this industry. Most shops are investing in their repair infrastructure, in updating and maintaining the paint booth, in repairing and maintaining the frame equipment, and purchasing the latest paint and adhesives to produce a top quality and safe vehicle repair. But here's my question: Do you know where technology is headed in estimating, paint materials, repair processes and vehicle design, or are you simply playing catch up?

More importantly, are you proactively looking for ways to delight your customers and thrive with today's challenges? I've seen dramatic changes in our industry. When I started writing computerized estimates, one system's database had only 999 parts per car, and for the balance, you had to look in the additional parts guide book. In another system, you scanned the barcode right out of a collision repair manual, and the system then built an estimate. Compare that with what's available today and you may begin to see the need to embrace next-generation technology. Not just in computer-based technology, or on your estimating desk and on board the customer's car, but in the paint booth, on the frame rack and through the new digital tools that help you interact daily with all your customers, both internal and external.

I've written about automotive design and technology as a driver for education. What about education as a driver for where your business could be going, and leveraging technology in your fixed operations? Consider the impact of better close ratios, and the possibilities associated with monitoring gross profits live as you create a better repair plan that allows for a high-quality, safe repair – all while maximizing profitability and customer satisfaction. With NACE and SEMA as platforms for continuing education and visibility to next-gen innovation, will you be left in the dust if you do not attend?

Imagine where we are now and where we are headed with technology: paint materials that are not based on petroleum solvents, or that cure with UV light, or applying paint materials with transfer efficiency approaching 85 percent, and achieving a 20 percent reduction in materials used. What about estimating systems that have direct access to the OEM vehicle build data and options, without the extra step of contacting the dealer? Or, OEM collision repair manuals and procedures that you can access with a click of your mouse while you're still creating the repair plan? How much would your shop grow if you could generate key performance indicator numbers daily, weekly and monthly -- before being notified by your DRP dashboards and across multiple insurance company lines? And, consider the possibilities of having one touch point for phone, e-mail and/or texting your customer about the repair status of their vehicle, its scheduled completion and their rental car status.

Sound like a wish list for the future? Not at all. These solutions are all here now. Innovation comes in two forms: incremental and radical. Incremental innovation moves a product or service along a path of continued improvement, while radical innovation is best described as a game-changing event. Some of the technology at your front door today is just that, a game changer, if you are open to the possibilities. I hope you look beyond what is required to what is possible in your business. Are you on the lookout for the next process improvement or technology that will drive growth in your business? If not, you should be.

Contact info: Richard.Forness@audatex.com

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