Taking a look back over the last 18 months across our industry sector – and the world in general – has proved to be an interesting journey. A truly interesting noun, the Coronacoaster, is described as the ups and downs of the pandemic – and I’m adding a few “loops of overwhelm” for good measure. Boy, what an insane ride it is pushing us to our emotional, physical, mental and spiritual boundaries. We here in South Africa are well into the 520-day mark of lockdown, and even longer by the time you read this, and our economy and minds are taking strain to say the very least.
Looking back on last year with the three-month hard lockdown and the severe business disruption and economic standstill it brought to the market still makes me wonder if I’m not reading an apocalyptic novel in the current affairs section. A book that just seems to keep on giving as times goes on. It’s still a little bit of a ponder to my brain when I see that there was a brief period where the already strained business dealings between motor body repairer and the insurance industry could have made some amends with a bit of compassion and understanding given the fact that body shops closed for three months, with little help from government to keep businesses afloat. More demands for rebates and extra hoops and jumps to navigate was the order of the day placing a huge squeeze on body shops to keep their doors open.
Despite having suffered loss of income and major supply problems, the market continues to soldier on. There is a lot of wind on our chests this year as we endure waiting periods for parts and paint due to shipping container shortages and longer shipping delays as they add more stops to their list. These delays all add-up to the bottom line of profit being eroded away quite noticeably.
An increase in the ports to clear goods has risen by three-digit figure percentages – I wonder if this isn’t another way of claiming a stealth tax? Add to this the looting and shutdown of ports due to cyber-attack and it’s really starting to resemble a bad sci-fi movie as your brain battles to comprehend this amount of “noise”.
The Lightstone statistics over the last three-year period proved very interesting from an optimism point of view. In fact, completely different to what I was expecting to read. The collision repair industry is probably 50-60% down at present with body shops very quiet indeed. But the CSI’s show an optimism that I can only put down to the South African culture, who always find the good in it all. It’s how we are wired – we make the best of all situations. You only need to look at some of the stories on social media post-looting, and even up until now, to see the majority of the country unite no matter their colour or station, for a peaceful and prosperous South Africa.
In a world that feels so out of kilter, what do we have control over? The answer is your mindset. One of the rules of psychology states that you cannot change your situation – merely your reaction to it. So, what can we do as a collision repair industry?
Owners of body shops need to take a good look at their business and see what is working and what isn’t. What can change? Look at adding different revenue avenues to your business by specialising in Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS). This is a growing market with the amount of camera equipment to assist in Lidar and Radar systems in cars from introductory level vehicles all the way through. This divergence isn’t an overnight process and will require training and investment, but it will ensure business longevity and difference in the marketplace. All ADAS systems need to be perfectly realigned to ensure that all safety critical components are in working order – if not, the car won’t even start!
You could add wheel alignment, ceramic coatings and detailing to your offering and differentiate your business from those in the area.
Chasing a different piece of the pie? For too long collision repairers have only looked at the insured market locally which is ever shrinking. It’s estimated that fewer than 20% of vehicles on the road are insured now. Our car park is increasing in age as people don’t have money for a new car, but they still would like to repair or refurbish their vehicle to as good as new, given the chance.
You could look at getting involved with programmes like Fender Bender Finance who have partnered with Nedbank and the CRA members to provide the best workmanship for uninsured drivers or those who can’t afford their expensive excess if they have opted for a cheap insurance policy. This facility takes the risk and money chasing away from the body shop – while opening up a whole market segment to the repair industry.
These are just a few ideas to seek opportunities with fresh, new eyes. As South Africans we are creative, strong and we are used to adapting to change. We all “maak ’n plan” at the end of the day – and will continue to do so!
by Claire Macfie