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At the recently held IBIS Africa conference many concerns were raised and a few solutions discussed too. A conference forum is always a great way to get business leaders and specialists together to discuss concerns and solutions alike. There was no shortage of debate and questions – which was brilliant.  

The most obvious starting point is that of the changing of mindsets. The mindsets of body shops and insurer’s needs to change as we see the cars of the future needing more technical repair, even though crashes will not be as common place as they are now. This translates to more expense spent on labour and less on parts.  The reduction in paint and parts profit for collision repairers means that body shops will most likely end up working solely for labour, so labour rates have to be taken seriously by all concerned. It’s a chicken and egg syndrome, you can’t have one without the other.  

Who will repair insured vehicles if there are no qualified open shops available? A good hard look at this issue is what is needed and some solid commitment to long-term strategies put forward to see that the insurance and body shop industry survives and thrives together.  

In South Africa, less than 30% of people are insured. Another mindset change is to work for the 70% of drivers who are uninsured. A few repairers have begun to do this asking for three payments along the way. The first bit of money at the start of the job, the second half-way through and the final settlement before handing the car back to the customer. These shops are doing amazingly well and have vehicles waiting around the block to be repaired. Most of it is cash business! 

A lot of body shops are missing a trick in up-selling what they can offer. Estimators need to be properly trained to offer extras that you can see the customer may need for their car. New tyres, windscreen chips fixed, the list is endless. You can either do these yourself in-house creating new revenue stream or outsource it to create more work in the local area. Deals can be struck with local suppliers and there is more money to be made here too, despite not being in-house. You could offer valet and polishing services for fitment centres. There are many ideas, you just have to think creatively instead of just treading water. This is a change of mindset to see more opportunities right under your roof and in the business community that you are already a part of.  

Another huge mind-shift needs to take place where training is concerned. Training needs to be seen as an opportunity to grow your business, stay current, empower your employees as well as get financial and BEE credits in return. Everyone pays a training levy and there is million of Rands sitting at the Merseta waiting to be used, we just have to make it happen. Read more in-depth about this in our centre-spread pull-out on how to get your grants for training.  

“Let’s bring sexy back” 

Justin Timberblake was so right with stating those words. Let’s face it, we really don’t have a sexy looking industry through any scholar or college students’ eyes. In fact, I bet we don’t even feature on the radar of career choices despite the huge work opportunity out there. If you asked them about “Pimp my ride” and mentioned names like “Gas Monkey” they’d be able to tell you about these great programmes and the awesome looking vehicles they put out. We need to make our industry sexy and sell it more from a marketing standpoint. It is a respected industry with artisans involved all the way through. The person repairing your vehicle deserves great respect as you need to know that you will be safe if you’re ever involved in another accident. This respect and importance is not seen. A further mindset needs to shift with artisans understanding the gravitas of their position and that they hold people’s lives in their hands. A significant position I feel.  

A basic social media marketing strategy needs to be developed to showcase our industry and the excellent money that you can earn once you’ve trained properly. There is a worldwide skills shortage, so it’s also a global opportunity for our youth. In a country with so much youth unemployment and guaranteed jobs for these artisans, this should be a no-brainer. The average age for our panelbeaters and spray painters in South Africa is 54! Urgency is the word of the moment! 

Big change needs to come to a training curriculum that is completely out of date another issue all on it’s own. As South Africa isn’t on the ball yet with electric vehicles (but we will get there), why not start comprehensive training just on the repair of these vehicles in the meantime and become a source of excellent workers that we can send all over the world on contracts. This has been done with hail damage repair. With the increase in bad hail storms the world over, workers stay six months in one area and then move home again for the other six months as these storms are seasonal. They earn brilliant money and it’s just another way of looking at things once again.  

Some of the leaders at the conference want to put a team together to discuss these opportunities further and come up with some solid strategies and commitments. Automotive Refinisher will be involved too. If you would like to offer comments, ideas or get involved, feel free to contact me on claire@autoref.co.za 

One thing is for sure is that there is tons of goodwill from every sector of our industry and that fills me with hope for the future. Now let’s get cracking!