REPAIR INSIGHTS LEADERSHIP SERIES: Kristen Felder, A View from Both Sides

| January 2, 2019

Kristen Felder has worked in nearly every segment of the collision repair industry. She grew up in a family body shop, painting, performing repairs and even managing the business before her senior year of high school. After graduating from Arkansas State University with a degree in Public Relations, Felder began a 14-year career in the insurance industry. She’s received multiple industry awards and recognitions. These days, Felder is the CEO for Collision Hub and chief content creator for Engage Target Media. She recently spoke with GM Repair Insights to share her views on some of the challenges and trends collision repair shops are facing today.

GM REPAIR INSIGHTS: I-CAR conducted a survey a little over a year ago that showed the majority of shops weren’t training enough or getting the necessary training. Do you think anything will change this?

FELDER: Shops do want to train, but what we’re seeing now is a kind of paralysis in the industry. Shops are seeing so much thrown at them so fast they don’t know where to go next. They’re wondering whether they need to take a class, buy a piece of equipment, send a technician to training or get new procedures. They’re feeling overwhelmed. A study came out a while back that showed when people have too many choices, they tend not to choose at all. A small percentage of shops are diving right in and making these decisions, but the majority of shops aren’t acting because they’re afraid to take a wrong step.

GM REPAIR INSIGHTS: Is there a place or a person they can turn to for help?

FELDER: There’s not a single solution. The fact is you’re going to have to make a significant investment and continue to invest. You go back to the ‘80s, you could get training and be good for the next 10 years. Now you have to update your training every year. This is a problem for both insurers and shops. Insurers need to find a way to ensure shops are trained, but shops need to look at their price structures to pay for the training.

GM REPAIR INSIGHTS: Can shops look to insurers for help covering
the costs of training?

FELDER: Insurers will not help. They have their own problems around training right now. This is a problem the shops and the OEMs are going to have to solve. It starts with the shop understanding that training is a part of their operational budget and they should be estimating and charging for services in accordance with their operational budget. This ensures you have the needed funds to cover the cost of training and the lost cost of staffing during training.

GM REPAIR INSIGHTS: What are the OEMs doing to help?

FELDER: They’re doing more than ever. Back in the ‘80s we had a hard time communicating with them. Today, if you need something, they’re there. They have procedures, and they’re easier to read than ever before. If you need to speak with someone at an OEM, you can get someone on the phone quickly. They’re pretty much doing everything they can. There’s lots of repair information available now. Shops just have to read and learn how to understand it.

GM REPAIR INSIGHTS: What do you mean by “learn how to understand it?”

FELDER: That’s the missing gap for shops trying to perform repairs on today’s advanced vehicle designs. There is a big difference in having or readying the repair steps and being able to implement them. It’s the gap between access, comprehension and application. That’s one area I’d ask the OEMs to address. They need to remember who we as technicians are. We’re not engineers. We’re hands on learners. OEMs have to understand where and how we work.

GM REPAIR INSIGHTS: One issue that shops are facing here is a labor shortage. How can shops get more people interested in doing collision work?

FELDER: I believe the biggest problem we face with recruitment is that we’re still paying people like we did 50 years ago. Another important issue has to do with job descriptions. Today if you need a technician you’re looking for someone who can do it all, what we’ll call the A-level technician. That’s what every shop is looking for, but the chances of finding that person is slim to none. The industry needs to readjust itself to looking at salary-based positions for specific work. They need to niche hire.
For example, in my company I have people who are editors, script writers, marketers and curriculum developers. When I need to hire, I look for that specific skill. If we had that in collision repair, I could recruit a person with a software background to be a diagnostic technician—someone who’s a true brain but doesn’t want to sit in a cubical all day.
I could recruit for A-, B- and C-level technicians for different types of work instead of just looking for an A or trying to pick out some young person and train him up to be an A.

GM REPAIR INSIGHTS: Making this change and the others shops need to adopt is very expensive. With so many shops struggling just to get by, where do they get the investment capital?

FELDER: We tell shops to look at their estimating processes. Estimating is the only way to bring money in. Estimating is really the only thing shops can do to affect their income flow. We believe if we can teach you how to estimate properly you can double your net revenue. You don’t have to bring in more cars. That double net can help you get the training and equipment and other things your shop needs to get up to date.

GM REPAIR INSIGHTS: What’s the current state of the industry as far as OEM and aftermarket parts?

FELDER: Recently Mitchell issued a report showing for the first time in a while the use of alternative parts has ticked back up in estimating. That’s to be expected. Insurers are really pushing for their use because they’re fighting for their lives in terms of loss severity.
As shops, we need to look at the big picture. At the end of the day, the difference in price between the alternative and OEM is not that big.
The shops we work with have customers paying the difference for OEM parts, because they have been educated on the safety reasons. We tell customers to look at the additional cost as a co-pay, similar to their health insurance. It works! We’ve dealt with a lot of those who don’t believe us at first, but then we’ll hear from them a month later saying: “The customers are paying!” Once you explain to the customers what OEM parts do for them and their family, they buy in.

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Category: Industry News, The Business of Repairs