By Jeff Sanford
Calgary, Alberta -- August 6, 2015 -- In an interview with the owners of a collision repair network in Calgary conducted earlier this week, it was impossible not to ask about the hail storms that had created such destruction in the city over the past couple of days.
One of the principals at Calgary’s CARSTAR CMD, David Stretz, said he hadn’t seen the hail damaged vehicles yet. “It’s still too chaotic downtown. They’re calling for another storm in half an hour,” according to Stretz. But he expects to see the hail-damaged cars coming in over the days to come. “It’s going to be a busy week,” says Stretz.
Hail, it’s a mainstay in the auto repair industry. It cracks paint finishes. It leaves dents. Storms can cover an entire region leaving fleets of damaged vehicles. So no wonder there's a dedicated sub-culture in the collision repair industry that deals with the effects of hail.
The so-called storm chasers are dent repair technicians who travel around the country, venturing to regions where hail storms have recently passed through. These journeymen repair techs find their services in demand as local collision centres find they are flooded with too much business for their force of techs to handle. The storm chasers come in to the region. They contract with a shop or work out of a hotel, helping to handle the huge uptick in demand for auto repair services that these storms create. And they’ve had a busy summer this year.
Some suggest storms in North America are becoming more intense, partly as a result of a changing climate. This spring Texas suffered extremely intensive storms that delivered “grapefruit-sized” hail. In Canada, Toronto suffered a couple of sharp, quick hail storms. But it was Calgary that was hit hardest this summer, suffering real damage earlier this week when an intense storm ripped the roof off a building, flooded downtown roads and left motorists stranded. Presumably collision repair centres are going to be busy in the week ahead.
Confirming the anecdotal evidence, State Farm Insurance earlier this year released a report suggesting glass replacement claims throughout the country have spiked in 2015. The number of intensive storms though the US in 2015 has driven damage higher than in both 2013 and 2014 according to the State Farm data. Here in Canada the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) offered advice and information for affected residents following two rounds of localized flooding and severe hail in Chester mere and surrounding areas in Alberta earlier this summer.
"First and foremost, everyone's priority must be their personal safety and the safety of loved ones and neighbours," says Bill Adams, Vice-President, Western and Pacific, IBC. "Residents with insurance questions are encouraged to contact their insurance representative or call IBC's Consumer Information Centre at 1-844-2ask-IBC. We're here to help.”
For comment on the state of the hail repair sector in Canada, Collision Repair magazine reached out to Bing Wong, Managing Director of Canadian Hail Repair & United Hail Repair. He offered us the lowdown on the state of the hail repair industry in Canada.
“There have been some very intense storms in the last couple years but I don’t know that you could say that it is a trend,” says Wong. “Only insurers could confirm that statistically. I do believe, however, that hail repair and PDR is more top of mind because it has become a viable means of solving the problems associated with large surges in hail damage claims. Shops and networks that have been progressive with hail appraisal and repair programs are able to put up big sales numbers and get closer to their insurance partners because of the level of collaboration required to manage the aftermath of the storms. Those relationships pay dividends long after the storm has passed.”
He went on to note that cloud seeding program in Southern Alberta have been effective in turning some storms that would have been damaging into very minor events. “That’s bad for us on the repair side but great for insurers,” says Wong. “We often watch the planes as they seed in Calgary. You can see from the ground and on radar the impact that it has to weaken the storms. Even large hail becomes soft once seeded and drastically reduces the amount of damage it creates.”
As for the size of the storm chaser crowd in Canada, “It is probably growing, but only a few Canadian players are emerging as DRP-grade or best-in-class operations. There are still limited means by which companies can set themselves apart through certification and licensing. Working on the road is very difficult and being dependent on hail storms is also very stressful. So while the industry may be getting more ‘air-time’ I wouldn’t say it is growing tremendously fast.”
He goes on to say that, “there is a distinct challenge for Canadian companies to compete with the large US players who are entering Canada. US and international hail repairers are able to draw on their international resources and are less susceptible to a weak hail season than companies that operate solely in Canada….Some Canadian insurers are respectful of these challenges and support the Canadian companies but many large insurers do not even have Canadian vendors on their program at all.”
As for the type of working situation storm chaser encounter: “Every storm is different and every deal is different. Some placements are sporadic or take only a few days to appraise and repair the odd car. Some placements can see PDR techs work all year round with some seasonal surges in hours worked,” says Wong.