By James Kerr

Toronto, Ontario -- January 26, 2018 -- The who's who of collision repair was represented at the huge showroom of Toronto's International Centre this week at CCIF Toronto 2018. New products, new methods, and new understanding were around every corner in the array of booths. From the banners to the engineers to the paint giants, it seemed like everyone was here with a record-breaking 916 registrants, up from 750 just one year ago.

“We welcome you to the biggest CCIF ever,” said Brigitte Peseant, director of collision programs, AIA Canada, at the opening of the event.

The number of collision repair shops in Canada has not grown; could it be the level of engagement in the industry has risen? No one can doubt the rapid pace of change happening in collision repair right now, and attendance at a big conference carries with it attractive promises about helping smooth the industry into the future.

Patrice Marcil, CCIF chairman, had a long list of things attendees could expect from CCIF during his opening remarks: "You should expect for us to bring you different points of view...you should expect from us to keep moving the needle, keep advancing the industry. That is what you should expect from us."

"This is our meeting," said Marcil. "This is our industry."

Founded on three pillars, the CCIF promises to deliver to the industry: profitability & sustainability, people - recruitment, hiring, training; a stronger and stronger work-force – and, vehicle complexity & technology, including helping you keep on top of developments in the industry. For many, it’s the place to find answers. There was something at CCIF 2018 Toronto to address every one.

"We come every year," said attendee Alexandre Linhares, controller/accountant, Fix Auto Verdun. "I come here to see the future of the collision repair business."

Changes Are Here, Changes Are Coming

"Things go really fast with technology,” said Jean-Luc Sauirol, business manager, Alldata, during his presentation on pre-and-post scanning. “You take a week's vacation, come back and everything's changed."

On stage before a packed audience Sauirol cited that by the year 2020, as much as 25 percent of a vehicle will be electronic.

"That's why we have to be in to technology," Sauirol said, addressing shop owners in attendance with on-the-ground tactics, tips, and red flags to look for during pre and post scan procedures. "You have young people [customers] they know how to use technology. We have to understand."

The theme of young people came up repeatedly throughout the conference.

"By 2020 our workforce will look completely different," said Marie Artim, VP talent & Acquisition, Enterprise, during her presentation. Artim suggested shops should adopt a different approach to hiring the millennial generation.

"Don't focus on cars," she said. "Encourage people to know your culture, your attitude – what makes you different."

That, she said, is what is going to attract a new generation of talent.

“This industry needs to encourage more young people to be, and do better," said Gabriel Merino, founder, Motivated Painters.

Merino said it is difficult to get into the industry, and not everyone can be as lucky as he was. Merino shared a touching story of his mentorship at Budds’ Collision by industry legend Sam Piercey, and how Piercey believed in and cultivated Merino's young talent.

In his spare time Merino is heavily involved in a social media network of painters, an "audience of painters who are trying to become better and helping each other out." Merino said: “This industry needs more people helping each other. Collaboration is so much better than competition."

Collaboration may be the key theme of the millennial generation. With their e-commerce and ride sharing, they seem to be doing what they can to avoid the direct dollar. But with the workforce passing into millennial hands, the collision repair industry may need to come together over teaching the next generation.

Jason Bartanen, director, industry technical relations, I-CAR, put it directly: "We need a lot more schools, a lot more talent coming out of schools," he said. “There’s no way to avoid it.”

Consolidators and Independence

Brad Mewes, principal, Supplement, shared a data-driven overview of company growth in Canada, focused on the trend for consolidation in the Canadian market. He led a panel discussion on collision repair as a wise business investment. The panel consisted of Steve Huntzinger, co-founder and managing partner, Dunham Lane Capital Partners; Steve Leal, president, Fix Automotive Network; Michael Macaluso, president, CARSTAR North America; and Jeremy Thompson, partner, Penfund.

Thompson noted: "Dollars per repair are going up. Frequency is going down, but in the investment horizon it's not going to be an issue."

All panel members agreed the collision repair industry is a wise investment. On consolidation Macaluso said simply: "It's the natural progression of the industry."

Perhaps the most far-reaching insight, and maybe a foretelling of concerns down the road, was a remark by Steve Leal, President, Fix Auto World, said during Mewes’ panel discussion on growth in the industry. "The connected car to me is the biggest risk," said Leal. "Who has the right to the data? That's what I see as the challenge of the industry."

However, where does that leave the independent shop owner? CCIF is the place to ask these questions, according to one audience member.

"CCIF makes it easier to connect people with what they do," said Alan Hughes, an independent shop owner of Cam Clark Ford Sales in Calgary, AB. "I work in an independent shop surrounded by the big guys. Do we survive in that, or thrive in that?" he said, asking the big questions.

There is help for independent shops trying to find their best course through the industry, according to Dave Luehr, owner, Elite Body Shop Solutions. During his presentation he encourages shops not to fall into the 'victim mindset', and see the opportunities available to them in today's collision repair landscape. Among the secrets he shared on stage, he stressed adaptability, and continued learning. He offered shop owners critical support: "I talk to people who won't give up what made them successful, even though it's not working now."

Luehr went on to comment: "My grandfather used to say: "Just work hard and you'll be successful." Grandfather was wrong. You have to work hard on the right things." According to Luehr, the answers are out there to thrive in today’s landscape of consolidation.

Inderjit Singh, owner of Skydome Auto & Body Centre in Brampton, ON, attends CCIF because there is: "A lot of new technology and new trends I get to know."

Jason Bartanen, director of industry technical relations, I-CAR, shared several new trends we may see in the coming years. "We're going to have a diagnostics room in the shop of the future," he said, and encouraged shop owners to keep in mind enough space for calibration in their plans.

According to Bartanen, shops also need to develop their own "definitions and best practices," if they want to stay competitive.

The Future of Repair

It seems the next few years for collision repair are anticipated in the minds of key industry decision-makers. With CCIF offering such an excellent turn-out for shop owners, from single-stores, to MSOs, to banners, it was a great opportunity for all levels of the industry to share. At a conference such as CCIF you have the ear of those key decision makers, and those decision makers have the ear of the shop majority. Together they have the ability to look ahead to collision repair's future.

“Your financial statements talk about last year,” said Huntzinger on the investment panel.

CCIF talks about next year, five years from now, and beyond.

 

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