Vancouver, British Columbia — Parts shortages and labour retention issues are hardly something British Columbia bodyshops need a reminder of, however, as they face increased scrutiny from customers facing long repair waits, some in the industry feel inclined to respond.
An article recently published by Global News attempts to speak to some of the issues that have long been weighing on the collision industry; namely parts availability and technician retention.
The B.C.-oriented piece touches on some familiar points to collision professionals, including the fact that the lots of bodyshops are full to the brim with vehicles stuck in limbo in some stage of the repair process, waiting on one backordered part or another.
Sources close to Collision Repair have expressed that while many of the issues itself were expressed accurately, the root causes given don’t quite line up with how some managers in B.C. see things.
For Wade Bartok, president and CEO of CSN Elite Body Shop in Vancouver, the current conditions can’t simply be summed up as just a supply issue—when technicians across the province are wildly underpaid compared to other trades—it is an clearly an issue of supply and demand.
“We, as an industry, have not invested to increase our capacity, and now there are more parts to fix than there is capacity to fix them and you have to start picking and choosing,” he said over the phone with Collision Repair.
“If you are looking at a tow-in as a moneymaker, administratively they are very expensive and the chance of you even fixing that car is low because it may end up being a total loss anyway. Often, you basically receive zero compensation and it’s not even worth it.”
This, as Bartok points out, puts strain not just on a bodyshop’s ability to make money, but on the current insurance system’s ability to function in the long-term altogether.
“The big picture for insurance companies is that they’re selling a product they cannot service. If you are selling an insurance policy saying, ‘If you get in an accident, we will indemnify your loss and fix your car,’ but there will be no capacity to fix them…I think that would be a shame for the consumers.”
“The insurance companies all seem to want the lowest price and they are motivated by bonuses and all sorts of programs meant to keep costs down, and I can understand that—I would too. So by keeping that cost down, we as business owners have limited money to reinvest in skills and equipment.”
At this point, many shops have entered what Bartok calls “cockroach mode”—a state of no growth, just survival.
“Cockroach mode” combined with a what he has seen as an average seven year-long path from first-year apprentice to fully-productive body technician, Bartok says it’s “super painful” to hear of qualified technicians fleeing the collision repair sector for more profitable trades, but ultimately understands the decision.
“Personally, I feel like we’re here to develop people and give them a great life, and if that is something they want to do then I understand. If we could compete and raise our prices when demand goes up, then we would have a better chance of keeping our people.”
I truly believe this as truth. As a red seal in glass paint and body. And as a remote shop owner operator. My 30 years plus of experience says it’s at the hands of low door rates to be the reason for this. Cost of living is up and higher in certain places. Why can they charge their customers higher rates in certain areas? Yet a shop cannot? Even if it’s costs of doing business is higher in said area?