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Insight: The RMI - ‘We will be your voice’

The RMI has faced harsh criticism for the performance of its Bodyshop Services Division.

Launched in 1995, it immediately found favour with leading repairers who were disillusioned with the VBRA’s perceived lack of influence with work providers.

But in February 2004, the RMI’s 20-strong bodyshop consultative group (representing 16 companies) resigned en masse, claiming a lack of commitment, communication and action from the association’s bodyshop operation.

At least, that’s what was widely reported. But, according to the RMI, only eight of the 16 companies actually stepped down from membership. It claims peer pressure meant they were not prepared to admit still being members. The same was true of the reported 34 bodyshops who also resigned from membership at that time; just 10 did.

Mud-slinging by ‘the minority’

Ray Holloway, newly appointed to head the bodyshop division after the departure last year of Jeff Mack, says: “They didn’t want to put their heads above the parapet. And, because of issues with their peers, we decided not to correct the media reports.”

He believes much of the mud-slinging is coming from “the minority”, and adds: “We are here to represent the needs of the industry as a whole – half the bodyshops in the industry are in membership – not the agenda of the few. The AM50 bodyshops, a number of whom are members, want the solutions but don’t want to be part of delivering it.”

Franchised dealer domination

Critics counter that RMI membership is dominated by franchised bodyshops, which qualify automatically as part of the dealer’s subscription fee.

Total bodyshop membership is 2,600; just 180 are independents, each paying an average fee of £400. The rest are split between franchised dealers and companies with mixed interests (car sales, mechanical repairs and bodyshops). At its peak, the RMI had just over 400 independent bodyshop members. Revenue from bodyshops is put at around £72,000, a fraction of the £1.5m claimed for the ABP Club by its chairman David Cresswell at the AM50 in November.

“This means we had to take a realistic view on the type of service we can provide to our repairer members,” says Holloway. That view saw him combine the bodyshop role with his existing position as director of the independent garage and fuel division, creating the new position of director of independent member associations.

“We do want to raise the number of independents in membership,” Holloway adds. “And we want the larger ones to join. But the response from last year’s AM50 was not typical of the industry’s view of us – and some of the bodyshops who were there have a different view when they speak to us one-to-one.”

#AM_ART_SPLIT# Appraisal of work providers

The RMI is undertaking a number of reviews this year. Next month it intends to publish the findings of its appraisal of work provider contracts.

The purpose of the study is to look at the best and worst contracts and issue a list of dos and don’ts to help bodyshops make their own evaluations. It will also identify contracts where bodyshops have no guarantees on payments.

“If bodyshops ask us for advice on specific contracts, we will provide it,” adds Holloway. “It takes a long time to change the way insurance companies do business and to change their policies. That frustrates some bodyshops who are looking elsewhere, to BRIC for example. But some of BRIC’s aims are totally unrealistic.”

The RMI is planning a revision and relaunch of its QC programme, now six years old. The scheme, assessed by the IAEA, offers insurance companies “risk avoidance” by working with bodyshops operating to recognized quality levels.

About 300 bodyshops are QC-registered and, while few work providers now mandate QC as part of their approved requirements, Holloway says the scheme satisfies their minimum standards.

“There is less specific mandate these days because insurance companies have mature networks and they now understand the industry more,” says Holloway. “There is still a need for the scheme – most insurers want some kind of self-verification. It also puts smaller bodyshops on the map who don’t have the same profile as the large groups.”

Holloway says he is a big fan of cycle time management, where the cost of a repair is tracked from the time the accident happens to the time the car is collected. “There is a lot of cost that is attributed to the insurance companies throughout the process,” he adds. “We want to expose where the costs are and we support the CAPS project that will show this.”

Tackling estimating systems

The RMI has also committed to an investigation into estimating systems and has puts its faith in Thatcham Time rather than manufacturer-based systems.

Holloway believes the problem on estimating systems – targeting market leader Audatex – is two-fold: “There is a lack of care by bodyshops to put information into the system and there are poor development processes by Audatex to take the information it is given and provide a better product for bodyshops,” he says.

Critics of the RMI’s Bodyshop Services Division might not be appeased, but the association believes it is best placed to tackle the industry’s problems.

Rob Holloway, head the RMI bodyshop division

“We represent more bodyshops than any other trade association or body and the industry needs a single voice,” says Holloway. “But we need more people to participate. If the benefit of belonging to the RMI is greater than the cost of joining, then we will see more people join. We need to better promote the benefits.”

#AM_ART_SPLIT# Licensing

Several leading bodyshops believe the sector needs a licensing scheme to drive out rogue operations.

The RMI disagrees, claiming this will add unnecessary cost. But it does agree that the industry needs minimum standards, and believes that Thatcham is the ideal body to manage a scheme.

Thatcham chief executive Peter Roberts outlined a basic plan at the AM50, which included talks with the British Standards Institute. It is due to launch a Publicly Available Specification (PAS)/Kitemark scheme in February.

The RMI, however, is not keen on involving BSI – again due to cost. ”We believe it shouldn’t be beyond Thatcham’s abilities to create an alternative to the BSI scheme,” says bodyshop division head Ray Holloway. “There are some who want standards to be so high that it will force out some body-shops to reduce capacity. But we think that might increase the level of investment and could force out some good repairers.”

He believes the Automotive Technician Accreditation scheme, governed by the Institute of the Motor Industry for mechanical repairs and servicing, could be extended to the bodyshop sector. “We need to raise the recognized level of training in the industry and ATA is something that bodyshops could promote as a business advantage.”

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