WIN conference looks at total loss trends, shop environmental practices
San Diego—Shop environmental efforts, career advancement tips, and trends impacting total losses were all on the agenda at the 2014 educational conference of the Women’s Industry Network (WIN) in May in San Diego.
Though the conference is designed to bring together women involved in all facets of the collision industry for networking and training, much of the information shared by speakers at the event would be of equal value to men in the industry.
Mike LeVasseur, of the Pennsylvania-based multi-location Keenan Auto Body chain, for example, discussed some of the changes his shops have made to reduce the company’s impact on the environment. Those changes range from the small — replacing Styrofoam coffee cups in the customer area with biodegradable cups — to the large: a complete solar power generating system at one of the shop’s locations. That 2009 solar installation, he said, paid for itself in just over three years, providing about 65 percent of the power the shop needs during operating hours.
“Then when we’re not open, it’s spinning backwards and selling energy back to the grid,” LeVasseur said. “We’re making somewhere around $30,000 just for the energy we’re selling back.”
LeVasseur said his company uses services provided nationally by Connecticut-based NLR to simplify shipment and recycling of discarded lights, ballasts, batteries and more. Over three years, the company converted all of its shops from oil to gas, reducing energy costs by 40 percent. This year it is switching out all of its lighting to more efficient fluorescent tubes, which costs about $13,000 per location, LeVasseur said, but more than half the cost is offset by energy provider incentives and tax credits, bringing the return on investment down to just 13 months.
LeVasseur also recommended hiring an energy consultant to look for other ways to help reduce energy costs. Such consultants, he said, are typically paid by the energy providers based on the reductions in energy use they provide.
All of this “greenin’ at Keenan” also makes good business sense because it offers good marketing opportunities as well, LeVasseur said.
Understand the inter-connected industry
Perhaps the most numbers-intense presentation at the WIN conference was a discussion of total loss trends by John Kett, CEO of Insurance Auto Auctions, which sells 1.5 million insurer-owned vehicles each year through its 160 locations in 48 states.
Kett said auction prices for vehicles play a key role in the percentage of vehicles declared total losses; as salvage values rise and offset more of the insurer’s cost of totaling a vehicle, more vehicles will be declared total losses.
Kett discussed some of the drivers of salvage values, including scrap and precious metal prices, supply and demand for used parts, and used vehicle pricing. With new-car sales rebounding, and an increasing number of lease-return vehicles coming into the market three years after new-car leasing began to rebound, used vehicle pricing has flattened out or declined, he said, which makes it easier for repair costs to exceed the total loss threshold of the vehicle’s value.
Kett said about 30 percent of the vehicles his company auctions leave the country to be rebuilt or used for parts. The value of the U.S. dollar has been strong the last three years compared to other country’s currencies, Kett said, making U.S. salvage vehicles less attractive to buyers outside the country. But Kett said his company is actively building alliance in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, South America and Mexico to bring in more foreign buyers to maximize salvage pricing for insurers.
Kett acknowledged that with the often-competing trends involved in salvage pricing it’s challenging to predict which way things are headed. But in the foreseeable future his best guess, he said, is that the percentage of vehicles declared total losses will rise.
Move your career forward
Jane Hylen has spent more than two decades of her career with Enterprise Rent-a-Car, now serving as senior vice president of the company’s North Central Region. Her presentation at WIN offered her advice for those looking to advance in their careers either within a company or even as company owners:
• Hone your craft. Seeking training and attending conferences are good investments in yourself, Hylen said. Know the qualifications needed for the next position or step you want, then figure out how to develop your skills to get there. Find those who do what you need to do well, she suggested, then watch and learn from them.
• Move out of your comfort zone. Hylen said she doesn’t try to avoid the things at which she’s not good.
“I’ve tried to steer into it so I’ll have fewer weaknesses,” she said.
She refers to “Popeye Syndrome,” suffered by those who just say they aren’t good at something (“I am what I am”), and don’t work to improve.
“The only way you’re going to get down the road further is if you embrace those things and say, ‘Okay, No Popeye for me. I’m going to figure this out,’” Hylen said. “I’m going to find a style with which I can do this. I might have to fake it a bit, but I’m going to continue to work on the craft. I’m going to continue to get better at my game.”
• Ask for critical feedback. The only thing harder than getting negative feedback is giving it, she said, so make sure to give your supervisor or mentor “permission” to give you plenty of feedback, good or bad. Thank them for it when you get it, she said.
At the award ceremony honoring three women as among the “Most Influential Women in the Collision Industry,” Marcy Tieger of Symphony Advisors, a 2010 “Most Influential Women” honoree, said those awards, like the WIN conference itself, are important both for women and the industry as a whole.
“In a perfect world, where gender, race, color, age and sexual orientation are never a barrier in the workplace, there will be no need to give out awards like this that focus on the accomplishments of a subset of people, in this case, women,” Tieger said. “Until that time, it’s incumbent on us to continue to shine a light on exceptional women in the industry through the Most Influential Women awards.”
WIN officially took over administration and presentation of the award program from AkzoNobel this year, which founded the Most Influential Women program in 1999. Since that time, more than 70 women have received the Most Influential designation.
In accepting her award, Jordan Hendler, executive director of the Washington (D.C.) Metropolitan Auto Body Association, said she didn’t previously see a list of all the past winners. She said that having looked over that list, she found at least “one name in every year of somebody who has made such an impact on my life.”
The others named Most Influential Women this year were Leanne Jefferies, collision director for the Automotive Industries Association (AIA) of Canada, and Frederica Carter, the former communications manager at AkzoNobel, who has been heavily involved with both WIN and the Most Influential Women program since their inceptions.