Looking ahead at autonomous vehicles and preparing for the future
Concord, Calif.—Rich Lezcano is a “big picture” guy, and that’s why the owner of Simply Superior Auto Body is always looking at what is coming next for his business and the industry. While focusing on performing quality repairs and stressing customer service, Lezcano is preparing for 10-15 years from now as he tries to stay ahead of the curve in an ever-changing volatile and highly competitive business environment.
Lezcano, 48, has to concentrate on what’s happening today, but by anticipating what’s coming next, he hopes to be in a prime position in the near and distant future. With half of his volume derived from his insurance relationships, Lezcano is competing with large collision chains and even smaller MSOs located right down the street. But, he has found his niche at Simply Superior and part of it has to do with metered growth, participating in the industry’s leading trade organizations and finding the right people to repair 40-50 vehicles every month with seven employees out of a 10,000-square-foot facility.
Autonomous vehicles, aluminum repairs and the rising costs of newer cars are currently on Lezcano’s radar. “This industry is changing at a rapid rate and it’s going to accelerate even more. We have to be able to say yes to certain things and no to others in order to succeed, because we’re doing well, but we want that to obviously continue.”
Although it’s not something that will happen overnight, Lezcano hopes to be in a good spot when self-driving cars start pulling up to his shop. “The technology is here and the experts say that by 2023, many high-end carmakers will have some of the first self-driving vehicles on the market, including Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and BMW. By 2025, a high percentage of manufacturers will have autonomous vehicles in their fleets and it’s pretty amazing. Kids born today may never have to get a driver’s license? How will this affect our industry? Fewer accidents will mean less revenue and does that mean that independent shops will be pushed out? Can the roads, infrastructure and other factors change quickly enough to accommodate autonomous transportation? These are important questions and the shops that are prepared will be in the right place at the right time while others will miss out and likely fade into the background.”
The spiraling costs of new cars is also a major issue that will undoubtedly pose a threat for the collision repair industry in the very near future, Lezcano said. “The newest Audi costs $100,000 and pretty soon we will see more and more cars in that price range. Claims are going to go up and does that mean that the overall number of totaled vehicles will decrease? The cars are already so sophisticated now — how can body shops stay up with the training when these cars are full of sensors, cameras and other forms of cutting-edge technology?”
Aluminum repairs is something that isn’t new and shops all over the country are jumping on board, but Lezcano said he isn’t entering the fray quite yet. “Aluminum requires a clean room essentially, which is a concern for someone like me with a smaller facility. Am I going to get enough Ford F150s to justify the costs of equipment, tools and training? I can’t take floor space and dedicate it to aluminum when I’m only going to see three or four of them every year, so at this point I’m not ready to make that move.”
A strong believer in the value of professional trade organizations, Lezcano said that he joined ASCCA even though it’s a group that consists primarily of mechanical repair shop owners and managers. “I saw some strong leadership there and that’s why I originally joined. The mechanical repair industry is very different from what we do, but there are also a lot of similarities. In the end, we operate businesses that serve consumers and we have to adhere to the rules and laws devised by our state government. CAA and ASCCA have two different identities, but I believe they should work together more extensively to help both. People have suggested that there should be a board member from each industry on each other organization’s boards, and I think that is something to seriously consider. We need to work together, especially when it comes to legislation that can impact us all.”
Although the business model is changing every day, Lezcano still loves the environment at a busy body shop and isn’t ready to retire. “I still love writing estimates and that’s why I’m a very hands-on owner. It’s always a challenge, but I love it and want do this as long as I possibly can.”