*Reprinted with permission from Autobody News By Chasidy Rae Sisk

On August 24-26, the Auto Body Association of Texas (ABAT) hosted its 3rd Annual Texas Auto Body Trade Show at the Hurst Conference Center in Hurst, TX with a theme of “That Ain’t No Bull.” According to ABAT Executive Director Jill Tuggle, “The event was a huge success and exceeded our expectations. While our attendance was negatively impacted by the hurricane in Houston, we still had about 200 in attendance throughout the length of the event.  The speakers were even more dynamic than expected, the vendors were classy and gracious, and the venue was beautiful. We are proud of this event and are already immersed in planning the 2018 Texas Auto Body Trade Show.”

ABAT Board Member Eric McKenzie chimed in, “It was our third and largest conference yet. We had many great speakers educating us about the hottest topics in the collision industry. We had tremendous support from vendors with fantastic displays of their newest offerings of tools, service, and support systems to help in nearly every area of the collision center. There were too many awesome door prizes to count, donated by those same vendors, and we also enjoyed our greatest show attendance yet from all over Texas, the surrounding states and even as far away as Oregon, North Carolina, Arkansas  and New Jersey!”

The Conference commenced on Thursday evening with the TX Association Dinner at Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth, TX with nearly 100 collision repair professionals who are members of the various industry associations in TX, including ABAT, the Houston Auto Body Association (HABA), Rio Grande Collision Repair Association, Beaumont and West TX, all gathering for food and fellowship. Tuggle recalled, “This was the night Hurricane Harvey was hurling into Texas. We were lucky to welcome many shop owners from that area, and our hearts and prayers went out to our colleagues from the Houston area. Billy Bob’s was a great Texas welcome for everyone, a place for this industry to make new friends, see old friends, and stay updated about the Texas collision industry.”

Friday’s educational segment focused on management courses, including those related to diagnostics, financials and research. ABAT President Burl Richards opened, “We are here to share information with our industry. We have brought together a line-up of nationally known speakers that are sharing the knowledge we all need to move forward in this business.”

Friday morning’s sessions included “Building the Basic Case for Diagnostics in Collision Repair” with AsTech’s Jake Rodenroth as well as Mike Anderson of Collision Advice’s “Who Pays for What” presentation and best practices update.

After lunch, Roger Cada of Accountable Estimatics moderated an OE Panel Discussion on proper repair procedures with reps from Toyota, Honda, I-CAR, and Auto Vehicle Experts. Attendees also heard about variable rate surveys from the National AUto Body Research’s Sam Valenzuela.

On Friday night, ABAT hosted a Welcome Reception, and Tuggle shared, “The welcome reception was a hit as usual. The doors opened with dimmed lights, a glowing Texas flag colored chandelier, and a sing-along to ‘Deep in the Heart of Texas.’ The evening was presented cocktail-hour-style and provided a laid back atmosphere for networking with colleagues and exhibitors.”

Attendees were separated into two groups on Saturday morning with AMI’s Jeff Peevy discussing the importance of education and understanding change, while industry favorite Larry Montanez of P & L Consultants talked about the accelerated pace of change in materials, processes and procedures.

Management seminars ran concurrently with Roger Cada presenting “Building the New Shop Culture,” while Robert McDorman of Auto Claims Specialists covered “Get More Work in Your Shop.”

The entire group was then reunited, and ABAT  Board Member David Osburne explained, “For the rest of that morning’s educational offerings, we thought it would be good to bring everyone together so they would hear the same thing.”

First, Mike Anderson moderated a panel discussion on “Current and Future Technologies” which featured Celette’s Bastien Dias Da Costa, Tim Morgan of Spanesi, and Car-O-Liner’s Tim Curran. According to Osburne, “This opened up a positive discussion about repairability and accuracy. It gave attendees a stronger understanding of the process and equipment needed to repair to OE specifications.”

The last speaker on Saturday morning was unscheduled; ABAT introduced Todd Tracy of the Tracy Law Firm in Dallas, TX to the room full of attendees, filling them with apprehension as he was the prosecutor in the John Eagle lawsuit (which he has since won).

Tuggle explained, “ABAT makes it a habit to give our members the information that they need to hear, not always what they want to hear, so we decided to bring the ‘fox into the hen house.’ We wanted our members to face the very real possibility of litigation coming to their doorsteps. The presentation was focused on how to keep ‘sharks like me out of your business’ as Tracy put it. He continually emphasized safety and OE Repair Procedures. Tracy complimented the audience of 250 collision repairers for their commitment to doing the right thing. His presence alone emphasized the importance of proper repairs to this audience.”

“Tracy earned a standing ovation at the end of his very dynamic performance. Tracy was excited about being in the middle of the collision repair industry in Texas and told us ‘I have learned more this morning at your classes than I have ever learned at SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) and other programs I have been involved in.’ Tracy’s presentation was electrifying and spoke to the heart of our industry,” Tuggle continued.

Saturday afternoon concluded with the Trade Show, and by the day’s close, ABAT had sold over $650 in raffle tickets to be donated to Hurricane Harvey Relief Efforts.

Richards shared, “The training, seminars and overload of information set a great stage for the Texas Auto Body Trade Show. The Trade Show was very busy! Feedback from our exhibitors was outstanding. We were told numerous times that the quality of attendees made way for sales that rivaled some of the larger national shows they attend. Attendees were blown away by the educational portion and had time to visit with vendors they have never discovered. We exceeded the expectation that since this show is only three years old, it would still be quite small. We actually outgrew the facility this year before we even opened the doors, which was double the amount of space we had the previous year, so this show really is expanding exponentially.”

Discussing the importance of this type of industry event, Tuggle said, “Association-sponsored events keep our members informed, engaged and communicating well together. Association events provide the opportunity for shop mangers to get to know one another, and they are then more willing to reach out to each other with questions. We bring in the best speakers in our industry and present on the hottest topics. We couple information and technology with practical application and processes for the modern day body shop. It is virtually impossible for the shop owner or anyone who works on a vehicle to keep up with the information needed to repair today’s cars safely, so we try to pack as much as we can into two days and continually throughout the year. ABAT is laser focused on the pursuit of OE-compliant collision repair and the struggle to remain profitable in doing so.  We aim for our shops to have the reputation of a guaranteed safe repair.”

ABAT’s focus for the remainder of 2017 will be on growing its membership, but Tuggle is already looking forward to 2018: “When we learn together, we can stand together to raise the industry standard. These events are important to our industry because it provides the platform to raise that industry standard. The shop of the future will follow OE guidelines, fix cars the correct way and never stop learning. The body shop of the future will not only survive, but thrive.”

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