The three-year-old Auto Body Association of Texas announced Thursday it has grown to the point where it needed a full-time executive director, hiring collision repair marketer Jill Tuggle to lead the trade group.
“We are very excited to welcome Jill as the Auto Body Association of Texas Executive Director,” ABAT President Burl Richards said in a statement. “(W)e knew we had reached a point where we needed someone to ‘direct’ the operation.”
Tuggle said she started out as a “little 20-year-old girl” getting covered in brake dust as a body shop delivery driver for Wheel Technologies, tried a brief foray into interior design, and ultimately returned to automotive by handling sales and marketing for the wheel repairer. In 2015, she founded her own collision repair-exclusive marketing firm, Summit Marketing Solutions, where her work included promoting both direct repair program and non-direct repair program shops to insurers.
She connected with ABAT through one of Summit’s clients, Bob Tomes Ford, which is represented in the ABAT board.
“Most of the board members knew who I was,” she said. Tuggle was brought on board to help with membership, and her work on the first Texas Auto Body Trade Show impressed the association, which in a press release described her as “instrumental” in the event’s success.
“I guess I stepped up to the plate enough,” Tuggle said.
“Jill is bringing new ideas and enthusiasm to our association,” ABAT board member Kevin Ellison said in a statement. “(S)he is already in constant communication with the Board- she definitely is firing everybody up.”
Tuggle said she’d still keep her business but would shift from an owner-operator to owner-oversight role “so that I can do boots on the ground” for ABAT instead of Summit.
“I’m a girl that likes to not stop moving, basically,” she said. She said she’d like to bring her marketing knowledge to individual shops through ABAT, but her first priority must be the day-to-day operations of the trade group.
Tuggle said one of the major challenges facing Texas repairers involves the state’s size and geographic diversity — it can go from intensely urban to intensely rural — and how insurers attempt to define markets within it to pressure shops to use a particular labor rate.
“I don’t see where it’s fair,” she said. “… It (a rate) should be based on the qualifications of that shop.”
The challenge brings to mind a similar issue in the No. 3 largest state, California, which also has large urban and rural pockets. Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones finally decided after similar complaints there to force insurers to define a market as the nearest six shops which completed a standardized rate survey.
ABAT has about 55 members, and “many, many other” affiliates such as jobbers, according to Tuggle. The trade group is predominantly in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and is working to collaborate with the Houston Auto Body Association and others in Southwest Texas.
It’s a big state; “we can have five different associations,” she said. The groups can work together on legislation — statehouse matters will be one of her top priorities — and collaborating on trade shows.
Communication and education
Similar communication and collaboration between shops themselves is another of Tuggle’s top priorities at ABAT.
Shops are unwilling to share information with each other, adhering to a “I can’t talk to the guy next door mentality” despite the influx of multi-shop operations dramatically changing the business climate, she said. (Texas is also the home state of Service King, the No. 2 MSO in the country in 2015.) Such isolation won’t work under these conditions, according to Tuggle.
“Communication is something that we’re really working on here at ABAT,” she said.
She indicated some progress had been made in a statement provided with the news release of her announcement: “I am excited to see the momentum continue to grow. One of the most inspirational things I have seen in my career is the way these guys have knocked down their walls of competition and have started to work together and communicate to make our industry better. My vision for ABAT is to grow our association and be a unified voice for Texas. We will bring education, government affairs, communication, industry networking and have fun doing it. I want to bring energy and consistent communication to the table.”
Communication and legislation matter, but the “number one” priority is education, Tuggle said.
“It’s almost impossible to keep up with the new technology” on cars, Tuggle said, quoting I-CAR’s “Technical Tsunami” to describe it. One of her goals is to gather information from P-Pages and OEM repair statements and bring all of these resources into a single place Texas shops can easily access to properly repair and estimate vehicle damage.
“We want these guys to know,” she said. She quoted Richards: “If you think you know, you don’t know.”
Education initiatives could spread beyond shops.
“I’d really like to see some consumer education,” Tuggle said. Television investigative reports of bad repairs have started that conversation, and shops should build on that momentum.
“We need to educate our consumer,” she said, to “don’t just go with the cheapest estimate you get.”
ABAT is also fostering education (and communication) for technicians. One showed up at a meeting desiring to join the organization, and ABAT liked the idea but didn’t want to charge a technician the rate it’d charge to a shop owner for membership. “‘Just take my money,'” he said — they could figure it out later; he really wanted to join.
“That kind of inspired us,” Tuggle said. The organization realized that “we’re really kind of missing out” and has started to create more technician-focused events, such as I-CAR and asTech diagnostics training.
Featured image: Jill Tuggle, the first full-time executive director of the Auto Body Association of Texas. (Provided by ABAT)