More than a year after opening to independent shops, Subaru’s certified collision network is up to more than 500 shops, with around 150 more repairers near the end of the enrollment process.
A few hundred more repairers are what Subaru calls “candidates,” according to national wholesale parts manager John Lancaster said last week. He said the company had 380 or so certified shops at the beginning of the year, which worked out to around 100 repairers per quarter.
“We have a nice pace going out right now,” Lancaster said. The network was “rolling out pretty good,” he said.
Subaru recently added a data pump vendor requirement, and the company plans to use real-world information to determine an ideal number of certified shops, Lancaster said. Originally, the OEM had been using “industry numbers,” he said. Subaru also will focus on algorithms to work out market coverage, he said.
The idea is to serve customers but not saturate the area, according to Lancaster. The company lacks a national cap, but it will close off a market when it reaches a certain level of certification coverage, he said.
Southern California has become a “certification Mecca” for some reason, Lancaster said, describing heavy shop interest despite the area not representing a major Subaru market.
Numerous areas in the region have reached caps and closed to new certified shops, according to Lancaster. “We were baffled,” he said.
Nationally, it’s “little pockets here and there” that have reached a cap rather than entire regions being closed to newcomers. Portland, for example, has many “red areas,” according to Lancaster.
We asked if any areas in particular needed certified shops. “We have no shops in Maine,” Lancaster said. Enterprising repairers might wish to consider applying; according to Lancaster, Subaru is popular in the state.
ROI on certification
Certified shops still must capture Subaru owners’ keys to earn an ROI on their investment, and Lancaster last week provided an update on the company’s efforts to get more businesses to its repairers.
Lancaster said there was “a lot of new marketing coming out.” He said Subaru’s marketing team has contributed to the effort, and the company recently held a photo shoot in Salt Lake City on behalf of the certification program.
The company has even been promoting the certified network on NPR in major markets, Lancaster said.
Subaru’s Devin Wilcox, who replaces the recently promoted Nicole Riedel, has a marketing background and will help on this, Lancaster said.
Subaru isn’t yet referring customers to shops after it detects a crash, according to Lancaster. The technology exists, but Subaru needed to be careful with it, he said.
“We’re sitting tight right now,” he said.
Subaru also plans to leverage its 10,000 ambassadors, “die-hard Subaru fans” who distribute swag and engage with Subaru customers. He said they’ve been taught about collision certification and will receive a packet they can disseminate to other Subaru owners for use in a future claim.
Lancaster said body shops expect Subaru dealerships to automatically refer business. But Subaru can’t dictate what retailers do, and it respects their established relationships (Lancaster said the OEM asked dealers if they had a shop they’d like to see certified.)
If a shop is certified but the Subaru dealer isn’t sending work, “there’s not a whole lot we can do,” Lancaster said.
Lancaster suggested one solution might be to create a “symbiotic relationship.” Certified shops tend to use more OEM parts, according to Lancaster. He described a situation where a shop might buy parts from a dealer — who in turn sends customers to the repairer.
“It’s starting to happen,” Lancaster said.
Subaru owners might be more passionate than typical vehicle owners, which could also help repairers see a benefit of certification.
Lancaster told a story of a Subaru owner in South Carolina who called a certified shop in New Jersey at a time when the program contained 20 repairers. The motorist declared he would have his Subaru towed there so it would be handled by a certified shop. Ultimately, the facility talked the man out of it, but the story illustrates the potential of the program.
Subaru’s certified collision repair network opened to independent auto body shops Jan. 1, 2019. (Provided by Subaru)
Subaru in 2019 sold its 10 millionth vehicle in the U.S. — an Impreza — to Craig Harmon, right. At left is customer Marianne Harmon and at center is the customer Rachel Harmon. Craig Harmon and his family have owned seven Subarus. (Provided by Subaru)