Walter Trapp says he doesn't know the first thing about repairing a car, and to do his new job, he doesn't have to.
Trapp, executive vice president and COO of the Automotive Service Association, will become its president and chief staff executive when Bud Merwin, 65, retires Dec. 31.
Trapp, 48, spent almost 12 years with Mary Kay Cosmetics Inc., headquartered in Dallas, where he held several positions, including vice president of corporate development. He was Mary Kay's vice president and treasurer before joining the Automotive Service Association in 1994.
At Mary Kay, a portion of his time was spent crafting benefits programs for its 450,000-plus independent entrepreneurs.
Trapp said his main duties at the association will be to carry out the policies of its board of directors and to oversee programs for members such as disability insurance, garage keepers' liability, credit card processing and investment services. He also assists with the association's monthly publications and its Web site.
Some people in the service industry may believe that the top job at the Automotive Service Asso-ciation should be held by someone who knows how to work with a wrench; Trapp says he draws his strength from knowing how to work with people.
'I readily admit that I don't know how to fix an automobile - but that's not my job,' said Trapp, who holds bachelor's degrees in economics and business administration from Kansas University and a law degree from Southern Methodist University. He is licensed to practice law in Texas and Kansas.
'My job is to execute the policies and directions of the board of directors. At Mary Kay, I learned to deal with people and issues - whether it was legal or finance, on the phone or at meetings. It's helped me to better serve our (association) members.'
The Automotive Service Association is a nonprofit trade association in Bedford, Texas, and its membership includes 13,000 business and 60,000 mechanical and collision technicians. Its goal is to advance professionalism and excellence in the automotive repair industry.
The association sponsored the International Autobody Congress and Exposition - also known as NACE - held Thursday, Dec. 3, through Sunday, Dec. 6, in Dallas.
Among the issues facing the collision repair industry, Trapp said, is consolidation - large collision companies that want to acquire large, well-run body shops that have sophisticated equipment and highly skilled technicians.
Body shops that are part of a chain are particularly interesting to insurance companies. Consolida-tion helps shops achieve economies of scale while meeting insurance companies' standards for training, equipment and costs.
One large consolidator is Caliber Collision Centers in Irvine, Calif. Caliber has 17 corporate-owned collision shops in California and Texas.
Matthew Ohrnstein, Caliber CEO, said his company made its most recent acquisition, Slim's Paint and Body in San Antonio, in September.
As a consolidator, Ohrnstein said he looks for well-managed collision shops that have solid, outstanding relationships with insurance companies and consumers.
He said he also looks for shops and markets that have growth potential. Equipment, he said, is the least of his concerns.
Said Ohrnstein: 'The critical success factors are people, people, people. This (collision repair) is a $25 billion industry; less than $1 billion is consolidated. Consolidation is here to stay. We're in our infancy.'
Trapp said consolidators' interest in collision repair means that they see its tremendous value.
'If I were a shop owner, I'd like to know how they evaluate a shop; that doesn't mean you have to be interested in selling your business,' he said.
Another issue of concern to the collision industry - as well as the service industry in general -is the shortage of technicians.
According to the Inter-Industry Conference on Automotive Collision Repair Education Foundation, 48,000 collision repair technicians - about 25 percent of the industry's total - left their jobs in 1997. Many retired or went on to other collision positions, such as estimating, but about 10,000 left the industry.
To improve the quality of collision repair training at secondary and postsecondary schools and to increase enrollment numbers, the Automotive Service Association and several other major industry associations joined forces in 1996 to form the Automotive Industry and Education Coalition. They call their effort 'The Blitz.'
The coalition created standards for collision repair training in terms of curriculum, equipment and instructor training. It is urging states to require that their schools meet those standards for certification.
The coalition started in Missouri in 1996; at that time, only three schools that offered collision repair were certified. Currently, 19 are certified or in the process of certification. The coalition moved to Texas in 1997.
While Texas has yet to mandate certification, Trapp said, the coalition has met with shop owners, representatives from the governor's office and educators to tout certification. Of Texas' 530 schools that offer collision and mechanical training, one collision school and 30 mechanical schools have been certified.
'The solution is complex; it's not about just throwing money at it,' Trapp said. 'It boils down to a process, educating students, parents and to some degree the vocational schools about the opportunities in the collision repair industry.'