Collision departments at new-car dealerships have declined over the years in part as automobile insurers have channeled customers to preferred central shops. Also, demanding environmental regulations make the shops expensive to maintain.
To make its investment in collision worthwhile, AutoNation uses a number of strategies to drive customers to its centers.
-- A collision concierge is in the service department at every dealership without its own collision services but within 15 miles of an AutoNation collision center. The concierge takes in the customer's car, works with the insurance company and arranges for the vehicle to be transported to the center and then back to the customer.
It keeps the customer doing business with the store where the car was purchased. "We can hang on to that customer no matter what the vehicle repair needs are," Stephens says.
-- AutoNation partners with auto insurers to become preferred repair locations. The AutoNation representative can work with and directly bill the insurance company on behalf of the vehicle owner. It expedites the work for the customer, and AutoNation gets jobs that otherwise would go to other shops.
Stephens declined to name the insurers with which AutoNation has partnerships but says they include "most of the majors."
-- Most of AutoNation's new collision centers are certified by certain automakers as authorized repair centers. For instance, a collision center near AutoNation Mercedes or Toyota stores may be certified through those brands. Because cars have gotten so complex, the label gives the AutoNation center an edge over other collision centers, Stephens says. Even if it's certified with, say, Toyota, the AutoNation collision center will repair vehicles of other brands. But it gains additional referrals and jobs by meeting the certification requirements of the manufacturer.
-- AutoNation tracks how effective its retail stores are at referring work to its collision centers. The company examines the registered units in operation within 12 miles of the dealership. That, in combination with other measurements such as accident-frequency rates, tells managers how much work a dealership should be referring.
If the referrals fall short of targets, managers troubleshoot the performance of the store to determine whether intervention is needed.
"Is it because we're not marketing on the service drive that collision service is available?" Stephens says. "Is it the Web site? Do we have the wrong salesperson on the drive? We have to start digging in and find out why we're not as successful as we are at other like-brand stores."