Raising Up the Image of the Industry

A Short NABC History

In the early 1990s, the days immediately preceding the founding of NABC, the industry could look back proudly on the great strides it had taken toward professionalism over the previous decade.

Unfortunately, the general public didn’t really see it that way. For all they knew, the ghost of “Bondo Billy”—patron saint of the Bad Old Days of Collision Repair— was still alive and well, a belief too readily reinforced by the media which all too often provided exposure to the most sordid (and rarest) of industry incidents. Never mind the tens of thousands of professionals—the overwhelming majority—that practiced their craft to the highest standards of quality and integrity. Somehow they didn’t seem to count.

This image deficit was more than an inconvenience; it caused problems for the industry, from attracting quality recruits to building trusted relationships with inter-related industries and other business partners. Over time, a growing number of collision repairers came to understand that something needed to be done to dissipate the negativity clouding the true nature of the industry. Current NABC Executive Director Chuck Sulkala, fresh off of a term as I-CAR chairman, was one of these.

“Joey Buttafuoco was a hot topic on the late night talk shows around then,” Sulkala recalls, “and I remembered back some 20 years before when my dad came back the office one morning after an evening meeting saying, ‘Someone’s really got to do something about the image of the industry.’ And that was 20 years before I even started thinking about starting NABC.”

Sulkala first discussed the concept of promoting positive industry image with Tim Rooney, an industry consultant that had previously served as I-CAR marketing director, and Scott Biggs, then editor of Body Shop Video Magazine. Soon after, the group began to reach out to others that embraced the mission and purpose of coordinating, in an impactful way, activities to elevate the industry’s image. A name was selected: the National Auto Body Council, or NABC, for short.

A business plan was drawn up and bylaws eventually drafted. By September 1994, the NABC had become a reality: a membership-driven, 501c6 not-for-profit organization. The core group of individuals that helped the organization take its first steps began to actively recruit those that held influence over the industry—people like Tom Welsh, Rick Edwall, Lou DiLisio, Dale Delmege, to name a few—and encouraged them to get involved on the board and at meetings, which were scheduled to coincide with major industry events to help build visibility and enthusiasm for the new association. An early version of NABC’s mission statement included the following tenets:

  • Helping consumers feel secure they are being served by professional businesses performing quality repairs to restore their vehicles to pre-accident condition.
  • Assuring consumers they are being served fairly, honestly and ethically by the business partnership that exists for their benefit between insurers and repairers.
  • Allowing members of the community to see collision repair as a high-tech and professional Industry that actively seeks to provide a safe workplace and preserve the environment.
  • Ensuring existing and potential new employees see an industry with exciting career opportunities that provides competitive pay and a solid benefit package.

One of the NABC’s first major initiatives was intensely personal in focus—the Pride Awards. An integral part of NABC to this day, Pride was influenced by Jaycee programs which honored outstanding youth within the context of their local community. The Pride Awards focused on the selfless acts and good works that collision repair professionals undertook away from the job.

“We thought if the general public knew the industry as a group of individuals that consistently did good works in the course of their daily lives,” Sulkala remembers, “it would build a level of trust that would carry over to how that person or person’s collision repair business was perceived, especially in the markets it served.”

Other programs followed Pride. The Children’s Miracle Network. Habitat for Humanity. The Atlanta Ronald McDonald House (thanks to the fundraising work of Gene Hamilton). Camp Mak-A-Dream. Collision Industry Relief. Each emphasized the giving heart of an industry, which over time, grew more apparent to the communities in which it did business.

“There were some missteps along the way, but with each new initiative we learned a lot about what worked and what did not and our programs benefitted,” adds Sulkala. “I think the current roster of NABC programs offers is the most effective we have ever had in place, and am proud to be associated with the many NABC individuals and board members without whom our improvement would not be possible.”

Rest assured that the NABC is far from resting on its laurels. As the industry moves forward, the organization will build on the foundation it started to construct in 1994, driven by the many talented, dedicated, passionate members that form its ranks and that of the entire collision industry.