(Left to right) Robert McKenzie, executive director of RDA; event co-organizers Georgia Thorson and Steve Plier; and Moose Simmons, Overnight Parts Alliance.
National paint companies, equipment and tool manufacturers, major vehicle OEMs and industry experts all came together during the Southern Automotive Repair Conference (SARC) in April.
Held at the IP Resort Casino & Spa in Biloxi, Mississippi, the two-day event was hosted by industry associations in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.
Georgia Thorson, the co-organizer of the event, said the goal of the conference is to provide an annual industry forum for collision repair professionals in the Southeast region of the United States. “We want to offer an opportunity for attendees to visit exhibits and receive important industry updates and information that they might not otherwise have,” said Thorson, who is also part of Refinish Distributors Alliance (RDA), one of the exhibitor sponsors. “It is a great way to stay abreast of new vehicle technologies and anything that promotes consumer safety and help shops succeed in the marketplace.”
It was nearly five years ago that Steve Plier, also a co-organizer of the event, planned the first SARC conference in Biloxi, where it has been held since. This year, there were approximately 450 attendees including those who managed a booth. In addition to national representation from more than 40 exhibitors, there were body shops, educators and governmental officials who visited from neighboring states as well as the Florida Panhandle and Texas.
As master of ceremonies, Robert McKenzie, the executive director of RDA, helped distribute prizes throughout the event with the help of Mike Anderson, the conference facilitator, and Mike Jones, a keynote speaker. The gifts, which included a welder, large screen television, a fully-stocked paint cabinet and a variety of gift cards, were donated by the host associations and exhibitors.
Plier said they have received positive feedback from both exhibitors and attendees that SARC is exceptional. He said the organizers and sponsors are always interested to hear what everyone has to say so they can make it better every year.
“Personally, I am disappointed that the attendance of body shops in the region is lower than what it should be for the type of event that we are putting on,” said Plier, owner of Consumer Auto Repair Excellence. “John Mosley, owner of Clinton Body Shop in Mississippi, told us that SARC is like bringing a piece of SEMA from Las Vegas to Biloxi, and that shops who don’t participate are really missing something. We are all concerned that it doesn’t reflect well on the industry when collision repair facilities don’t take advantage of local opportunities to gain valuable information and training that emphasizes providing proper repairs for consumers. We sincerely hope that through new marketing strategies we will get a larger audience of shops next year.”
In addition to panel discussions by OEMs and industry experts, there were a variety of presentations held throughout the event. For shop owners and employees who could not attend, Autobody News compiled a list of 10 takeaways to help businesses succeed.