The morning kicked off when Dennis Montalbano, owner of German Auto Repair, Inc. and the ASCCA Immediate Past President and Joe Bergieker, Robert Bosch Corporation; and CAWA Manufacturers’ Advisory Council, made a presentation called “Strength in Industry Unity.”
Montalbano got the dialog started with some intriguing opening statements. “For too many years, we’ve been pushing the rope instead of all pulling together,” he said. “Some people in this industry like to stay disjointed, but we need to realize that we possess power in numbers. We’ve experienced some significant legislative victories, but we need to continue our fight. At this summit, the hope is to rev it up and get it done!” At that point, he queried the body shop owners in attendance and said, “Is it worth our time and effort to work together for a common cause?” In response, the room exploded with an emphatic “Yes!”
The next presentation was entitled “Sharing Legislative Agendas”, made by Jack Molodanof from Molodanof Government Relations and an ASCCA legislative advocate with Norm Plotkin, owner of Plotkin Government Relations and a CAWA legislative advocate.
The two outlined a series of bills they helped to defeat and many that may emerge in 2012 and next year. Some of these relate to new requirements for the California Smog Check System; a new proposed cite and fine program to eliminate “backyard shops”; and others related to issues directly and impacting both aftermarket parts distributors and automotive repair shops, both mechanical and collision.
Fighting for the rights of these organizations is an ongoing, unending battle, Molodanof explained. “We need to monitor everything and stay on top of all the bills, because they can appear quickly in the middle of the night, like mushrooms.” To this end, both legislative advocates meet monthly to plan strategy and anticipate issues before they emerge, Molodanof said.
Plotkin illustrated the automotive industry’s current situation and stressed the importance of a unified approach, he said. “Ben Franklin said that if we can’t hang together, we will hang separately,” Plotkin said. “The State of California doesn’t want cars with combustion engines. They want social utopia and eliminating cars that run on gas is on their big list. On top of it, the carmakers are constantly trying figure out new ways to take their cars out of your bays and get them back into their bays. It’s a real threat to our industry and increased competition between the carmakers, the aftermarket and the independent shops will definitely get more intense.”
The next presentation was made by Steve Vanlandingham, Van’s Automotive; ASCCA Board of Directors and Ron Aparicio, Walker Products; Chair, CAWA Manufacturers’ Advisory Council, concerning the AWDA’s (Automotive Warehouse Distributing Association) work on warranties and labor claim forms, while adhering to best practices. The Automotive Warehouse Distributors Association (AWDA) was founded in 1947 and is the country’s oldest organized group of warehouse distributors and their respective suppliers of parts, accessories tools and other supplies for the automotive aftermarket.
The next speech dealt with industry training and was presented by ASCCA Past President Glenn Davis and Joe Bergieker, Robert from Bosch Corporation; and a member of CAWA’s Manufacturers’ Advisory Council. Topics discussed involved with the availability of good training; how to encourage participation; and offering scholarships to deserving candidates.
“Why aren’t shops requiring training and making it a priority?” Davis asked. “Training is vital, because in the end it leads to better shops and more profits, while cutting down on returned parts and warranty problems. Techs can quickly become outdated and many of them feel like they know it all already. Making class times more attractive to them (by changing them from evenings after work to during the workday or on weekends) can help. We’re falling behind the dealerships, because they stress training and make it mandatory.”
The shop owners in attendance brought up the main reasons why many don’t embrace the available training, outlining issues like “boring classes”; “not hands-on or interactive enough”; and either “not containing enough useful information or being way too technical in nature.”
Tracy Renee, 2012 ASCCA President then spoke about how the independent repair industry wants to project a positive image while attracting top people to enter the industry. “What is our image and why are we always referred to as “the dealer alternative? We have 70% of the public bringing us their cars, yet why aren’t we taking that message to the public and leveraging it? We know that people feel like we charge less than the dealerships, and that they trust us more or get up sold. As a rule, we’re more connected to our communities and longer warranties. These things are proven, but we don’t use this to send a consistent message to the public.”
Some of the answers Renee discussed included a more professional appearance; improving customer skills; more training and education; and playing a role in trade schools and high schools with repair programs.
By both organizations working together, Renee said, the aftermarket and independent shops can achieve their goals. “We need parts and the CAWA wants to sell us parts, so it’s a nice little circle here. And that’s why we need to stick together. These two organizations are more clicking more than ever, so now is the time to push our message and see the value of it.”
The Summit’s final talk outlined many of the technological changes that are transforming the automotive parts and repair industries in a significant way, primarily impacting the ways between suppliers and customers interact. Craig Johnson, shop owner and member for the ASCCA Board of Directors and Tim Gerrity of General Auto Parts/Parts Plus and a CAWA Past Chair, were on hand to discuss the future of the industry and its ramifications.
Innovations such as Telematics, information management and explosive changes to the Internet are just a few of the ways the aftermarket and independent shops will be changed forever, according to Gerrity.
“These changes are targeted to moving business from the OEs to the aftermarket and from independent repair shops to the dealerships,” Gerrity stated. “Right now, we’re suffering from limited communication and we don’t have one centralized location for information. While the dealerships have all the tools and aren’t afraid to embrace them, we’re not currently looking for a linkage between shops and the aftermarket. If we don’t step up and do it ourselves, no one will.”
After the Joint Summit, members of both organizations attended a series of workshops to further analyze topics such as marketing, customer service, government relations, public relations, education and training.