In the beginning of 1992, AAAS expanded into a multi-state association when they added Georgia to their service area, and shortly afterward, they branched out from being an association only for jobbers to encompassing the entire aftermarket industry, including manufacturers, body shops and so forth. In 2009, AAAS expanded yet again to offer their services in the states of Mississippi and Florida.
AAAS’s mission is to be of service to the automotive aftermarket industry in AL, FL, GA and MS. By offering support to the industry, the association hopes to see their members’ businesses survive and profit. Ward notes, “we’re always looking for ways to be of greater value to our members, and we recognize the value of an association because there are things that we can simply do better as a group.
Currently, AAAS boasts approximately 650 members who receive solid services from their association. Ward believes, “supporting our members has to take the form of dollars and cents, in addition to legislative successes. Our employee benefits program, which includes medical, dental, vision and life insurance, in addition to our workers comp program, are major benefits we provide our members. We offer some of the best rates available, with a two-person company enjoying the same rates as much larger businesses.”
AAAS also offers a discounted credit card program, as well as discounts on invoices and paper products, plus they provide educational opportunities, such as their annual conference which gives members a chance to attend seminars led by leading experts in their various fields. Ward suggests that the greatest benefit members receive from joining AAAS is the camaraderie and networking opportunities inherent in belonging to any industry association; however, Ward, as the association’s president, admits, “I’m very biased because this is my job. I always feel like our members can speak better.”
At Ward’s suggestion, I reached out to Mike Morgan, Chairman of AAAS and owner of Frost Transmission in Rainbow City, AL, who has been involved with the association for around 15 years. When Frost Transmission was charged an increase in workers comp premiums after submitting only two claims, Morgan was appalled, but fortunately, a friend told him about AAAS’s workers comp offerings. After investigating the program, Morgan was pleased with his findings, that premiums through AAAS was around one-third of what other plans charged, so he joined the association and switched his workers comp plan over to theirs. A few years later, Frost Transmission also changed their health plan over to AAAS’s insurance. Later, Morgan became involved with the Board of Directors for AAAS and also became a trustee of their health fund.
When asked if he would recommend AAAS membership to others in the industry, Morgan’s response was unhesitatingly affirmative; “yes, and I have many times! We have, without a doubt, the most competitive workers comp and health plan programs. We frequently receive dividends (money returned from excess premiums) - we received a large dividend at the beginning of 2013 and expect another substantial return in 2014. Furthermore, our program meets all of the regulations for the Affordable Care Act. We’ve spent a good deal of money to ensure that we are in compliance so that we can do our best for our members and anyone interested. Once anybody looks at us, they will want to be a member!”
Ward agrees that two of the biggest benefits that AAAS offers members are their low-cost health insurance plan and workers comp program through their self-insured health plan. As such, President Obama’s Affordable Care Act has presented an extreme challenge as it is costing many Americans their jobs, insurance and money. Because of this, AAAS has seen an influx in new members who are interested in the association’s healthcare and workers comp offerings, and as 2014 approaches, AAAS is in a good position with the programs. In fact, they plan to pay their members’ taxes on Obamacare; according to Ward, “I know we’re not alone; everyone’s in the same boat. With rates doubling due to the Affordable Healthcare Act, our insurance program offers a safe haven for owners and employees that belong to AAAS’s membership.”
While the sole objective of AAAS is to be of service to their members and the aftermarket industry as a whole, Ward explains that they plan to continue growing the association and to expand their offerings of business support services. Currently, Ward is the only registered lobbyist for the association, and since their staff is already stretched thin, Ward hopes to increase the number of AAAS employees and lobbyists as they increase their membership.
Over the past six years, AAAS has also become more politically active because, according to Ward, “it’s what the situation calls for.” He goes on to explain that one of the biggest challenges they face in trying to maintain operations is governmental interference, regulations and taxation, on both a state and federal level. Because each of the states that AAAS serves has unique regulations and laws, the association has to provide varying levels of service in each state in order to comply with individual state governments.
Regarding these difficulties, Ward notes, “it’s just the logistics of serving four states, but we’ve been very fortunate in establishing political action committees (PACs) in all the states we serve. We want to do a good job of meeting the needs of each individual business person, and though this can be difficult because people in this industry are so independent, our members come together for a common goal.”
Ward stresses that the most negative impact on dealing with industry concerns is due to governmental interference in private affairs, and he claims that Obamacare’s intrusion into the matter of healthcare is just the latest, and currently the worst, of these invasions. While AAAS is not working on any legislation at the moment, they meet with members annually for “Capitol Days” in Atlanta and Tallahassee in order to fraternize with legislators and share their stories. Ward believes this is a proactive networking opportunity that allows them to gain advocates for future legislative concerns they may encounter. Ward is also on the board of the Quality Parts Coalition which is related to the PARTS Act currently in legislation.
AAAS actively lobbies for Right to Repair, and although AAAS is not directly involved in the issues plaguing the collision repair industry, such as PartsTrader, Ward monitors progress on these issues. “We do not take point on these problems; we’re just a soldier in these battles, not the general. We are happy with the direction they are taking and proud of the progress they’ve made thus far. I am watching these issues with a lot of interest, and AAAS fully supports our local collision repair industry associations and will try to be helpful if we’re needed.”
At the moment, AAAS does not have any imminent projects, but as 2014 rolls around, they will begin focusing on their annual conference where many prominent speakers in the aftermarket industry will be giving presentations. Ward predicts that the Affordable Healthcare Act will continue to be an important topic of discussion at the event as AAAS strives to ensure that their members do not suffer from the program.
Ward insists that those not involved with associations should do some research and get involved. “This industry receives threats from every angle, and you need someone protecting your interests, so I encourage support of industry associations... we’re all in this together, so everyone in the automotive industry needs to support one another in order to survive and make a profit.”
Automotive Aftermarket Association Southeast
11245 Chantilly Parkway Court
Montgomery, AL 36117