Steve Plier, executive director of the Alabama Automotive Repair Society of Excellence (ALARISE), who hosted the first SARC in 2012, was “pleased with the conference. This was the first year that we had six state associations working together, and we also had visitors from eastern Texas, who are considering forming an association in their area. I think that we all realize that the only way to effect the change needed in this industry is by providing collision repair industry professionals with the opportunity and means to educate themselves on business principles and to remain abreast of the training and equipment necessary to repair vehicles in light of ever-changing technology.”
The first SARC was held in 2012 with most attendees coming from Alabama, but when ALARISE worked with the Mississippi Collision Repair Association (MSCRA) in 2013, attendance spiked to around 250 industry professionals, including some attendees from Florida and Georgia. By including four additional associations in 2014, SARC more than doubled attendance with nearly 600 individuals present to partake of the networking and educational opportunities provided by the conference. The new associations who participated in the 2014 SARC were the Florida Auto Collision Alliance (FACA), the Georgia Collision Industry Association (GCIA), the Louisiana Collision Industry Association (LaCIA), and the Tennessee Collision Repairers Association (TCRA). The group decided to hire an administrative coordinator, Georgia Thorson, to handle the day-to-day questions and details, and Plier praises Thorson for doing such an excellent job in coordinating the event.
Of course, the six associations who hosted the conference also deserve credit for its success. Aaron Schulenburg, SCRS executive director, praises the collaborators. “I’ve had the fortune to be involved in each iteration of this event since it was established, and it is amazing to watch the growth of involvement and drive in the marketplace. There is a lot to be said for the organizational efforts extended by the state associations who are all involved in orchestrating the event, and it certainly makes us proud that all of those organizations are SCRS affiliate associations…I always expect a lot out of this event, and it never fails to deliver.”
The 2014 SARC focused on education, business principles, consumer protection, and shops’ right to receive fair compensation for work performed. These efforts received approbation from SCRS; as Schulenburg explains, “marketplaces benefit from the ability to have a strong and focused group create opportunities for them to learn from some of the industry’s leading subject matter experts in the convenience of their own back yard. Just as important, the association events promote camaraderie and networking. It’s through these types of events that competitors can view each other as colleagues and that there can be healthy discussion about ways that the industry can better serve the consumer.”
The conference began on the afternoon of April 11 and continued on April 12 with a full agenda of featured speakers, breakout sessions, and sponsor demonstrations, in addition to exhibitions on the trade show floor, which was open for the duration of the conference. Topics ranged from marketing, to the new aluminum F-150, and beyond; Plier boasts “you name it, and we covered it!”
Registration began at 4:00 pm on April 11 with the Welcoming Reception and exhibition floor beginning at 6:00 pm. The presentations on both days were moderated by master of ceremonies Patrick Porter, radio personality and owner of Porter’s Body Shop in Brookhaven, MS. At 5:30 pm, the first breakout session of the conference was “Businesses Marketing Strategies,” presented by Ron Perretta and sponsored by PPG.
On April 12, the trade show floor was open from 8:00 am until 5:00 pm, allowing attendees to visit exhibitors’ booths in between educational seminars. At 8:00 am, Ron Perretta presented a two-hour “Social Media Workshop,” sponsored by PPG, which ran at the same time as four additional breakout sessions. Bill Byrnes of America’s Auto Body and Mitchell International both presented at 8:00 am, and Byrnes repeated his seminar at noon. Next, at 9:00 am, Tony Nethery, TCRA executive director, discussed “Future Equipment, Training, and Cost,” while in another room, the Coalition for Collision Repair Excellence (CCRE) explained who they are and what they strive to do.
The featured speakers segment of the conference began at 10:00 am with an industry update presented by Schulenburg on behalf of SCRS. Schulenburg was followed by Richard Valenzuela of NABR who discussed “Variable Rate Systems.” In addition to Byrne’s second breakout session at noon, two more sessions were held at the same time: a two-hour session on the new aluminum F-150 model, led by Chief’s Ford F-150 project manager Richard Perry, and a one-hour segment by Dave Bortz of Car-O-Liner. While Valenzuela repeated his seminar at 1:00 pm, Ron Perretta of Professionals Auto Body held a breakout session entitled “Business Basics,” thus concluding the event’s breakout sessions.
From 2:00 to 6:00 pm, the final four featured speakers gave one-hour presentations, beginning with Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Mike Thornton. The motivational speaker shared war stories with an emphasis on teamwork, and Plier notes that Thornton’s speech was “very moving…If that didn’t send chills up your spine, I don’t know what would!”
Next, Dave Poston, collision marketing manager for American Honda, discussed “Honda Repair Technologies,” followed by Assured Performance’s Aaron Clark, who covered what's to come with “OEM Certification.” The event concluded with a discussion and question-and-answer session on the details and status of lawsuits filed against insurers, led by John Mosley, MSCRA president and owner of Clinton Body Shop, and Ray Gunder of Gunder’s Auto Center, along with attorney John Eaves Jr.
Alysia Hanks, LaCIA executive director, was “most excited about getting to meet Mr. Gunder. He was just as nice as could be, and I could tell he really cares about this industry when he spoke. It was also nice to be around so many individuals in our industry who also think it’s well past time for a change.”
Hanks was also honored to have Randy Ishee from the Louisiana Attorney General’s office attend SARC 2014 as a guest of the LaCIA. He was invited to speak at one of the meetings, and Hanks said, “when I spoke to him before the event ended, he told me it was his mission to right the wrongs in this industry for all these good people in it and, most importantly, for the consumer. He has friends in other states who are in this industry, and he couldn’t believe the things he was uncovering. We’re lucky to have him on our side.”
Regarding the many educational seminars and breakout sessions, Schulenburg noted, “attendees were engaged in the conversation throughout the day and were clearly hungry for the motivation and tangible solutions they received from all the speakers. With more than 500 repairers in attendance, it was a success by every measure.” Concurring with Schulenburg’s analysis of attendees’ interest in the discussions at the conference, Plier says that “their enthusiasm tells me that repairers thirst for this kind of information and that they want to improve for the consumer.”
Hanks believes the event went very well, and she feels “so lucky to be part of an industry where we have so many people who just genuinely want to do the right thing and make an honest living without having the daily fights we have to battle…I think [the conference] was a great opportunity for us to network with other states and hear what they are doing. I’m already looking forward to next year!”
The only negative feedback Plier has received referenced the plethora of information presented—“we received a few complains about the classes running together and attendees not having enough time to visit the exhibitors. We stubbed our toes on a few things, like the over-packed agenda, and we could’ve done a better job organizing registration. We are looking at ways to avoid cramming so much in for next year to make it easier to pick and choose which segments each person wants to attend and to allow more time for networking and visiting exhibitors.”
Despite these minor stumbling blocks, Plier believes the SARC 2014 went well overall, and the nice weather that weekend led him to state “it was like a little vacation, but also an educational opportunity.” He also believes that Biloxi was the perfect location for people to come out and enjoy the conference as it is about as centralized as possible. The six collaborating associations met on the night of April 11, and, deciding to keep the SARC in Biloxi for the next two years, they set dates. The 2015 conference will be held on April 17 and 18, 2015, while SARC 2016 will take place on April 8 and 9, 2016. The core group has already begun planning for SARC 2015 with the goal of addressing as many hot topics in the industry as possible. If SARC 2014 was any indication, SARC 2015 should be even more exciting!