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ASA President Talks New NACE

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The International Autobody Congress and Exposition (NACE) has been a well-regarded educational opportunity for collision repairers for nearly 30 years. Now, industry professionals can also participate in a frank dialogue with peers about important issues critical to the future of the industry, says Ron Pyle, president and chief staff executive for the Automotive Service Association (ASA). To that end, Pyle spearheaded the launch of this year’s new Automotive Service & Repair Week Industry Forum, which debuts at NACE 2010.

FenderBender’s Andrew Johnson sat down with Pyle to discuss the new forum, what you’ll get out of it, and why you ought to bring your cell phone.

NACE attendees have asked for meaningful industry dialogue along with educational opportunities, so you created the new Automotive Service & Repair Week (ASRW) Industry Forum. What will the forum deliver?

There’s been an overwhelming desire from NACE attendees to have some higher-level dialogue about best practices and important industry issues. The ASRW Industry Forum is designed as a professional venue to openly discuss relevant, thought-provoking topics that transcend any one aspect of the industry.

It’s going to be a high-level, global discussion of the visions that people have for the industry. It’s really an opportunity to talk about best practices. Anybody who is operating within this industry needs to have the opportunity to add input into these discussions because the topics covered affect everyone.

People talk shop all the time. How will this industry-wide conversation at NACE differ?

People really want to know and understand their peers’ visions in regards to how the industry will evolve. They don’t get that in any kind of comprehensive way through the typical show experience. They may hear pieces of what a particular company or association’s view might be on one subject, but they rarely get a holistic view of where we need to go in terms of best practices for the entire industry. People are coming to exhibition shows for more interaction and direct conversations.

How will the ASRW Industry Forum big picture conversation mesh with the always-popular personal networking NACE offers?

We’re hoping to stimulate some working discussion among the attendees. The forum flows directly into a reception after it’s over. We hope people see this as an opportunity to interact with other folks who face the same daily issues in the workplace.

Based on feedback from previous shows, we know attendees find the networking opportunities to be equally important to the educational opportunities. It’s very important for attendees to have opportunities to meet and interact with people like them.

How long will the discussion forum last?

The forum will be held during the NACE/ASRW week on Oct. 10. It will start at 5 p.m. There will be two concurrent 45-minute sessions—one for the collision side of the industry, one for the mechanical side. There will be a 30-minute networking break, followed by another 45-minute session for each industry segment.

What types of industry professionals is this forum meant for?

Everyone at ASRW should attend. We will have content that is pertinent to everybody, regardless of his or her position within a shop or within the industry.

So there will be two industry overview forums. What’s on the agenda for the first session?

The first forum will feature a discussion called “Certified Collision Repair: An Industry Perspective.”

This discussion will be based on what various segments of the industry are thinking about regarding certifications. In other words, what are shops thinking about certification? Is certification a good thing for shops? Is it a good thing for part, equipment and tool manufacturers to be considering? Do those industries need to have some kind of third-party certification that verifies they have met some kind of standard?

There’s a lot of discussion about this in the industry right now. There are people looking at repair standards, certification of processes and certification of parts. Parts in particular have been under a lot of scrutiny for the past year. People are skeptical about whether or not the current parts certification process is actually working well enough to really be valid.

And the second session?

The second forum session will feature a discussion called “Diversity in the Shop: How to Work With People Not Like You.”
We’ve heard from a number of shops during the past few years that their work force is much more diverse today—with multiple generations, cultures, and genders represented in the work place.

I recently heard a story that a particular shop is using an entirely Hispanic work force. The translation process in the shop is pretty elaborate, and takes a lot of work to relay repair procedures and information about the estimates. The shop has worked out a highly detailed system for doing this.

This is something a lot of people are dealing with. We’re hoping that we’ll see some people express some of the issues they found in their own shops.

What do you expect will be the most critical issue of the forum?

Standards and certification. People need to be able to identify what constitutes a quality shop and quality parts.

The discussion will address how repairers in today’s environment determine a part’s quality, country-of-origin, finish and function. We will address whether the industry is prepared for parts certification efforts, whether it’s something that is definitely needed, who would be responsible for making it happen, what it would cost and how it would improve the industry.

Certainly the topic of standards and certification is open to debate. That could create some conflict.

Yes, absolutely. I expect diverse opinions to be expressed. That’s what we’re hoping for. Discussions aren’t very interesting if it’s just a talking head presenting a specific point of view. And it doesn’t uncover any new ground or provide much additional insight. The discussion won’t be interesting unless people have some difference of opinion.

What changes do you predict might result from these discussions?

There’s always a lot of pent up demand for change in a positive way. Change, in terms of a more efficient and effective industry, is a good thing. But I think it’s nearly always evolutionary, not revolutionary. I don’t expect something to change as a direct result of these forums. I think they will add to the body of knowledge and add to the quality of ongoing discussions. We’ll probably get a lot of feedback about whether or not the forums were timely, topical and relevant. If that’s what we get out of it, then we’ve done what we wanted.

The ASRW Industry Forum is set to include panel discussions, speakers, question-and-answer and open discussion among attendees.

Who will attendees be hearing from?

Kelly McDonald, who runs McDonald Marketing in Dallas, is a renowned expert on cultural and multi-generational diversity, marketing strategies and relations with internal customers. She will lead the discussion “Diversity in the Shop: How to Work With People Not Like You.”

She brings a wealth of knowledge from a large number of clients that she works with who have issues in all of those areas. That’s going to be one of the real highlights of the whole event. It will be fun.

What format will the organization follow for the open discussion?

The format will be a bit different from what you would typically see at moderated discussion. These kinds of forum opportunities often tend to be more of a one-sided presentation from a certain speaker. The audience generally just listens. They often don’t get a lot of opportunity to interact.

We’re really trying to capitalize on some new formats. I think people want to feel like it’s not a packaged or preplanned presentation. So we’re going to have some interaction among the attendees as well. About a third of the session will be designated for folks to ask questions and introduce new topics to the discussion. It won’t just be a “question and answer” type session; it will be participatory.

I understand this is going to be a cell-phone friendly forum. That sounds really interesting and forward-thinking. How does that work?

Yes, as opposed to a typical forum—where you walk in and everybody is asked to turn off their cell phones—we will be telling everyone to turn their cell phones on. We’re going to ask the participants to interact via text message, and send their questions or ideas for discussion.

Alright, so we’re getting the word out about the ASRW Industry Forum. How do you sign up for it?

Participants can register for the event online. (Visit naceexpo.com/attendee and click on “Registration & Travel.”) The proceeds from that registration fee will be shared among the sponsoring organizations, all of which are worthy contributors to the industry.

Will the ASRW Industry Forum become a regular thing?

Not only will it be offered at NACE every year, but it will also serve as an educational outreach on an ongoing basis. We’re hoping to extend the ASRW brand by making the forum available year round. We may have a website that encourages discussion on these topics. It will be similar to a blog that will serve as an extension of the entire show experience. The intent is to also hold live discussions throughout the year. We will most likely offer the forum at other  industry events.

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