ASA Director: 'Change is Difficult, There’s No Doubt About It.'

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Looking at the ASA's past, and where it's headed.
Sept. 29, 2021—When Ray Fisher took on the role of executive director of the Automotive Service Association (ASA) in 2019, he remarked that the 70-year-old organization needed to look at what’s next. 

Suffice to say that what’s next for the ASA in 2022 and beyond will be new and different—two characteristics that can turn heads of association stakeholders. On Tuesday, the ASA announced a new membership model that hopes to create a “single, unified industry voice.” Under the new model, existing state affiliate agreements will be dissolved, and a 50-state regional structure will take their place. The new model will go into effect January 1, 2022. 

Fisher joined FenderBender editor Dave McMahon for a phone conversation this week to discuss the new direction. Their conversation is below, edited for brevity.

FB: What spurred the decision to make the change to the membership model? How did it come about?

RF: The organization has been around since 1951. The affiliate model had been in place for decades, with different sized affiliates and different locations throughout the years. Celebrating 70 years this year, and with this model, it was time for us to look at what’s most effective for our membership, and what’s the best way for our membership? We have some territories currently that are non-affiliated. The board looked at how do we get across all 50 states and become one voice? We have a Washington, D.C., voice that is part of our organization because the voice being heard there is important. We have a voice there that we are very proud of.

FB: What can you tell us about some of the strengths of the ASA?

RF: Needless to say, with the automotive industry and what we’re seeing in the next five years coming at us with the electrification, our messaging needs to be quick, prompt and straight from the horse’s mouth. We have a fantastic relationship with the Alliance for Automobile Innovation, which represents the vehicle manufacturers. We work well with the vehicle manufacturers as far as the aftermarket parts availability from the manufacturers, meaning not from the assembly line, but those parts that are sold through the dealer networks. And with all that, we are in the unique position to work with the aftermarket industry as well because we represent independent automotive collision and mechanical repair facilities. We have a lot of things happening, so it’s important to have that one voice. At the end of the day, we want to make sure we have access to data for our members to fix vehicles properly. It’s important for us to know that data to be able to access to maintain the safety of the vehicle is always available, and we have that connection. It goes back to our efforts many years ago with what we had set up with the car manufacturers going back to the 1990s. 

FB: Is it safe to say that the association is undergoing a streamlining process of sorts in order to benefit the future of the members?

RF: We’re at a spot where we need to look at not just a year or five years from now, but well beyond that and what’s going to be the best way to represent our members. Yes, we looked at streamlining and creating efficiencies, not duplicating efforts. And hence we came up with this. A transition action committee was put together to take us into the last phase of the transition into the end of the year. We included some of our strong leaders in the affiliate models to help lead us on that. As I was talking to one of our vendors this morning, we feel that we’ve built the house, and now it’s time to pick the carpeting and wall coloring.

FB: How is this new model shaping up in terms of the format nationally?

RF: We’ll have a regional director in charge of a whole state. The transition action committee will be finalizing the region map. It’s still being tweaked as we speak, but we will make sure it’s executed quickly and timely. It’s important that we have that one voice getting out to everybody. We’re the largest member organization in the US representing independent collision and mechanical repair facilities across all 50 states that has a Washington, D.C. rep. The association is membership driven, so there are no other motives, other than to represent the members and make them be successful.

FB: ASA Northwest, the largest ASA affiliate, has announced it will leave ASA and join forces with Midwest Auto Care Alliance. How has that impacted the association?

RF: Change is difficult, there’s no doubt about it. When anyone is taken out of their comfort zone, you do what you have to do. This has been talked about for a number of years, probably a decade or more. The feedback we heard from our vendors has been very positive. This is the model the country needs and the flexibility it needs. There’s a place for different organizations, we’re not going to mudsling or say anything negative. We’re not only defining but moving forward with what we’re best at, and that is to represent all 50 states as one voice and make sure that the independent automotive collision and mechanical repair facility has a voice. We’re not trying to compete with anyone. Our place is to be that one voice.

FB: I imagine that cost had to be another challenge of the affiliate model.

RF: It was. You had all these factors come into play, and it’s not to say that it was wrong or broken, it’s just a case of ‘how can we make this the most affordable product and still implement what we need to do as an organization?’ Our accounting system has well over a couple hundred pay structures to accommodate the various chapters and regions and states. It’s what it was and now we have to make it all work. It was time to look at it and say ‘here’s what we have to do.’ I’m sure that when grocery stores decided to offer self checkout, there were some concerns. When we started going with pump your own gas instead of having a gas station attendant, there were concerns. But we have to do what’s going to be best for the membership for the next five, 10, 50, 70 years. To do that, we’ve made modifications and made it affordable across all 50 states with the same price.

FB: Speaking of the membership, what is the ASA membership count in 2021?

RF: We started the year with over 2,200 members and we are currently trending just under 2,200. We have had slight percentage growth in the non-affiliated areas while at the same time seeing double digit percentage losses in other areas. It is one of the many reasons that the board took action. The desire is to utilize strengths to prosper in all areas of the U.S. so that members are supported equally in all 50 states with one voice. 

FB: How has the ASA membership number trended in recent years?

RF: The last three years overall we have seen decreasing numbers and we had to reverse this trend. That said, the positive note we saw during the pandemic is that though we still trended downward overall, the past 18 months in many areas somewhat stabilized.

FB: That’s good to hear. Why do you suspect that is the case?

RF: I would have to say that the true value of our association shined during the time of need.  We buy car insurance in case of an accident, not because we think we will have one, but just in case something out of our control occurs, we are covered. The association is similar. When the pandemic hit, our energy, our focus and our resources went to what was going on in Washington, D.C. to help businesses. I am proud of our Washington, D.C. staff and the ASA staff for the meetings and information that we put out during their time of need. I am especially proud of what [ASA Washington, D.C. representative] Bob Redding did, which was to make sure that we belonged in the coalition that ensured we were deemed essential employees" to keep America mobile and our small businesses open during times of need. That is the value we bring that others don't.

FB: What’s the best way to sum up the new membership direction?

RF: I’ve been talking with many of our partners and they are elated. It will help them support the industry and give them proper exposure uniformly across all 50 states. We’re here for the industry and will continue to be here for the industry. We deliver the same product, the same way to all 50 states, unconditionally. It’s a bold move that we believe is the right thing to do at the right time for the right reasons.

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