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Ellen Pipkin

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As the show manager for NACE (International Autobody Congress & Exposition), Ellen Pipkin always has her hands full. Organizing and managing such a big event is no doubt a momentous project, but Pipkin—who joined NACE as conference manager in 2001, became associate show manager in 2004, and was promoted to show manager in 2006—says she loves every little detail of the planning.

Right now, Pipkin is busy putting the finishing touches on this year’s NACE, which will be co-located with CARS (Congress of Automotive Repair & Service) at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nov. 5–8. Here, she offers an inside look at some of the biggest challenges involved with coordinating the world collision event and how she ensures you’ll have the best possible experience while there—including a few tips on what you should be sure to check out and how to prepare for the event.Why is it important that collision repair professionals attend NACE?

The collision repair industry is very complex and very technical in nature. I couldn’t imagine being in the collision business and not attending NACE every year. I think it’s important that everyone working in a collision repair business attend in order to keep up with all of the industry changes and new technologies they are constantly faced with.

Why do you think business professionals should attend these types of conventions?

The face-to-face networking opportunities are second to none. At NACE, collision repair professionals can work with vendors, see new products, hold discussions with peers, receive education on the latest developments in the industry, and more—all under one roof.

What are a few of the new exhibits participants should be sure to visit?

There are a great variety of exhibitors to see, both new and returning. Attendees should be sure to see I-CAR Technology Showcase workshops, demonstrations in the on-floor presentation areas and the New Product Pavilion. This year, CARS (the Congress of Automotive Repair and Service) will be co-located with NACE, so any collision shop involved in (or thinking about becoming involved in) mechanical service and repair can see the latest offerings from mechanical vendors.

How does NACE plan to address some of the most critical issues facing the collision repair industry right now?

There are over 50 NACE conference sessions being offered, each covering vital issues that affect collision repairers on a daily basis—insurer-repairer relations, the effects of the economy on the industry, attracting qualified technicians into the industry—just to name a few.

What are some tips you would offer someone who is planning to participate in an event such as NACE?

Wear comfortable shoes! Also, the NACE Web site (NACEexpo.com) contains useful planning tools to help you make the most of your time during NACE week.

In one word, how would you describe this year’s NACE?

Essential. NACE 2008 is essential if you’re involved in the collision repair industry and essential in order to keep your collision repair business up-to-date and profitable.

How did you become involved with NACE and the auto collision industry?

I’ve had meeting/event planning responsibilities in each step of my career and was previously the convention manager for a company that participated in shows like NADA (National Automobile Dealers Association) and CES (Consumer Electronics Show). I enjoyed working on the exhibitor side, but when the opportunity to work in show management came along, I was excited to join the NACE team and learn about the collision repair industry.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about the collision repair industry since being a part of NACE?

The collision repair industry is made up of a very diverse group of smart, passionate people.

What are your key responsibilities in terms of coordinating NACE?

I oversee all day-to-day operations and manage the conference program and event operations. I make sure the NACE team stays on track with a very detailed production schedule. I deal with all aspects of producing the event: exhibit sales, marketing, conference, registration, customer service, etc.

What is your role during the course of the event?

I do a little bit of everything, from signage to general sessions, and everything in between. On-site, I work very closely with the convention center, general contractor, audio visual provider, shuttle management, security, exhibitors, attendees, staff and more.  I work behind-the-scenes to make sure that everything runs smoothly so that the attendees and exhibitors have a positive show experience.

What is the best part of being the show manager?

I work with a great group of people, and it’s always an amazing experience to watch your collective hard work come together as a successful event. Our planning cycle takes an entire year.

What is the biggest challenge to organizing such a huge event?

There are so many details, both large and small, to attend to. There are too many to list, but they include floor plan design, fire marshal approvals, travel and housing, interaction with advisory councils, developing educational programming, staffing schedules, etc.  A lot of time is spent listening to suggestions from and providing assistance to attendees and exhibitors. But, that’s what I enjoy doing!

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