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A Grassroots Approach to Collision Education

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Feb. 11, 2016— Thinking back to how things started six years ago, Janet Chaney can’t help but shake her head and laugh. The Midwest Auto Body Trade Show, put on by the Iowa Collision Repair Association for which Chaney is executive director, has come a long way since then. It almost didn’t make it past that first year, but this past Feb. 5 and 6, the Prairie Meadows Convention Center in Altoona, Iowa, was buzzing with local repairers eager to connect with other collision repair professionals and better their businesses. We caught up with Chaney to discuss the show’s growth.

How did the show get started and what is the mission?

It started six years ago when one of the board members, who is actually the founder of this association, wanted to have a trade show. He’d been in the body shop industry for many, many years, and he just felt it was something that would be a great benefit to the industry, in the state of Iowa. That’s really how it got started and the mission is to bring education and the networking to the area.

You look at how these people really enjoy each other when they come to these functions and it’s something that makes me work harder, bringing the trade show to Iowa and kind of opening that door. It’s the networking, looking at the industry peers truly engaging with each other. They learn from each other as much as they learn from the event.  

Is it primarily for repairers in Iowa or is it intended for a larger Midwest audience?

We would certainly like it to be a larger regional event. This year we had more shops from Missouri than we’ve ever had before and we have jobbers from all over, national and the region. The feedback that I get from them is they would like to see their customers come to this show because they believe it has a great benefit for them.

How has the show evolved since its start?

The first show was very bleak. I can’t even think of another word to describe it. We have all of these great vendors that are still with us, plus about 50 more. And we had it at Prairie Meadows and we had one-third of the ballroom [that we had this year]. I bet we didn’t have more than 10 shops there the entire day of the trade show. It was embarrassing.

I thought to myself, “This isn’t working.” I had my tail between my legs and thought, “I’m done with this.” And as I’m walking out the door, one of the vendors looks to me and says, “We’ll see you next year.” I thought he was kidding, but it was the vendors that supported the effort and myself and the board of directors of the association, and encouraged us to give it a shot again.

We decided to keep trying to make it better for the next year and it did get better. It has been better every year. We probably had 75 attendees the next year. This year we had 175 people at the luncheon and total traffic throughout the event, vendors and all, we had about 400 people.

What was the key to turning the event around after the first year?

We marketed more aggressively. I became very focused on the jobbers and the shops. I’ve had the vendors all get flyers out, we market months in advance, I update the information regularly, send press releases out. It’s really the full circle of marketing. We want to be recognized on a national level and we need to focus very intently at the grassroots level, which is what I believe these associations are about anyway.

This year we went to a day-and-a-half event and moved it to a Saturday and we feel that was very effective. We’ve already reserved Prairie Meadows for the same weekend next year. Another thing that I know was effective was bringing Mike Anderson in. He’s a blockbuster, his message is always pure, on point and he speaks to our industry so well.

What’s the best part of putting together a regional event like this? What motivates you?

I go to all the national meetings and I want to bring the things from those bigger stages to the smaller stage for people that don’t get to experience them. The majority of shop operators who are trying to compete with MSOs and trying to compete in the industry, they’re not getting that type of interaction and education. What is most rewarding to me is to be able to bring the message of change and hope to our industry, on a grassroots level.

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