ASA Throughout the Years

Nov. 13, 2018
Take a look at the past and future of the Automotive Service Association to see how industry events impacted the organization.

The Automotive Service Association (ASA) has been around since the 1950s and, since that time, the collision repair industry has evolved tremendously.

With the intention of acting as an education and training resource for technicians, the association has worked to provide business management and technical training for shops.

However, ASA has weathered a few storms in recent years. In 2009, NACE unceremoniously split with the SEMA Show, and attendance numbers have struggled since, despite attempts to revitalize the show. Years later, its sister show, the Congress of Automotive Repair Service (CARS), shuttered. In 2013, the board of directors announced it had been the victim of theft by a former employee, causing two association executives to resign, followed by executive director Ron Pyle electing to not stay on after his term expired.

And within the last year, ASA’s second-largest regional affiliate, ASA-Midwest, disaffiliated with the organization, and president and executive director Dan Risley resigned, only to file a lawsuit against the association and a former board member months later.

As ASA looks toward the future and searches for a new executive director, vice president Tony Molla shares the current state of the association.

Forming the Association

ASA was founded from roughly 50 state associations coming together as a group, Molla says.

“It was an overall effort to unite a fragmented industry and speak with one cohesive voice,” Molla says.

Industry members advocated for an association with advocacy in the highest levels, like Washington, D.C. Following the formation of the organization, it evolved to include forming regional affiliates and training institutes, like the Automotive Management Institute.

“Training is offered year-round,” Molla says. “Therein lies one of the biggest needs in the industry and these days, that training is for electronics and advanced driver-assistance systems.”

In the ’90s, industry technical challenges revolved around things like the introduction of the first emissions control systems, disc brakes and electronic ignitions, Molla says.

NACE launched during this era, which further grew the organization, Molla says. At its height, the event pulled in nearly 20,000 attendees annually.

“The heyday was in the ’90s and early 2000s, by attendance and, I assume, revenue,” Molla said. “My understanding was that the show started small and rotated around the country to five different cities before growing to the point where it became permanently located in Las Vegas.”

However, those attendance numbers dwindled when the show split from the SEMA Show in 2009—and the latter experienced a continual rise in prominence, particularly with the collision repair hall. In 2013, NACE hit an attendance low, with fewer than 5,000 attendees.

After a complete overhaul, the show did experience modest growth and, in 2017, a partnership with Messe Frankfurt brought NACE to Chicago, but after two years, Molla was unsure how the show would proceed.

Internal Turmoil

In 2013, the association revealed that a member of the association’s administrative staff associated with accounting functions used an ASA credit card for personal purchases, amounting to “many tens of thousands of dollars.”

Two executives—excluding Pyle, whose term expired at the same time—resigned, one of whom the association said had some awareness of the embezzlement as it was going on. Although ASA recovered a majority of the stolen funds, it nonetheless called into question the level of transparency and oversight that existed at the association. Since then, Molla says that internal measures were implemented to prevent such problems in the future.

“Since I’ve been here, we have a finance committee in the financial review and look at it,” he says. “Being through something like that heightens the awareness to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

However, internal issues seemed to surface again in 2018 when ASA-Midwest voted to disaffiliate with ASA and become an independent regional association. Months later, Risley announced his resignation, citing his decision to accept a position with CCC Information Services.

“ASA has served the industry for more than 60 years, and I’m proud to say I was part of its rich history and success,” Risley said at the time. “I look forward to staying engaged in ASA and contributing to its mission of serving its members.”

However, in September, Risley filed a lawsuit against the association and one of its former board members, alleging false statements were made about him during a board meeting, and that he suffered damages as a result.

The Future of ASA

Now, ASA is in the process of narrowing down potential candidates. After Risley left, Molla and Beth Risch, the association’s CPA, have led finances and industry events.

A search committee of ASA members and industry representatives has been formed to pick the new president. The application submission closed on September 30.

ASA continues to focus attention on finding talent for the industry and representation in new legislative arenas involving telematics, cybersecurity and information availability.

“The obvious member benefits from our sponsored benefit providers, along with networking, training and political advocacy still exist, but like all associations, ASA is evolving to address changing member wants and needs,” Molla says.

One example is that ASA is exploring adding an association health care plan and leveraging technology to better communicate and train members.

Molla says the future of the organization lies in tackling the technician shortage and the challenge in finding the support the industry needs. As a result, ASA has partnered with the TechForce Foundation and the ASC Education Foundation to develop the criteria needed to create automotive technical programs.

“It’s generally easy to show a positive financial ROI for our members who take advantage of services, but harder to quantify the value of our advocacy efforts of our members in Washington, D.C. or business benefits of our peer groups,” he says.

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