Sunday, 26 October 2014 17:00

ASA-IL's 2014 CAN Conference Attracts More Attendees, Falls Short of Collision Goals

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During the weekend of September 26-28, ASA-IL held their annual Chicago Automotive Network (CAN) Conference at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Rosemont, IL. With over 200 participants, including 150 who attended training sessions, ASA-IL’s Executive Director Donna Kelly and Co-Executive Director Deb Bullwinkel deemed the event a success. Kelly notes, “it went really well and was very exciting. It was great to see so many new faces enjoying our jam-packed schedule, and we received a lot of positive feedback on the training we offered and the new venue – many people said they’d definitely be back next year.”

Although there was a slight setback on the first day of the conference due to Chicago air traffic being shut down for eight hours, causing a handful of presenters and exhibitors to arrive late, Dan Risley, Executive Director ASA National, was fortunately available to fill in and save the day. Risley began the conference by providing an update on the national association. Bullwinkel believes “it was good for our veteran attendees to see Dan again and get to know him a little better, and it was also nice for new attendees to meet him and learn more about the national association.”

This year’s CAN Conference featured an expanded program, and attendees seemed to embrace the changes, with the only complaint being that there were so many programs scheduled at the same times that it was difficult to choose which one to attend. Kelly feels this is one of the major attractions that helps the CAN Conference stand apart from similar events – “we offer a variety of high-quality, advanced-level training in one place over one weekend, plus we are fortunate enough to have a lot of top-notch trainers right here in the area.”

Providing quality training is ASA-IL’s most important goal while planning CAN each year as this is the main purpose of the event. The secondary reason for the association to host CAN is to provide an opportunity for members to network with industry vendors and their automotive industry peers. Bullwinkel states, “return attendees get excited to see each other. It’s like a big reunion with friends made in past years.”
ASA-IL also counts on their annual CAN Conference to generate operating funds for the association. “Even though we provide a great deal on training and don’t really make money on registration fees, the proceeds raised from our vendors help to sustain our association,” Kelly says.

Both Kelly and Bullwinkel agree that association-sponsored events are important to their members and the industry at-large because it allows everyone to gather together to learn and network, creating a more positive feeling about the industry itself. “We have people come from all over – attendees fly in from MA, NY, OH and Canada every year. There’s really a sense of camaraderie amongst the shop owners,” Kelly notes. “This group wants to share ideas and raise the level for everyone in the industry, rather than looking at each other as the competition.” Bullwinkel adds, “there’s no sense of competition; they want to help each other and keep the independent shop sector alive by talking shop and having valuable conversations both inside and outside the training sessions.”

ASA-IL’s biggest goal this year was to increase attendance over last year’s conference since the association underwent a variety of organizational changes that caused them to start planning the event later than usual, and they were pleased at the increase in attendance by about 50 people. Kelly and Bullwinkel also agree that the 2014 CAN Conference was a lot of fun, and the team effort from ASA-IL’s Board of Directors led to a stress-free and enjoyable time for all.

The one area where this year’s CAN Conference failed to meet expectations was in their desire to attract a lot of collision repair shops since ASA-IL recently reintroduced the collision side of the business back into their affiliated association. Kelly and Bullwinkel blame this on their approach of marketing to both collision and mechanical shops simultaneously, and they believe they will have more success next year if they approach collision repair facilities on an individual basis throughout the year and target some of their CAN marketing specifically to collision shops for 2015. They also hope to elect at least one collision member to their Board of Directors next year in order to gain some insight into the collision repair industry.

With six I-CAR courses, several management-focused seminars and plenty of additional training, it’s no surprise that the 2014 CAN Conference was such a success. Additionally, the trade show provided a forum for talking to vendors, and the socializing aspects of the event gave attendees time to network with their industry peers. During the Conference, ASA-IL also held a presentation to bestow the Frank Brizek Memorial Award upon Moe Kondich to honor his dedication to the association.

ASA-IL has already begun planning for the 2015 CAN Conference which they plan to hold at the same venue on September 18-20, 2015. They are considering devoting a single day to management courses for shop owners to eliminate the time that technicians spend away from the shop, though these plans have not yet been finalized. Kelly and Bullwinkel are very excited to have already received new volunteers to help plan for next year’s event which is sure to be another success.