Thursday, 15 January 2015 16:00

ASA-IL Focuses on Expanding Collision Offerings in 2015

With the New Year underway, ASA-IL Executive Director Donna Kelly and co-Executive Director Deb Bullwinkel are busy expanding the affiliate chapter to reintroduce the collision repair side of the business to their membership. While the national Automotive Service Association was founded in 1956, IL’s affiliate chapter was formed sometime later. By the late 1990s, the collision repair segment of ASA-IL’s membership had separated from the affiliate, and the mechanical side realigned itself with the national association.

Over the past year, Kelly and Bullwinkel have begun expanding their membership to include collision repair professionals in alignment with the ASA-National model. Their focus for 2015 is continuing their efforts to bring collision repair back in the fold. As part of these efforts, Kelly plans to “collaborate with I-CAR to offer collision training, and we need to focus some of our chapter meetings on collision topics. Beginning in January, we plan to contact our national collision members in hopes of engaging their interest, and hopefully, this will lead to new members. We learned a lot from our attempts to incorporate I-CAR training into our 2014 Chicago Automotive Networking (CAN) Conference. Only a few collision shops attended, so now we realize we need to engage the collision shops first so that they’ll think of us as their trade association, if we want to successfully reintroduce the collision repair aspect of the automotive industry to our membership.”

Excluding their collision members, ASA-IL consists of 250 members, reflecting a 15% growth in 2014. Additionally, 59 collision repair professionals who belong to ASA-National have also joined the state affiliate to take advantage of some of ASA-IL’s local benefits. In addition to gaining access to ASA-National’s Marketplace, members of ASA-IL enjoy monthly meetings, most of which have a training component, and a plethora of discounts. For instance, Heil & Kay Insurance, an affinity member of ASA-IL, offers members substantial discounts, recognizing ASA-IL members as quality facilities who pose a decreased liability risk.

Bullwinkel credits the promotion of their added benefits as being part of the cause behind their membership growth in 2014. Kelly adds that the most engaged members say that the biggest benefit is the camaraderie and ability to discuss challenges with their colleagues. “We are proud to have such a wonderful group of non-competitive people who really help one another and are a terrific resource for each other.” Bullwinkel adds, “our members really carry the flag for the independent cause!”

Although ASA-IL encompasses the entire state of Illinois, the affiliate also has some active members in Wisconsin and Northwestern Indiana who choose to be involved because of their proximity to certain metropolitan areas. Kelly and Bullwinkel anticipate that their expansion into collision may include these areas, though they’re uncertain how their Indiana membership could be impacted by the recent addition of an ASA-Indiana/Evansville affiliate based in the southern portion of that neighboring state.

As ASA-IL strives to reengage and reintegrate the collision side, they are also looking to identify new programs and local benefits in order to aid them with their recruitment and retention efforts as they try to attract new members. Bullwinkel says, “only a small portion of shops in Illinois are members, and we’d like to see the affiliate grow to the size it could and should be. Illinois is a big state with a lot of potential which is exciting, but growing our small but mighty organization will require a refined strategic plan in order to reach our full potential.”

The challenge that ASA-IL currently faces, as they attempt to achieve these goals, is their limited resources. Kelly predicts that they will need a larger staff as they increase their membership, but “we are really fortunate to have such an engaged volunteer Board of Directors. They do a lot, and we’re planning a Board retreat in 2015 so that we can strategize for the year.”

ASA-IL also hopes to develop a calendar for 2015 early in the year, complete with meetings and events. According to Bullwinkel, the association strives to bring something useful to its members every month. That usually includes technical and management training. The association also holds social events like barbeques, roundtables and an annual cruise on Lake Michigan.

“Shop owners are constantly looking for training opportunities because they need to stay up-to-date on changes in this ever-evolving industry. Our meetings usually cost only $15-30 and include a meal, so it’s a great value.”

All of these goals are aligned with ASA-IL’s mission which is to advance professionalism and excellence in the automotive service industry through education, representation and member services. The association strives to improve the market share, professional image and prosperity of independent shops in their state. Like ASA-National, they also strive to be a voice for their members.

Regarding legislative issues, ASA-IL follows ASA-National’s lead on issues plaguing the collision repair industry, opposing insurer-mandated parts procurement, the PARTS Act and Right to Repair. Kelly notes that most current legislative issues are impacting the collision side of the business, so ASA-IL expects to become more involved with legislature going forward as their collision membership increases.

Kelly and Bullwinkel have already noticed several challenges to automotive service professionals on both sides of the industry. For mechanical shops, a current problem is the fact that their services are being seen as commodities, causing consumers to choose shops based on price rather than other criteria. Independent shops on both the mechanical and collision sides are being impacted by the trending toward multi-shop operations (MSOs) who are becoming a strong force and building brands which makes it hard for many independent shops to compete. In fact, many independent shop owners are selling their businesses to these MSOs, but Kelly believes that associations can help combat this dilemma by “giving a unified voice to independent shop owners so they can be heard over the competition.”

On the collision side, relationships with insurers are a challenge, especially for small business owners who rely on “a single power partner,” Kelly laments. “If you lose that partner, you’re going to have a big problem. Shops can’t stop trying to attract independent customers because it’s difficult to rely on only one power partner. It’s all a matter of survival, and it will be interesting to see what obstacles and challenges lie ahead in 2015, but at ASA-IL, we will continue to support our members’ interests, knowing that we have power in numbers and provide a collective voice working for the greater good.”

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