Monday, 10 December 2012 12:48

ASA Michigan - 2012 in Review

The Automotive Service Association in Michigan began 2012 with roundtables held throughout the state for licensed repair facilities representing both collision and mechanical industries. The meetings focused on the proposed revisions and enforcement of Public Act 300 of 1974, the Motor Vehicle Service and Repair Act.

“Relatively speaking, this law has not been updated since 1974 and is in desperate need of updating,” said Ray Fisher, President of ASA Michigan. “The law was created to protect consumers and repair facilities by providing ‘ground rules’ which helped to avoid frivolous lawsuits. And we are now seeing it abused during these challenging economic times with unlicensed shops advertising on Craigslist and circumventing the law.”

“It provides an unfair advantage for those who have not ‘played by the rules’ and it provides false security to consumers; exactly the reason the law was created in the first place,” Fisher said, adding that not only are they advocating for a crackdown on abusers, but also for updating the law to make it more “user friendly” for repair facilities to use.

“One of the elements of this law is validation that the consumer authorized the work requiring a signature or other verbal validation,” Fisher said. “Well, today we have facsimile machines, email, twitter, Facebook, and with future digital means probably forthcoming, we think that these options documented properly should be a part of the law. Currently, if a consumer files a complaint with the state, if you have an investigator or magistrate that interprets the current law based on verbiage instead of intent, they might not accept these digital means as a legitimate authorization. Anyway, we went around the state in the first quarter discussing the proposed updates and sought feedback from the industry as we continued our efforts on this task, which would help both industries conduct business moving forward,” Fisher said.

ASA of Michigan also finished its webinar series on “Internet Marketing” which began in late 2011 and addressed seven segments: Facebook Basics, Search Engine Optimization and Web Development Basics, LinkedIn Basics, Business Blogging, Small Business Directories, Facebook Ads & Google Ad Words and Twitter Basics.

“As an automotive repair industry, we need to understand that our customers’ needs of communicating are changing. The traditional ‘mailers’ as a marketing strategy are becoming less and less effective while being costly to produce and distribute,” Fisher said. “We owe it to our repair industry to educate them on cost effective marketing strategies that include timely communication opportunities that brings business through their doors; this series took the fears away and allowed them to make decisions comfortably. We had to charge for this webinar series, I believe it was $25 per session for members and $40 for non-members, but the proceeds covered the costs of the Internet consultant’s time to provide these 45-60 minute segments—they were very informative and educating…and we still have them available for sale as a series.”

Just as the year was moving along, a curve was thrown at ASA Michigan that was important to collision repairers as Michigan is a “No-Fault” insurance state.

“We got word that Representative Denby had introduced a bill that was raising the Mini-Tort limits from $500 to $1,000, which we saw as another opportunity to get business in the door for our collision repairers,” Fisher said. “Though we are a no-fault state for insurance, fault is still determined even if it is 51% to 49%, someone is that little percent over fifty. The individual that is not the majority of fault can seek remedies for their insurance deductible in most cases. However, if the person is carrying a $1,000 deductible, under the current law, the most they could recover if not at majority fault was $500, which prevented people from getting their vehicles fixed if they were drivable. With the help of Bob Redding, our national lobbyist and his team, we were able to keep the collision repair industry updated and support Representative Denby’s legislation in a timely manner by using the site www.TakingTheHill.org to flood other legislator’s email boxes with industry support of the bill,” Fisher said. “Long story short, as the bill made its way through the House, we remained in touch with Representative Denby’s office and launched the same support efforts in the Senate which soon put the bill on the Governor’s desk for his signature — the law went into effect October 1, 2012!”

It wasn’t long before another curve ball hit ASA Michigan.

“As we were preparing for our annual golf outing and new training events, we got one of those curve balls thrown at us that makes you drop everything and focus on it,” Fisher recalled. “State Farm rolled out the PartsTrader pilot in our West Michigan market in the city of Grand Rapids. I can remember that I was reading articles and quickly publishing the links because of the uproar it brought while having dialogue with our national office because I wanted to keep the industry aware of what was going on both in West Michigan and the three other pilot areas, but we soon realized there were errors in some of the articles,” Fisher said.

“I can remember in one of the discussions with Denise Caspersen, our National Collision Division Manager, as she was reviewing all of the data that was hitting her office too, and she said ‘Ray, we have to go on a fact-finding mission here because we are seeing some discrepancies and we owe it to our membership to provide them factual information to make good business decisions about this, but this is huge!’ and so we did exactly that. We both wanted to get some press releases out letting everyone know, but because of it being a pilot and only in four areas, the task was much bigger than originally anticipated,” he said. “But, as we worked on this and held conference calls with vendors here in Michigan, Denise also was reaching out to the other markets too. From there it became a compilation of the data and then looking for a way to get this information out to our members in a non-emotional but professional business matter—which is when Denise coordinated a trip to Michigan with us and the rest has already been written about.”

Fisher continued, “The tough thing about this was separating the emotion—we have a great industry whose make-up today are of people that are passionate about what they do and take pride in their final product.  They have already seen continuous profit margins shrink and then this business model comes into play that is a game changer that potentially threatens this very concern…and we are still monitoring this as it goes into the Chicago market.”

In July, ASA Michigan held its 27th Annual Golf Outing and it was another success. “We had good weather and everyone had a great time,” Ray said. “We also learned a lesson which had not affected us in the past and that was the way Fourth of July had hit the week previous on a Wednesday. Our attendance was down about 12% and as we called some of our normal attendees, we were told that they had taken some time off that Thursday and Friday after the Fourth and so they had to be at work on Monday,” Fisher recalled. “Though it had always been held the second Monday in July, the golf committee decided that we would move it to the third week for next year to avoid this issue moving forward.”

The next thing ASA Michigan focused on was “the EVENT” held in October. “Our Board of Directors thought it was time for us to get back into hosting an expo and training venue preferably in the center of the state,” said Fisher. “It was a good experience for all that were involved and we were excited with the overall outcome as the template has been created for next year and those moving ahead.  We had some quality topics, quality instructors and quality vendors whose support we greatly appreciated! We are already working on next year’s venue and people can remain updated by visiting a website that we created www.theGreatLakesEvent.com for more information. We plan to have a majority of the classes listed in the first quarter 2013, but the date for the Great Lakes Event is September 28, 2013.”

Looking into 2013, Fisher said,  “Now we are gearing up for 2013 with many new things coming that I believe the members need to embrace.  In the first quarter for example, we will be launching our updated ASA Michigan website which will be more interactive and serving to the industry, but most importantly our members.  We also will be launching our ‘community website’ which will allow our members to interact for best practices, seek thoughts from their peers, utilize a member library of documents, webinars etc. and much more…and 24/7 so that it is tailored to their ‘best time’ to use. We also will be hosting webinars that will be available the day of, but for members, many will be recorded and held in the ‘member library’ for future review if they should miss the first viewing. Staying on this theme of ‘Utilizing Technology,’ we will be hosting a monthly one-hour chat type of opportunity with our members.  We will also continue with our legislative efforts and will be hosting meetings in the spring of 2013 but to respect the importance of people’s time, travel and expenses, we are maximizing the networking opportunities both physically and virtually.”