Yoswick --- NACE Weathers The Downturn; Organizers Optimistic About Future

Yoswick --- NACE Weathers The Downturn; Organizers Optimistic About Future

Organizers of the International Autobody Congress and Exposition (NACE) say that even just weeks before the 26th annual event in November they were concerned that, given the economy, attendance could be down as much as 20% from last year.

So it came as somewhat of a relief to the Automotive Service Association (ASA) and its event team to announce that about 20,000 attendee made the trip to Las Vegas for the trade show and classes, a more modest drop of 8% from last year but less of a decline, they say, than that experienced by some other trade shows.

The event kicked off with a low-key yet riveting address by Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who, as he described it, went from being just a “regular guy” to an internationally-known hero in about 208 seconds last January. Sullenberger was the pilot of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 on January 15 who safely splash-landed the jet in the Hudson River, after the plane struck a flock of birds shortly after take off, disabling its engines.

After a flying career of more than 40 years, Sullenberger said, his immediate reaction when he realized the dire situation the flight was in was remarkably human.

“In that first second-and-a-half, I had two distinct thoughts I still remember well,” he said. ‘Both were rooted in disbelief. My first thought was: This can’t be happening. And my second thought was: This doesn’t happen to me.”

Sullenberger said that although he’d only met the flight’s first officer just days prior to Jan. 15, the two relied on their training to work together and with the flight attendants to prepare the passengers and land the plane safely less than four minutes later. As with much in life, Sullenberger said, preparation was the key.

“We had the training and experience, but we also had a plan,” he said. “Having a plan and working quickly to implement it, we kept our hope alive. At every moment, we knew that we could solve the next problem. We never stopped working together as a team to solve the challenges we faced. We never gave up. We never lost faith in ourselves or each other. In a similar fashion for each of you, no matter how dire your situation is, know that further action is almost always possible. If you’re part of a well-trained team and you have the same values, the same goals, your chances of getting through a challenge are immeasurably better than if you’re not.”

More than dwelling on the dramatic 208 seconds of Flight 1549, Sullenberger focused much of his speech on the aspects of his life that he feels prepared him to meet that challenge, including a lesson from his father, a Texas dentist.

 “A leader, a commander, is responsible ultimately for every aspect of the welfare of the people in his care,” Sullenberger said. “Woe be to the commander who through lack of preparation or lack of foresight or error in judgment causes someone to be hurt. My father was clear on one point: With great authority comes great responsibility. And since a leader has to take responsibility for everything but can’t do everything, he or she must make sure that their vision, their leadership by example, is one their team can eagerly get behind.

Sullenberger brought the opening session crowd of 1,250 people to its feet as he closed his speech with this advice.

“None of us can know what tomorrow may bring,” he said. “Each of us has a responsibility to prepare ourselves for it.”

This was the second year NACE was combined with ASA’s Congress of Automotive Repair & Service mechanical industry event, and as the association’s largest gathering of the year, it offers ASA a platform to share its take on industry news and trends.

Bob Redding, the association’s national lobbyist in Washington, DC, for example, said the industry and country have reached “an unprecedented place” in terms of interest in national insurance reform.

“I think we’re the closest we’ve been to any serious insurance reform for property and casualty insurers and the insurance industry in general since at least the early 1990s,” Redding said, on a day when the U.S. House later passed health care legislation that would rescind health insurers’ antitrust exemption under the McCarran-Ferguson Act. Redding said it may be a “long shot” that other types of insurance will face a similar antitrust exemption roll-back this year, but the mood is right in Washington, he said, for more federal regulation of insurance.

“Our state regulators have let us down,” Redding said. “They’ve let consumers down, and they’ve let small business down, particularly collision repairers. So we need someplace to go.”

ASA President Ron Pyle said the association has been actively evaluating what members want from the association in an effort to focus on those activities of most value to shop owners. Specifically on the collision side of the industry, he acknowledged that ASA has been “somewhat passive” in addressing the “dysfunctional relationship” between shops and insurers that results in consumers not being well-served.

“But as advocates for the industry, we have to take a more active role in exposing those issues and providing a venue to dialogue about positive changes,” Pyle said. “You'll see us take a more proactive role in that.”

Pyle had similar strong words at the event’s closing press conference when asked about competition NACE faces from the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) trade show that takes place at the other end of the Las Vegas strip during the same week. NACE attendance and tradeshow size has fallen steadily since 2004 even with the addition of mechanical and automotive glass industry exhibitors, and this year’s numbers were the lowest since the late 1980s. But Pyle blamed steeper declines in other shows this year for those events’ efforts to “siphon off as many of our attendees and exhibitors as possible,” (indeed, BASF and paint gun manufacturer SATA were among those with booths at SEMA but not NACE this year). He said ASA and its trade show team at Hanley-Wood Exhibitions were prepared to fight back.

“Just merely pulling exhibitors away from this event does not create an event,” Pyle said, pointing to the educational programs included with NACE that other shows lack. “We are not going to rest, not going to watch the erosion of our exhibitors. We are going to do whatever is necessary to stem that.”

Pyle would not reveal any details about future events other than to say NACE would be held in Las Vegas at least through next year (an ad in this year’s show program lists November 3–6 as the dates of the 2010 event).

But Pyle said the industry should recognize the broader importance of NACE, not just as a necessary revenue stream for ASA but also for vendors who rely on the show. “So if this show goes away, and possibly the association goes away, who represents the independent service and repair industry? SEMA? AAIA (the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association)? MEMA (the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association)? Not bloody likely,” Pyle said. “They have a completely different agenda. They sell products to our industry. They don't represent our industry. So we need to tell people that they need to support this event if they believe in the future of the independent automotive service and repair industry.”

Ed note: One observer pointed out that while the associations are represented by NACE and CARS, much of the revenue goes to private Hanley-Wood, whereas profits from the SEMA and AAPEX shows go directly to those organizations, which support their part of the industry directly.

John Yoswick

John Yoswick is a freelance writer and Autobody News columnist who has been covering the collision industry since 1988, and the editor of the CRASH Network... Read More

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