Who Needs Trade Associations?

Recession? Recovery? What's happening in our economy? Do we invest in our businesses or should we pull back?

We have been told the economy is no longer in a recession and is now in recovery mode. At the same time, we are being told that unemployment is on the rise.

Many years ago, President Harry S. Truman said he wanted an economist who was one-handed. The reason being: His economic advisors would typically give him economic advice stating, "On the one hand . . . And on the other . . ."

It doesn't sound reasonable with unemployment rising that we can be in much of a recovery mode. We know that business is way off. We have seen, and are seeing, big drops in revenue and layoffs of personnel. We know that regardless of the economy, more government regulations affecting our industry are on the way. How can we invest in our companies in ways that will impact our bottom line and still be cost effective?

If your business is a fleet, a truck dealer, private fleet, truck parts distributor or independent truck repair facility, there are some things you can do. Investing in association membership and actively participating in a trade association can be a great source of revenue. Providing training for technicians will increase revenues. Both of these can be done inexpensively and can be very meaningful if care is given in the selection.

Technician training is very critical for us all. We need to know our technicians have the required knowledge to properly maintain the vehicles in our care. In addition, we must be able to assure our clients that our technicians have been trained to properly repair their vehicles.

Technicians who attend training programs not only have a greater feeling of self worth, but they also have a more positive attitude toward their employers. By receiving training, the technician gets the feeling that despite the strained economy, you are confident that your business will survive and that his job is secure.

An additional bonus from technician training is a talking point for service managers, service writers and sales and parts people to discuss with clients. Your clients like to know that your technicians are receiving training in the latest technology. Your customers like to patronize a business that has a positive outlook on the future based upon their ability to service their customer's needs.

ACOFAS, American Council of Frame and Alignment Specialists, is a trade association made up of independent repair companies, and we consider ourselves a technician training association. ACOFAS holds two and sometime three two-day technical training clinics per year.

Over the past four years, ACOFAS has held 10 training clinics, in nine locations. More than forty instructors have trained in excess of 350 technicians. Topics have included:
• Establishing and marketing vehicle preventative maintenance programs.
• Front end suspension inspection and maintenance.
• Front end alignment and axle correction.
• Rear suspension inspection and maintenance.
• Rear suspension total chassis alignment.
• Chassis frame inspection, gauging and straightening.
• Suspension modification to enhance road handling and ride improvement.
• Wheel end inspection and maintenance.
• ABS braking systems, medium duty hydraulic brake and parking brake systems and ABS6 road control enhancement systems.
• Power steering gear box inspection and maintenance.
• Chassis and engine computer diagnostics.
• Vehicle torsional vibration analysis.

All of these programs and future programs use a combination of classroom and on-vehicle methods. Sessions are hands-on and technicians that attend these clinics get dirty. They are instructed on how to diagnose and repair actual customer equipment.

ACOFAS has an interactive technician forum. This forum can be accessed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If a technician has a question, he can post it on the forum and usually receive a response within hours. The forum also has links to many technical hot lines for component manufacturers.

ACOFAS members volunteer to conduct these clinics in their facilities. The members all become business acquaintances and rely on each other for both technical and other business matters.

ACOFAS is a sponsoring member of HDAW (Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week), which is an annual executive conference and product exhibit related to the heavy duty aftermarket truck parts and service industry that is supported by 13 trade associations.. It features education and business-to-business activities, with truck parts aftermarket and component manufacturers from all points of the world taking part.

This year's HDAW will be held January 18 to 21 at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, NV. There will be many educational sessions that can help you run your business more efficiently and profitably.

In an economy like ours, you can't afford not to be a member of a trade association. Take advantage of what they have to offer and you can profit from their collective expertise and wide range of products and services.

It is essential that you attend trade shows and maintain a trade association membership to keep ahead of the "other handed economist."

Gordon R. Botts is the president of Botts Welding & Truck Service, Woodstock, IL. The company was founded in 1928 by his father, Gordon E. Botts. Gordon R. has been involved in industry-related associations since 1968. He has served on the board of directors of IGO (Independent Garage Owners), TARA (Truckframe & Axle Repair Association), SSA (Service Specialists Association) and APSAIL (Automotive Parts and Service Association of Illinois). A founding member of ACOFAS, he serves as the association's public relations chairman and the ACOFAS representative on the Joint Operating Committee of HDAW.