Under the Radar

On page 14 of this issue, you'll read an article about a very smart guy: Gordon Botts, owner of Botts Welding in Woodstock, IL.

I met Gordon a few months ago, when Tim Kraus, president and COO of the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association, sent me Gordon's number and told me I should talk to him (for Tim's regular column, see page 28).

Tim knew I was interested in talking with independent maintenance shop owners, to get a better idea of the issues and pressures they deal with, and to learn how they interact with fleet maintenance managers and in-house maintenance shops. He suggested Gordon because A) Gordon's shop is an hour's drive from our offices; B) Gordon is, as I said, a very smart guy: and C) Gordon is on the board of directors of ACOFAS, the American Council of Frame & Alignment Specialists.

I had heard of ACOFAS, primarily because I knew they were part of the alliance of trade organizations that hosted Heavy-Duty Aftermarket Week every year, but I had to confess that I knew very little about what ACOFAS does. So Tim's suggestion that I talk to Gordon offered me a chance to learn more, and as I drove through a worsening snowstorm to northern Illinois I wondered what might be in store.

Botts Welding was not what I expected. First of all, I nearly drove right past it. Between the swirling snow and the gathering darkness of a winter evening, the hulking gray building was nearly invisible.

Once there, however, I was amazed by the size of the place. Botts has room for as many as 24 vehicles in the shop at one time, with a separate building just for parts (Botts distributes leaf spring assemblies, and one huge room was filled almost completely with stacks of springs).

So, right away, I was impressed by the scale of the operation. Then, when I sat down to talk with Gordon, I was impressed by his wealth of knowledge, and by his willingness to share it.

Gordon has a great many opinions about what is right and what is wrong with the trucking industry (some of which you'll read in the article in this issue), but he likes to focus on what is right.

Through his work with ACOFAS, he not only sees a lot of what's right in the industry, but he also has a chance to make things even better.

As animated as he was throughout our conversation, he really lit up when he started to tell me about ACOFAS' technician training efforts. On an intermittent schedule, ACOFAS hosts two-day technician training seminars in partnership with major component and shop equipment providers, and they are looking to increase the frequency in 2009.

The training events regularly bring in 50 to 60 technicians. There's no certification, just two days of intense learning. The sessions focus on well-defined problems, such as torsional vibration, and presenters are expected to stick with that one topic throughout--ACOFAS wants to make sure technicians get exactly what they came for.

How seriously do they take this? Gordon told me a story of how one vendor offered to provide two days of training to ACOFAS member technicians, and then spent nearly a full day taking the technicians on a factory tour and teaching them the company's history.

Gordon was not amused.

As a shop owner himself, he knows all too well the value of his technicians' time, and he does not let that time be taken up by sales pitches. Training is training, and if a vendor doesn't understand that, they will probably not be asked to an ACOFAS event again.

Last week at the Heavy-Duty Aftermarket Week event in Orlando, I ran into Gordon again. Actually, he came walking over to our booth at the trade show with a big smile on his face, and said he wanted to talk to me about something.

ACOFAS plans to hold three training events in 2009, and Gordon wanted to know how his group could work together with Fleet Maintenance Magazine to publicize these events and report on them for fleet maintenance professionals outside the realm of ACOFAS.

This is the first result of that conversation! I encourage you to go to ACOFAS' web site at www.acofas.com, to learn more about the group and its training events.

Surely there are other industry organizations like ACOFAS that host specialized training and education events that the rest of the industry would like to know about. If you know of any, send them our way, and we'll spread the word!