The theme for the 8th annual Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week (HDAW) event, held in Las Vegas, NV, January 21 to 24, was Formula for Success, a Focus on the Future. This four-day event lived up to all expectations.
More than 2,100 aftermarket professionals participated in HDAW ‘13. There were independent heavy duty distributors and service shop owners and managers - nearly 600 of them. The other 1,500 attendees were from supplier companies, manufacturer’s reps, consultants, media, educators and industry organization staff from 13 associations and groups.
The organizers of HDAW put together an interesting and compelling education program aimed primarily at the small business owners and managers of independent distributors and shops. They covered a range of interesting topics. Among them: marketing one’s business, outsourcing possibilities, unbundled pricing, etc.
There was an entire day program put together specifically to address the owners and managers of independent service shops. This was a first for HDAW. There were more than 200 shop owners and managers participating in the HDAW Service Opportunities and Learning Day (SOLD) program.
Not bad for an optional conference that required leaving home on Sunday to participate!
Primary topics covered during SOLD were very interesting, particularly the session dealing with preparing for the shop of the future. Others included diagnostics and inspection on axles and suspension, a highly insightful presentation on the overall service market outlook and a practical session on driving profit in one’s market.
All sessions were well-received and many compelling points were made during each one of them. One major point was mentioned many times in differing contexts: The level of sophistication in today’s and tomorrow’s new vehicles and systems continues to accelerate.
With systems like telematics, hybrid drives, electronically-controlled brakes and integrated major components and systems, it is going to be a formidable task to keep up with technology that is growing in leaps and bounds.
Another point made during the shop of the future was one we have all heard, but it is now starting to sink in. Most shops have a lot of skill and expertise, but it is in an aging workforce.
One speaker noted that the average age of a technician was up to the mid-fifties. The alarming part is that when retirements start to occur in the next 10 to 12 years, we are faced with a technician shortage. Where do we find the young talent?
Something tells me that this trade may start to look younger as that occurs, simply by the law of supply and demand. Low supply and high demand always drives a higher price. In this case, it will be wages for technicians in shops.
A side effect of high demand is that the industry will do more to make it an attractive market, and more people will see commercial vehicle technician jobs as an appealing career. Training for this new breed will come from existing and new technical colleges - or trade schools, in old-guy speak.
A highlight of the session on driving profit into one’s business was the results of a survey conducted by the SOLD team with registered attendees. It was surprising to see the wide range on reported wages paid to technicians.
Many businesses were paying the equivalent of $35,000 to $40,000 per year. A large group was paying technicians in the mid $60,000, and several wages were in the $80,000 to $100,000 per year range. Such high wages should certainly attract a few enterprising young men and women to the field.
A common statement about the industry is that it is made up predominately of “old white-haired men.” That was not the case at this year’s HDAW or SOLD. The “younger ones” in attendance were very noticeable.
The organizers put together a special luncheon for younger industry participants, called Leaders of Tomorrow (LOT). The idea was to get together the next generation of leaders, the future of the industry, to listen to industry people speak of career and educational opportunities. The main goal of this luncheon - which was accomplished - was for the group to visit, network and get to know one another.
I participated in similar groups a long time ago - when everyone had black and white TVs. Many of my longtime friends and acquaintances today came from those groups.
The LOT luncheon was standing-room-only and a surprising percentage of the participants were younger women.
Maybe this industry has begun to shed the image as too industrial and dirty for women to participate.
We expect the LOT group and SOLD will be an even more significant part of next year’s HDAW. Education, experience and time to develop are all important elements for success.
Hopefully, the industry agrees that HDAW is working hard to fill the gaps that exist in these important areas.
Tim Kraus is the president and chief operating officer (COO) of the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association (HDMA). Prior to joining HDMA, he served in various executive positions with heavy duty industry parts manufacturers. HDMA exclusively serves as the industry voice of the commercial vehicle product manufacturers. It is a market segment affiliate of the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA). www.hdma.org.