Trading Your Time For Your Money

June 1, 2006
Growing your business through local organization and trade show affiliations.

Babe Ruth once said, "The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don't play together, the club won't be worth a dime." Now think about this in terms of your industry … Your competition … Your business …

There are countless options for you to become more involved in the automotive service industry—however, local trade shows, industry events and associations top the list. They are your best opportunity to prove your support for—and camaraderie with—your customers and their industry.

Many organizations regularly set up local trade shows or industry events for end-users, mobile tool distributors, glass-front tool distributors, warehouse distributors and suppliers alike. Organizations hold these shows to

  • demonstrate their support for the industry;
  • to access real input from end-users;
  • to solidify relationships with vendors, suppliers and asso- ciation members;
  • and to learn about or discuss industry issues.

Ask yourself how it would impact your business' value to your customers if you were to join a local association or chapter of a national association, or attend more local trade shows and industry events: How can your increased participation in the industry benefit your customers? Ah, let us count some of the ways.

Make Yourself Known

More involvement in the industry can provide you with at least one of the following options. If you are a warehouse distributor or a supplier, you can build up your brand or warehouse name to expand your customer base.

If your name is already well-known, build upon it further. If your name is well-known, but not in the way you'd like it to be, work to change the public's perception by focusing on how you plan to improve whatever ails your reputation or concentrating on another aspect of your business that excels.

If you are a mobile tool dealer or glass-front tool distributor, brand yourself to expand your customer base — by that, we don't mean singeing your company's name into your skin with a hot iron. We mean let your face be your logo. It serves you well to establish a repertoire within the industry, and therefore, confirm your credibility as an authority in it with your customers.

If you've noticed, real estate agents almost always include a photo of themselves in their advertising. Why? Is it because the real estate business is more narcissistic? Not necessarily. Because so much of their business is concentrated in one local area, it's easier for those people who see the advertising to approach these agents on the street.

Making appearances at local trade shows or events, or gaining face within an association can do the same for you. It's kind of like free advertising when you take the time to get acquainted with your industry, but be prepared to field more phone calls.

Branding is a very powerful marketing tool, so be sure to take advantage of it as much as possible. Make sure to carry business cards with you to leave professional, lasting impressions, and not only with customers, but also with other association members, end-users, suppliers, warehouse distributors, etc. You may even want to highlight your participation in any associations by displaying an association logo right on your business cards.

Your Own Network

To cite a recent example of successful networking in progress, look up the Coalition for Auto Repair Equality's (CARE) effort (as well as many others' efforts) to change legislation regarding the Right To Repair Act. What have you done for your business in the way of networking lately? Here Babe's adage comes even more into play.

By knowing the right people, you can increase your knowledge base and open up doors of possibility in the way of problem-solving for your business and customers. Whether you meet these contacts in person or are channeled via phone or e-mail, they offer you the opportunity to meet more contacts, learn about new products and gain knowledge of industry issues first.

When people come to recognize you, your power to increase business is almost limitless. Mobile distributors and glass-front tool distributors can network with their suppliers more, suggesting ways they could improve their services; suppliers can network with each other to discover ways others are doing business; and end-users have a chance to buy tools and equipment in a more hands-on environment.

Suppliers, mobile distributors and glass-front tool distributors can benefit from this by knowing how to stock better—and just by watching end-users at these industry functions, or listening to them at these association forums, to see what really interests them. Manufacturers can gather input from all other arms of the industry to improve their products, which also can eventually benefit suppliers, mobile distributors, glass-front tool distributors and end-users by having a relevant product that end-users target as both efficient and effective in directly solving their problems.

Your involvement in a local trade organization or chapter of a national organization, or your attendance at local trade shows or events can give you opportunities to speak with your customers directly: Don't be afraid to ask them where you could improve.

Get Educated—Become An Authority

Your customers will come to associate your face with a name, and a name with knowledge when you show up for some of these local trade shows, seminars, technician training workshops, association meetings, etc. Interaction is the key, and the education you obtain will eventually translate into sales. The only negative case for extra education is the time spent away from your business and family.

Independent mobile tool dealer Jackie Rose of North Alabama Tools, Inc., who's also featured on the cover of this month's issue, suggests mobile distributors try to attend free classes if provided locally. He says several parts stores is his area of Huntsville, AL, put on training workshops for specific tools and pieces of equipment.

It doesn't necessarily matter which topic is presented in the class, as Rose says sales of the products trained on always increase after the class is complete. Events like these also provide the potential for mobile distributors and glass-front tool distributors to better understand how to position products, and present their customers with the features and benefits they want to hear.

Show your customers you have a sincere interest in automotive service and a valid perspective on the industry, too. Almost every association provides a listing of member benefits, some of which may include listings in a member directory, sponsorship opportunities, exhibition space at trade shows/events, association logos for your correspondence and advertising, links on their website, etc. Make sure you remember to display your memberships to fully benefit from your participation in these associations.

Where To Start Using On-Line Options

So, we've established industry associations and trade shows as a way to reach your customers and support them from a pragmatic standpoint by providing all the benefits listed above. What now?

Many industry associations grant associate memberships to their organizations, although these types of memberships may be presented under a host of various aliases, such as affiliate member, member at large, etc. As you'll eventually notice in your search for an association to your taste, many associations state nothing about you in their missions, much less their titles.

Most of these organizations were originally intended to provide a forum for only automotive service technicians, whether general mechanics or specialists. In contrast, associate memberships typically apply to tool and equipment manufacturers, suppliers and distributors as a means to integrate the entire industry. Yet, some associations may still strictly adhere to a "for automotive service technicians only" code.

Get on the information superhighway. Because many industry associations have landed themselves on the web, most of them offer one of two electronic ways to acquire memberships: either download a membership application form to print and fill out, or fill out a membership form on the site of your web-based association of choice.

According to ASA's website, "Associate membership with ASA gives you opportunities to access the membership database, advertise through AutoInc. and the ASA website, get a free listing in the annual membership directory, participate in ASA member benefits and get advanced notice of trade show dates and exhibit space at ASA-sponsored events."

Custom-Tailor To Your Customer Base

Belonging to one association may pacify you for now, but some associations are specifically designated for mechanical repair technicians, whereas others cater particularly to autobody specialists. So, as quickly as your membership solidifies your relationship with one customer, it may distance you from another.

To combat this situation, informally survey your customer demographics … How many of your customers belong to an association? Are these customers individual technicians or an entire shop full of association members? How many of your customers operate solely in a specialized field?

The Time Crunch

"We have to work when the mechanics work," says Rose. However, he makes exceptions for trade shows because he feels they're worth it. Rose's wife, Angie, intentionally schedules their vacations to coincide with trade shows. They both attend the ISN and AAPEX show each year, as well as M. Eagles when they can. They like to catch up on the latest tools, trends, tips and industry news at seminars, not to mention with old friends.

"When I get to a show, I don't get to choose which direction to go. I'm swamped with people pulling me in every direction," Rose says. He and his wife have built up an arsenal of vendors they've become friendly with over the years, and they keep their contact information in a Rolodex on the truck in case customers have questions Rose can't answer, or requests he can't fill on his own.

As friends, they exchange favors, benefiting each sector in automotive repair. Rose says trade shows also give him the chance to network with other mobile tool dealers, rather than the local ones he already knows, swapping advice and tales. Rose says, "It gives me a reason to go out there and do better."

He definitely reaps the benefits of established relationships with vendors, especially with the elimination of the middle man. "I'm my own salesman. I call the warehouse myself rather than going through a sales rep." And as Rose says, "If you buy it right, then you can sell it right."

Create Your Own

Mobile tool distributors can even do it now. Ever heard of Mac Tools' Macstravaganza Distributor Expo? These events are put on by just one, or a local group of mobile tool dealers, with the aid of their franchise and other vendors.

Macstravaganzas are not only designed as miniature tool fairs, but also as product training workshops in which technicians have the ability to handle scan tools, electronics and other shop equipment.

Macstravaganza is also a customer-appreciation event hosted by distributors to help strengthen relationships, and truly show their customers how much they're valued. The event is usually held in a local vocational school, hotel or other meeting venue in the evening, after regular business hours, or over a weekend, so techs have the time to attend.

Rose also hosts clinics for his customers if 15 to 20 people are interested in, say, a new scan tool or a piece of A/C equipment, but haven't had the training to use them. He simply collects $20 from interested attendees, yet he gives $10 back as his customers who signed up walk through the door. He uses the other half for food and prizes.

Rose says he sets up a date and time with a trainer and an independent shop who is willing to host the clinic. He says sometimes warehouse distributors help him out, reimbursing him for the refreshments and prizes.

Trading Time For Money

You may not be convinced of the utility of local trade shows, industry events, or local associations or regional chapters of national associations. However, after you try it, you'll realize how important it is to get involved. Not only does it show your customers that you want the best for them (and are willing to go the extra mile to help them get there), but it also creates credibility for your business, proves you strive for the highest standards, and creates a reliable networking resource for not only business contacts, but also friends.

Getting involved with the industry really sets the tone for your business and shows your customers you are dedicated to the quality of your products and services, as well as their happiness and success. Babe would be so proud.

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