I’ve written many columns over the years, talking about incidents and situations that arise in our industry. I know the challenges that automotive service providers face, day in and day out, and I’ve enjoyed writing my observations as one of your peers and hopefully as a friend.
However, today I’m writing as a member of the board of directors of the Automotive Aftermarket Retailers of Ontario (AARO).
In many ways, I’m working on your behalf with many other professionals in our trade to make things better for all of us.
Sadly, too many independent service providers do not see the need to be a member of an association. In my opinion, they take the word “independent” a little too seriously, and are quite proud of standing on their own. They don’t see the value in working with like-minded people. They just see it as a cost.
Look, no one likes to add another expense at a time when costs are constantly going up and profits tend to be going down. But we all have the same concerns: the ongoing need for training, the unexpected complication of the Ontario College of Trades, new and upcoming safety regulations, the perpetual need for website design and maintenance, the ever-changing Drive Clean program, health and safety regulations, WHMIS… the list goes on and on.
Membership in an association like AARO keeps you in the loop on important business-related developments, and helps you clear the hurdles and meet the challenges of our evolving industry.
In my 42 years in the automotive repair and service trade, I don’t think there’s ever been a more important time to join an association.
Well, it boils down to a simple unavoidable fact. As independents we are losing market share. Dealerships have awoken to the contributions their service bays can make to their bottom lines. They want to eat our lunch. As small businesses, we face enormous threats to our livelihood. As individuals we cannot afford to go it alone any more.
When you join an association, you’re not throwing your money away. On the contrary, your membership pays for itself over and over again in substantial savings on group programs, access to business services, and spots in training classes on any number of relevant topics. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You also get the benefit of networking with business owners and managers like yourself, and gaining their perspective on the challenges we all face.
I’m not one to write a column about the financial management of an automotive repair shop. I’m not an accountant… and I’m certainly not your bookkeeper. But here’s one example of how an association membership can pay for itself.
Recently, I worked with a young man recommended by AARO to review my credit card charges with me. I was convinced it would prove to be a total waste of time. After all, my supplier had just reassured me a month prior that my rates were among the lowest available.
Boy, were my eyes opened!
Sure, the base rates were competitive… but all of the added fees (for things like the points cards that 85% of my clients have) were costing me an absolute fortune! I don’t blame my customers for wanting to take free trips on the points they earned at my shop. I just didn’t realize how much of their trips I was actually paying for!
With the help of this young man, we reviewed the complicated statement I’d received from the most popular credit card my customers use. We broke down exactly what I’d paid in fees that month. It turns out I was paying several hundreds of dollars more than I needed to. And that was just one month!
With the fee structure negotiated by AARO, I was able to save about $1,800 over the next five months. Over the course of a year, it will probably amount to well over $4,000.
That’s $4,000 a year going to my bottom line – without increasing my car count, raising my door rate, or charging more for parts. And it will more than pay for my association membership!
It’s not the first time the AARO membership has saved me money. Years ago I started taking advantage of the discounted rate the association had negotiated for shop insurance. When I made the switch from the insurance company I had been using (the one whose rates seemed to jump dramatically every single year), not only did I save myself about $4,300 a year, but I found myself with better coverage, working with an insurance company that had plenty of experience working with automotive garages.
OK, sorry, that was two examples.
My point is that by joining AARO I was able to tap into some excellent resources, meet great people who had the same ultimate objective that I did, and saved some money to boot!
Joining an association is not just a social opportunity for shop owners. It’s good business. For your own sake, and for the sake of our industry, please consider joining one today.
Brue Eccles is the owner of Eccles Auto Service in Dundas, Ont., and a member of the Automotive Aftermarket Retailers of Ontario board of directors.