Independent garage owners are being invited to become CIA operatives.
The Canadian Independent Automotive Association is a new group dedicated to restoring the reputation of independent garages to what it once was.
CIA executive director Art Wilderman says independents have lost a lot of ground to better-financed and better-organized dealerships’ and now it’s time to fight back.
"The automotive dealerships have run very effective campaigns and marketing strategies that have painted us in a very unflattering light," he says. "But we’ve been slow to respond and we have to take some blame for the erosion of our businesses."
CIA is calling for a national education campaign to remind consumers that independents are still out there and very knowledgeable about how to fix peoples’ cars.
"The independents have a higher fix-it-right score than the dealerships do [according to recent J.D. Power & Associates studies] but the dealerships have convinced the consumer that cars are too technologically advanced for independents to work on," says automotive management trainer and CIA president Dave Meunier. "We need to present ourselves as a credible alternative to the dealership. We’re personable, we know you, we know your family, we’re in your local area, we’re in the community, we’re giving back, we’re very competent, good, hard-working people, and we can show you so many ways to save money."
Shops are invited to become CIA members for $75 a month ($900 a year). That money will ultimately be used to mount an advertising campaign to paint independents in a new and positive light.
"It’s going to take an association with representation from shops across the country to pull this off," says Meunier. "There are roughly 35,000 independents across the country. If we got 10 per cent of them, we’d have well over $2.7 million to rebuild our image. We believe we could get 10,000 to 15,000 members. That would fund tremendous exposure on radio, talk show, billboard, television. And it would be positive stuff. We wouldn’t just have negative ads against the dealership. We want to build the consumer’s confidence in us."
In addition to the ad campaign, CIA members would share ideas on how to improve their shops, build a loyal clientele, and address consumer concerns. They would also get point-of-sale material to identify them as CIA members, subject to a code of ethics and behavior. Most importantly, they’d have a national voice.
"We’re not here to replace any association," Meunier insists. "We can certainly work with them. They have different mandates and different goals. Our is 100-per-cent educational."
Though only in operation since November, the group has a number of "founding members" who kicked in money for start-up efforts like printing brochures and getting a web site constructed (www.ciaassociation.org). Early recruitment meetings in Alberta have seen more than 50 shops sign up. At every meeting, the idea was enthusiastically endorsed.
Wilderman plans to travel across the country promoting CIA and recruiting members. He believes that in addition to drumming up new business for independents, a movement like this would go a long way to address self-esteem problems in the industry.
"Thirty or 40 years ago, people were very proud to be automotive mechanics," says Wilderman. "These days you’re almost embarrassed. We want to bring back the pride in our work."
EDITOR’S NOTE You can reach CIA online at www.ciaassociation.org, or by calling 403/225-9578.