Auto Service World
Feature   August 14, 2019   by Allan Janssen

Commentary: Coffee and Conversation

SERVICE NOTES  By Allan Janssen

For those out there who are curious about how a magazine like this gets made, it starts with coffee. A lot of it, close at hand, and strong.

Then there is rumination. Thoughts, like coffee, must percolate.

John Norris

But the true secret sauce of a well-crafted magazine is conversation. In phone call after phone call, meeting after meeting, and conference after conference, the views of readers must be continually taken into consideration. These conversations form the backbone of the magazine. They give it a spine.

Some of the best conversations I’ve ever had were with John Norris, the executive director of Collision Industry Information Assistance. We would meet up at a local coffee shop and spend an entire afternoon recounting the latest news and what it meant for the aftermarket.

In his day job, John helped body shops chart a path through government regulations and the growing influence of the insurance industry. But more broadly speaking, he possessed a wealth of facts about a wide array of subjects, and he had strong, well-considered views to go with them.

He used a unique shorthand when he spoke. He would reduce the entire world of automotive service and repair, with the complexities of engine diagnostics, and the challenge of getting service information, to one word: “mechanical.” As in: “Mechanical needs to figure this out.” Or: “Mechanical needs a true champion.”

To call him a polarizing figure would not be overstating it.

John Norris died suddenly on May 28, creating a vacuum on the many boards he served, and in the industry in general.

I prepare this issue of CARS magazine without any last-minute counsel from John. But, in a way, it bears his strongest imprint yet.

In discussing my annual Shop of the Year story a few weeks before his death, I told him I had boiled the choice down to two. It would either be a long-established shop run by aftermarket veterans whose names would be familiar to many readers. Or it would be the complete opposite: a new shop under the visionary leadership of a pair of newcomers to the industry.

His answer was classic. “Which story does Mechanical most need to hear?

He was right. That should be the motivation for everything that appears in the magazine. And so I made my decision. I’m going with the newcomers. I am unable to escape the feeling that the experiences of Donnie and Elaine Lysons, rank strangers to the aftermarket, might cause a stir of excitement and hopefulness in our industry.

They faced the challenge of building a business in an industry that is facing constant and fundamental change. Unburdened by legacy systems or outdated management ideas, they proceeded both humbly (as students) and boldly (as talented entrepreneurs). The shop they created is customer-focused,  maintenance-oriented, and thoroughly modern.

Lacombe Auto Service is the kind of shop my friend John would have loved to read about. He would have learned from them. And he would have offered them his help to them if they needed it.

Rest in peace, John. And congratulations, Donnie and Elaine.


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