By Allan Janssen
It’s hard to know how some of the earliest members of the Automotive Industries Association of Canada (AIA) would have reacted to news that repair shops are now welcome to participate in a new program designed exclusively for service providers.
There was a time when that would have been unthinkable.
Since 1942, when parts distributors met as the Canadian Automotive Warehouse Association, the needs and interests of the supply chain have always been seen as being distinct from those of the service sector.
Through the decades, membership requirements loosened slowly… and only with much discussion. I can imagine smoky rooms of distinguished looking men, their hats neatly on their knees, growing ever-more agitated as they discussed the inclusion of new groups into their illustrious midst.
A look at the written record bears this out. I recently stumbled across a 1972 report about relaxed membership qualifications. The author took pains to assure readers that the “historic move” was not taken lightly.
“There is no intention of accepting companies without carefully examining their function in the automotive aftermarket,” the article stated. “Nor is there any thought of rushing through an application just for the sake of getting a new member.”
That particular debate was over including car and truck dealers that distribute automotive service parts, and firms that sell goods or services to association members.
It seems that similar debates were sparked every time membership rules changed. AIA president Jean-Francois Champagne says it took decades to ease the historic reluctance to “open the flood gates” to disparate groups of potential members.
“At one point (traditional wholesalers) seemed to have different positions than their customers on some issues. But this has changed,” he said. “We have adapted, one step at a time, to include first suppliers, then retailers, then merchandisers, service provider associations, and collision industry players.”
With each inclusion the fear must have been that the jobber’s voice was steadily being diluted.
If this is your fear, now that service shops have been invited into the fold as participants in the new Automotive Service-provider Associate Program (ASAP), you might be missing the upside of all this. Andrew Shepherd, AIA’s senior director of industry programs, believes that a more inclusive association raises its credibility and clout in Ottawa.
“The entire point of what we’re doing is to help lobbying efforts on issues such as right to repair,” he says. “When we go to Senate committees, or to members of parliament and they ask who we represent, we cannot say we represent that largest and most important cadre of the industry. This solves that problem for us. It is an advantage.”
Furthermore, having shops as participants in the association will fuel internal research projects and give AIA a better grip on exactly what the industry looks like.
A direct connection to the grass roots is a massive benefit – not just to the progressive shop owners who take advantage of the new program, but to jobbers, wholesalers, and the entire aftermarket industry.