Association resident Ray Datt is confident that with hard work the Automotive Industries Association of Canada (AIA) will be more vibrant than ever, and that it will provide its members with more value, consistent with their current needs.
Datt explains that the association is putting more focus on grassroots involvement with members through regional events.
“Quite frankly, the national activities we have had in the past as a business model don’t work as well today. Ten years ago, there were a lot of independent wholesalers in the marketplace. Today, almost every wholesaler is affiliated with a group of some type. There isn’t the same compelling reason to get together once a year.
“The regional events have been very successful and are growing in popularity. The Quebec Forum, as an example, had close to 200 participants this past March. Last November, the Northern Alberta Division and the Booster Club events attracted more than 250 people. The Annual Christmas Luncheon in Manitoba attracted 75 people. Obviously it speaks to the need to go to the grassroots activity level.
“We want to get more wholesalers involved on a regional basis in short but value-packed activities,” he continues. “The PEI Convention this May is a kind of hybrid. While it is the National Convention, the Convention Organizing Committee chaired by Charlie Taylor has worked hard to ensure that wholesalers will get a great deal of value by attending. The focus on jobber activities and opportunities makes it more like a regional event.
“Certainly the Red Deer event is just that (regional). The Northern and Southern Alberta Divisions have put together a local committee to organize and run it. It is a sort of a regional test. We are going to put together a working group after the event to see what went well and determine whether we should expand regional events even more, perhaps to two or three per year.
“I’m optimistic that we will strategically pick two or three places every year and move them around, but I’m keeping an open mind. Years ago we had some regional events and they went well for a while, but then for some reason people wanted something different.”
Many of the changes at the association have been brought about by the cancellation of the association’s key national event, the Canadian International Automotive Show, which was to be held next in 2004. Datt says that changes in the way brands are treated and distributed made the show less useful, so it has been put on hold for a year.
“Unfortunately this year we needed to raise the membership dues to pay for some of the services that the show revenue paid for. We have also done a number of things to cut back on operating costs and find new sources of revenue. We have exceeded our expectations in this area, and so the association is on solid ground to continue to provide key government relations, information, networking, and image-enhancing services to the aftermarket industry.” But, says Datt, jobber membership still needs to increase from its current level of about 800.
“Not for financial reasons, but so that we have a voice with government and the critical mass that goes with that. If our main role is in government relations, then we must represent every single jobber in this country. Then when we meet with ministers, we can say that the AIA represents everyone in the aftermarket.”