Auto Service World
Feature   May 3, 2019   by Adam Malik

Putting his Best foot forward

AIA Canada’s incoming chairman wants to see more communication. The addition of service providers to the ranks is the first step.

Jason Best is the incoming chairman of the Automotive Industries Association of Canada.

In this rapidly changing world, communication can make or break you.

For his next year as chairman of the Automotive Industries Association of Canada, Jason Best wants to break down as many barriers as he can.

“We’ve heard a big cry from the members in terms of engagement. The general comment is, ‘What do I get for my investment in AIA?’” Best said. “I think that our biggest focus over the next two to three years is going to be in clearly defining what that message is.”

It’s no secret that technological advancement is altering the landscape of the industry. As challenges vibrate through the aftermarket, it’s up to the AIA to lead its members – and the industry as a whole – through times that may seem confusing, difficult and unknown while highlighting the opportunities in front of them.

“We’re at a time where the automotive aftermarket is changing – and it changes every day – but we’re really at that crossroad. There’s consolidation. There’s change in what’s being replaced on a vehicle. There’s a lot of new players in the automotive aftermarket,” Best said. “You’re at a point where you need to define it. So as an association it’s our job to make sure that people understand what those do to your everyday business model, how it impacts your everyday business model and how we can provide them information.”

The AIA isn’t going to involve itself with how to facilitate sales throughout the supply chain, but instead on these new factors that can derail that process.

“We’ve heard a big cry from the members in terms of engagement. The general comment is, ‘What do I get for my investment in AIA?’”

Jason Best, incoming AIA Chairman

“We’re looking at how we can communicate the message and the impact that it has on their individual business segment,” Best said. “The industry association has to remain hyper-focused on how we’re going to communicate what those challenges or opportunities are and how we’re addressing those behind the scenes.”

Hence the announcement of the Automotive Service Association Program (ASAP). In times of change, it’s imperative to gather more voices, especially shop owners who are vital to the aftermarket.

“I think we have to engage them more within our business model. Ultimately, they are the end user of our product. They’re the ones who can provide the feedback on the quality of products, on the serviceability, the impacts of online pricing, the accessibility to vehicle data –they’re the heartbeat of what happens in the automotive aftermarket,” Best said. “Including them within the association and expanding their involvement in the association, I think, is a very big step in the right direction.”

Whether it’s stubbornness or falling back on the excuse of “it’s always been that way,” the AIA has been viewed primarily as a body that caters to suppliers and jobbers. That can’t be the case anymore.

“It’s a shift in terms of the membership base. It’s a shift in terms of the involvement with the service providers within different levels of the association and their feedback in terms of knowing how these things impact their business model,” Best said.

“It’s a shift in terms of the involvement with the service providers within different levels of the association and their feedback in terms of knowing how these things impact their business model.”

Jason Best, incoming AIA Chairman

Specifically, the AIA wants feedback on the what shops are seeing and hearing from the consumer and how the supply chain looks to them. Are things working as best as they can? Where can improvements be made? Should something happen a different way?

Best compared service providers to a goalie – they see the game from a different point of view as the last line of defence. They can see breakdowns and where the weaknesses are. The shops are the ones who know best as to what will impact consumers the most.

“Your service providers see the distribution model probably a lot differently than a manufacturer does. Having their input on what they see as derailers, inhibitor, potential roadblocks down the future – their input is dramatically needed,” Best said. “They’re driving certain decisions in terms of online buying, the way that they purchase products, the way that they buy brands, the way that maybe brands are not important in certain categories versus others. So having them on board, they’re the lifeline of what we are.”

ASAP could also be the start of reshaping the entire AIA. While the program doesn’t give full membership – service providers get non-voting associate status – it’s a foot in the door that can be the building blocks to greater change. Best wants to see more voices around the table.

“The makeup has to involve more of who really is the voice of the automotive aftermarket,” he said. “You need more diversity.”

The AIA won’t lose its focus on the jobber network, but it needs to be understood that gathering shop viewpoints is only going to help them do their jobs better. The AIA isn’t just a fact-gatherer, the group needs to provide solutions. There is nervousness about electric vehicles, advanced driver assistance systems, online competition and more.

“They need to understand what is going to impact their business and they don’t necessarily have time to do all the research,” Best said. “It’s our job then to equip them with the right information and tools that make their job easier so they can adapt their business model to whatever trends in vehicle repair replacement is coming.”

Search for talent

If you’re looking for the secret sauce to fix hiring problems, Best is upfront in saying he doesn’t have it. He acknowledges that the aftermarket – and the automotive industry as a whole – is already working from a disadvantage as public perception of the industry isn’t high.

“It’s a grudge purchase. It’s not something that you wake up in the morning and are excited to replace a component on a vehicle. What is the interesting part of that?” Best said.

But here’s where all the talk about technology works out in the industry’s favour. As school put more focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, this is a sector that needs those bright minds today, perhaps more than any other field.

“A lot of focus is on data technology, artificial intelligence – those type of things play a huge role in the automotive industry,” Best said. “The messaging long term is, we’re not just a ‘turn the wrench’ industry. The industry itself relies heavily on data. As the vehicle itself becomes more complex to repair, the need for more a solutions-type mind frame that focuses on how to access vehicle information, how to access data, how to repair those type of repairs in a vehicle that is more complex, it plays into the type of youth coming out of higher education where they want to be more involved in the cutting edge.”

“A lot of focus is on data technology, artificial intelligence – those type of things play a huge role in the automotive industry.”

Jason Best, incoming AIA Chairman

The skills of a technician 10 years ago are different than what are needed today, which will be different again 10 years from now. The picture needs to be painted for young people about the excitement that lies ahead.

“We need to we need to provide that platform, that messaging, on how the automotive aftermarket itself is an evolving ever-changing dynamic that provides the future in terms of integrating technology with the ability to transport people from A to B,” Best said.

Tackling tariffs

Jason Best is senior vice president of the aftermarket division of Spectra Premium in Boucherville, Que.

Steel and aluminum tariffs have taken a big bite out of manufacturers’ bottom lines and there doesn’t appear to be any relief in sight. Initially, suppliers swallowed the pill of rising costs but the issue has dragged on for so long now that those costs are starting to filter through the supply chain. Recent reports indicate that getting the United States to pass the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement through Congress before August would be ambitious. That means a possible resolution to tariffs – which was not included in the agreement – will likely wait until then.

Unfortunately, the AIA’s hands are tied for the most part. They’re working with their partners in the U.S. on joint messaging and doing their best to keep their members in the loop.

“We have to live with the consequences of what it brings,” Best said. “Our job is to make sure that we’re the best communicators. We have to make sure that when something changes there’s no lag in terms of communication. It has to be immediate, it has to come with solutions and it has to come with clarity.”

Change for the Best

Jason Best is an aftermarket lifer.

The incoming chairman for the Automotive Industries Association of Canada started in his father’s business, Coulter Radiator Manufacturing, right out of high school in Windsor, Ont. He joined Spectra Premium in 1997 when they acquired Coulter, which had been Spectra’s distributor, and has moved up the ranks ever since.

He has spent his career in the sales and business development side of things, managing distribution channels in the United States and managing business operations in Europe. He is now the senior vice president of the aftermarket division of Spectra, based in Boucherville, Que.

“The automotive aftermarket is the only thing that I have ever known in my life. I guess the thing for me that really keeps me motivated on a day to day a basis is that my two days are never the same. You know from one day to the other I like to call it an ever-changing dynamic,” he said.

Whether it’s the technological changes or the people in the industry, he loves it all. But what he looks forward to the most is helping solve problems, no matter where they may be.

“What I love about it is the ability to change the aftermarket, to change the perception of what the aftermarket is, to provide solutions – solutions for our customers, for our employees, for the industry and association, and look at how we can transition where we’re at today into the future in terms of vehicle technology what the impact is on some of the be the old pioneers of the business and how that’s adapting,” he said.

Access to data

The fight for data is set to be a big one and Best is prepared to fight as hard as he can to ensure consumers are protected at the end of the day.

“From our standpoint, when you purchase a vehicle, you have that choice thereafter in terms of where you’re going to service it. It’s similar to repairing an appliance in your home – you have that choice and that choice is your right as a human being,” Best said.

To take away a repair shop’s ability to scan a vehicle and look up data to find out why simple engine light is going off is to monopolize the industry in favour of dealerships – a network that is small.

“Quite frankly there are not enough dealerships on every corner,” Best said. “Some people don’t have the means, the access or even the money to go to back to the dealer to replace or repair a simple fix in the vehicle.”

Online marketplace

As online competitors increasingly creep on the traditional aftermarket’s space, Best is keeping an eye on how to support brick and mortar jobbers.

“I think that when you look at it, the impact that that has for the price standpoint throughout the supply chain, it’s something that everybody has to watch,” he said.

With Amazon investing in distribution centres, the threat only grows. Best said the supply chain will need to be efficient so that parts are available and ready to be sent out quickly.