The year ahead will be about evolution, not revolution. So says Tony Canade of his upcoming year-long tenure as chair of the Automotive Industries Association of Canada. He adds that he knows that may be a challenge, considering the work that lies ahead for both himself and the association.
Canade, president and COO of the Assured Automotive collision repair network, is the first AIA chair to come from the collision repair sector since Carstar’s Larry Jefferies, who served as chair from 2004 to 2005. But Canade has worked closely with industry bodies for years, having served previously as the chair of the Canadian Collision Industry Forum.
Canade is a meticulous, detail-oriented person, and a sports fanatic – his office is filled with sports memorabilia, very neatly arranged. He is also an avid drummer; he finds that it provides both a release from daily stresses, and a means to subconsciously find creative solutions to business challenges. (He also has the dubious distinction of having provided the backbeat for this writer’s one and only guitar and vocal performance at an industry event: the CCIF jam night in Vancouver in 2010.)
He will have much more critical tasks ahead for the association – arguably, greater than many of those who have served in the role in recent years.
For starters, the association will be faced with finding a replacement for president and CEO Marc Brazeau, who leaves for a new role in the industry with the Uni-Select network in May. Brazeau – who was with the association for 20 years, the last eight as president and CEO – can be rightly credited with shepherding the association into an era of increased services to the industry (most notably, delivering I-CAR training to the collision repair sector), and greatly increased effectiveness as an association. Broader recognition of the association’s potential led to its being selected to manage the Heavy Duty Association of Canada (formerly the Heavy Duty Distributors Council), and most recently, the Canadian Collision Industry Forum.
“He’s been with the association for almost 20 years. He has been fantastic. He has done a wonderful job of growing the association, brought an incredible level of professionalism, and has been instrumental in setting the AIA up as a much-respected organization.
“The second thing that Marc did very well was grooming the staff there. There’s a great team there. The skill sets are all in line with what our priorities are.
“As much as we are sad to see Marc go, at the end of the day, operationally we are very sound. Our staff in Ottawa knows what needs to be done. The association is in great shape, and we are viewing this as an opportunity to bring in some different thinking, a different set of eyes.”
Canade himself has a unique perspective as a member of the collision repair industry, which, while part of the larger aftermarket, has some specific dynamics in terms of customer relationships, financial structure, regulatory structure, and training needs.
“From the collision repair standpoint, it is becoming more prevalent today because of the proliferation of vehicle and model changes and designs. In the old days they’d come up with a new Monte Carlo, and that would have an eight-year run. Now the amount of time between model redesigns is almost half,” to speak nothing of the many running changes that occur. “We’re dealing with newer vehicles on a much grander scale than much of the aftermarket.
“There are a lot of instances where a car lands at a collision repair facility and we can’t get parts because all the parts are being used for production. And we don’t have a repair procedure, because the manufacturers are still working through that. And the vehicles are using materials and technologies that were only found in the space program not many years ago,” he says.
“So there are ongoing challenges, and it is really starting to work its way through the aftermarket. The collision repair side sees it much sooner, but it’s coming – even for the traditional aftermarket – more quickly than it has in the past.”
But Canade says he’s completely confident the AIA is well positioned to help the industry meet the challenge.
“What I really consider the association to be is a resource to the industry, so we need to look at ways to support the industry. That means access to the latest repair information to make sure that we’re working closely with the OEMs on the CASIS site.
“The AIA hasn’t been as involved in training, but there may be a need to support our members so that they can pass along the right information and technology to their constituency. Through thinking like this, we will get a pretty good handle about what we should be working on.”
A central objective over the next year for the association is building a closer connection to the jobber. A series of focus groups conducted last year revealed a significant communications gap between the association and the wholesaler membership community.
“As a membership group, the jobbers are the largest by number, and if we go back to when the association started, it was started by jobbers. But the jobber’s world has changed dramatically over the past 10 to 15 years. [We need to] ensure that we are delivering value for all our members, and the jobber is critical. We never want to alienate any sector of our membership, but especially the jobbers, with the critical role they play in the aftermarket industry.
“Last year, we started the process of further engaging with them, looking at things that are specific to them and seeing how we as the AIA can bring additional value to the jobber membership group.”
You can also add real estate needs to Canade’s portfolio. On top of everything else, the association has outgrown its offices and will have to move sooner rather than later, certainly over the coming year.
Canade knows he has a challenging year ahead, but he knows too that there is a strong infrastructure of people and expertise to rely on for support. “At the end of the day, we have a super strong organization, the strongest it has been in years. We are in a fantastic position. There are lots of exciting opportunities moving forward.
“The challenge is you have to do it all at once.”
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