2023 AASP-MN Annual Meeting & Leadership Conference Leaves Automotive Professionals with “New Perspectives”

by Alana Quartuccio

Celebrating accomplishments, strategic planning, exploring the DNA of champions and being reminded about why it is so very important to fix cars correctly are just some of the many takeaways from the Alliance’s 2023 Annual Meeting & Leadership Conference, held April 4 and 5 at the Marriott Minneapolis Northwest.

Each and every component of the two-day event was designed to leave Minnesota automotive repair professionals with new perspectives, not only on building and improving their businesses, but also shaping them toward more effective leadership.

Things kicked off with several options for repairers to learn about everything from ADAS to improving one’s bottom line and writing more effective estimates. The day was – literally – topped off with an evening of fun at Topgolf where food, drinks and social interaction were, of course, par for the course!

AASP-MN member shop LaMettry’s Collision welcomed fellow repair professionals into their Bloomington location for an up-close view of what is needed to perform ADAS calibrations on site. “It gave them an opportunity to see what goes into operating a space like this, along with the tooling and equipment needed,” explained Paul Bostel, lead master technician. He added that the average shop likely deals with space constraints, and their shop is utilizing the open space in their 13,000 square facility to be able to handle these ADAS calibrations.

“You don’t grow from a place of fear…you grow from a place of abundance. You grow from gratitude. When you are afraid, you retract, you constrict, you ball yourself up and don’t put yourself out there,” stressed Rick White (180BIZ) as he presented “Six Steps to Skyrocketing Your Bottom Line.”

“If everyone tells you ‘you are the only one’ and ‘you can’t charge for that,’ people start to believe it,” shared Josh Shaw (Shannon’s Auto Body; Brainerd) who presented “Writing and Negotiating Estimates from a Minnesota Expert.”

“I can stand here all day and tell you that you can charge for that, but until you start doing it and seeing it, you won’t really get it. Some people are amazed when they find out we can charge for some of these things.”

Best-selling author Ross Bernstein, who has written over 50 sports-business books in his career, kicked things off on April 5 with the first part of his keynote presentation, “The Champion’s Code.” After grabbing some coffee and breakfast treats while visiting vendors, attendees filed into the ballroom at Marriott Minneapolis Northwest where they were engaged and inspired to think differently about raising their game to the next level.

Bernstein used sports icons as examples of how one can be a champion in their own businesses.

“We like to do business and be led by givers, not takers,” Bernstein expressed. “Look at NHL’s Wayne Gretsky. Wayne was a captain. It was his responsibility to lead. When I asked him what he considered to be his legacy, he thought about it and said he wanted to be known as the hardest worker – to be the guy who helped his teammates the most. Wayne never threw his teammates under the bus. It was his job, his purpose, to help make them better. He said he enjoyed assists more than scoring goals. He made it his job to build confidence in others.”

Taking a page out of the book of NFL great Tom Brady, Bernstein demonstrated that “in sports and business, it can be easy to get to the top but harder to stay at the top. That’s the essence of the dynasty mentality. It’s about consistency to get to the top and to stay at the top, to kill your customers with amazing service.

“Forty-five is dog years in professional sports, and Brady was playing professional sports among kids half his age,” he continued. “I interviewed thousands of athletes in my career, and I never met a more competitive human being in my entire life.”

Brady hated losing more than he loved winning; the fear of failure drove him. According to Bernstein, Brady was so determined to stay on top of his game that he spent $2 million to hire private coaches to work with him in areas of diet and nutrition, mental health and sleep.

Next, AASP-MN Executive Director Linden Wicklund took to the mic to share vital State of the Industry information compiled via a survey conducted amongst member and non-member shops across the state to help the Alliance get a better understanding of the realities in shops today as part of the association’s strategic planning agenda.

The survey polled mechanical and collision shops in various areas such as how long they’ve been in business, what work they specialize in and the biggest challenges they face. It also polled shops about exit strategies, electric vehicle (EV) readiness, ADAS and thensome. The information ruled out assumptions, helping to paint a clearer picture of what these businesses face in today’s world.

Some similarities between mechanical and collision were found, such as both sides have been feeling the burn of the tech shortage. In addition to staff woes, both cited receiving payment and overhead expenses among their biggest challenges.

It was also assumed that rural area shops would have more repeat customers over metropolitan areas where more shops are located, but the collected data showed the opposite, as Wicklund pointed out.

She left repairers with a lot to think about and asked them to consider what tomorrow looks like in their shop. “Reach out to me. Chat with people here. Figure out what your business will look like in the next 10 or 20 years. Ask yourself: what are you doing today? Who are your customers? Who are the technicians you hire, and what are the technologies you are working on?”

Next, attendees participated in roundtable discussions on the following leadership/general business topics: “Under Construction”, “Inclusive Shop Culture,” “Customer Retention & Five Stars,” “Hiring Students & Tech School Partnerships,” “Small Changes with Big Returns,” “ADAS,” “Electric Vehicles” as well collision-specific topics “DRPs & OEM Certifications – When to Add or Drop” and “Negotiation Tips and Tricks” and the mechanical-specific topic, “Hiring an Experienced Mechanic & Other Magic Tricks.”

Led by Tony Newman (Dale Feste Automotive; Hopkins), the biggest takeaway many participants took from the “Hiring an Experienced Mechanic & Other Magic Tricks” discussion was that in-house referrals led to some of the best new hires.

“Change can bring challenges,” commented Wayne Watson (Auto Works Automotive Service Center; Woodbury) who led the “Under Construction” roundtable. “It was fun listening to everyone talk about remodeling, etc. Every story told about change had challenges that were not planned for. Everyone’s story had a happy ending, thank goodness.”

During lunch, the Alliance dove into its Annual Meeting, welcoming new Board members, honoring outgoing ones and celebrating accomplishments achieved in 2022.

Plaques were presented to outgoing Board members Lee Schlosser (Autoworks Collision Center; Rockford), Tom Archambault (BLVD Autoworks; St. Anthony) and Jeremy Nordgren (Nordgren Automotive; Medina), who was not present. New to the Board for 2023-2024 are Tim Kruze (TGK Automotive; Hugo), along with Randy Notto (Lenfer Transmission; Lino Lakes), as mechanical seats, and Shannon Christian (Shannon’s Auto Body; Brainerd) as collision seat. (Learn more about the new Board members on page 6).

Outgoing President Jesse Jacobson (Heppner’s Auto Body; Woodbury) championed Wicklund who came on board as executive director at the start of 2022. “My job, along with the rest of the board, was to lend support as Linden found her own way leading the organization. She has been working hard since day one, has immersed herself in the issues affecting our members and has been actively working to find solutions.”

He then cited the Alliance’s strategic plan for the next three to five years: to tackle the workforce shortage issues with a broad lens, continue to build on the Alliance’s tenure as a leader and to lead by amplifying its members’ voices.

Jacobson also thanked the Alliance’s sponsors for their support. “They are our ambassadors and our allies.”

Carrying out the tradition of passing the gavel, Jacobson turned it over to Incoming President Mike McLynn (Automotive Electric; Grand Rapids).

McLynn thanked Jacobson for his leadership and the great ideas he has brought to the Board and looks forward to working with him and the entire Board in his role as President.

Wicklund reminded members about the regional meetings they have launched that meet in person or via Zoom on a monthly basis and provided an update on MNCARS, which “has done an incredible job with social media outreach and marketing.”

“MNCARS has been around long enough to know how to stand our ground and get our work done, and it is mature enough to reach out and build strong partnerships,” reinforced Wicklund. She looks forward to the automotive workforce summit planned for this summer, which will bring organizations together to help bring forth the next round of leaders in this industry.

Next, attendees got an up close and personal account of a family whose lives were altered forever due to an improper repair. Whether one was previously familiar with the John Eagle Collision Center case or not, it was certainly an eye-opening experience to listen to Marcia Seebachan talk about the ongoing pain and loss she and her husband Matthew have to live with for the rest of their lives.

Photos of the burnt and crumbled remains of the Honda Fit were displayed for attendees as Marcia went through their struggle for survival and the shock they experienced when it was discovered they suffered severe injuries because the roof was not welded on as per OEM standards, but glued. Their story has changed how the industry looks at safe and proper repairs.

“Most people drive pre-owned cars. I have not met a single person who was aware that cars are not being fixed right. People deserve to make informed decisions when they are buying a car,” she stated, as she pleaded for every repairer to consider everyone’s lives when they fix vehicles.

A series of breakout sessions followed Seebachan’s presentation.

“Short Pay Resolution Pathways,” presented by Brian Chenvert (Insuraclaim), dove into controlling the narrative of the claim. Shops are likely to hear “we don’t pay for that” when negotiating, and Chenvert reminded repairers that it’s actually the insured’s duty to present their claim to the insurance company, not the body shop. “It’s up to the insurer, but the reason they allow you to put in the claim is because they are trying to control the narrative.” He also went over the importance of understanding Minnesota statutes and when to file a complaint with the Department of Commerce.

Attendees heard more from Ross Bernstein who dove deeper into his sports-business analogies with “Wearing the C.” Out of all the sports in the world, golf is truly the only one that has a culture of integrity. He pointed to Hale Irwin who was honest about taking a practice shot and would report this to the judges to make sure he took the penalty.

“Doing the right thing, even when no one is looking. That is what you need to think about at your shops. Are people doing the right thing?”

Rick White of 180BIZ returned to the seminar floor offering “Profit Shouldn’t Be an Accident,” where he stressed “grow to profit” mentality is not the way to go as one will wind up just digging a hole. If a shop has the potential to hire four technicians but only has the work for three, it’s not smart to hire that fourth tech until the work is backed up for weeks. “You don’t want to grow to profitability; you want to profit all the time,” he advised.

As EVs sales start to grow, it is important for shops to start thinking about taking on the business of servicing these vehicles. Brett Kinsfather of ShopMonkey spoke on “The EV Servicing Opportunity for Independent Shop Owners.” Currently, there are roughly 15,000 EVs being driven in the state which “isn’t a huge number, but it is growing and is something to think about,” suggested Kinsfather.

Led by Bradley Peterson (Sunbelt Business Advisors), the “Preparing to Buy, Sell or Expand” panel discussion featuring Tom Archambault, Calvin Smith and Kevin Elden gave automotive shop owners the chance to hear from their peers who have had success in growing and selling their businesses.

For Elden, a former shop owner, it was important to him and to his employees to make sure his business went into good hands and would be maintained the way he always did. He turned over what he called his “Bible” to the successor. “It had everything. Emails, contacts and all my standard operating procedures. It even had information on who cleans the bathroom. It took out the guesswork.

“I felt very comfortable selling it to [the new owner] as I knew it would be okay, as long as they relied on the people I had there.”

Archambault shared stories of having worked with a business coach, which was quite beneficial to his business. To him, the move to use a coach was “not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength.”

Josh Shaw dove deeper into the importance of writing proper estimates with “Profitable Collision Repair Plans,” where he prompted fellow collision repairers to be firm. “If you keep doing the same thing over and over again and not making any ground, why is that? You want to have a profit. I can get into a discussion with XYZ insurance company, but at the end of the day, it’s whatever we decide as a business.” He suggested working with other repairers can help everyone get on the same page. “As an industry, we won’t move forward, unless we all put it out there.”

After happy hour and more vendor interaction, everyone gathered for the final portion of Ross Bernstein’s presentation.

As he reviewed 10 more business improvement ideas inspired by some of the sports world’s greatest, he stressed that driving change is about finding one’s own way – and there really is no one right way.

He told the story of Lyndsay Vohn, known as one of the greatest skiers of all time. She never stopped reaching for more when she met a goal. She would simply raise the bar. Raising the bar took her as far as she could go, and when she wasn’t able to reach her last goal, she found a new purpose as trainer to Mikaela Shiffrin who wound up surpassing Vohn as the greatest skier in the world.

Bernstein’s final message was “Provide incredible customer service. If you don’t, then someone else will.”

Prizes were presented throughout the day courtesy of AASP-MN’s sponsors. Congrats to grand prize winner Cathy Ruhmann (Referral Collision; Shakopee) who won a $200 Visa gift card and a planter, which Wicklund plans to personally hand deliver to her shop filled with fresh flowers.

Want more? Check out the May 2023 issue of AASP-MN News!