2024 AASP-MN Annual Meeting & Leadership Conference Readies Today’s Shops for Brighter Tomorrows

by Alana Quartuccio

What does tomorrow’s shop look like? Tomorrow’s shop understands today’s current climate. Tomorrow’s shop embraces technology changes. Tomorrow’s shop knows how to recognize the needs of an up-and-coming generation of customers and employees.

These are just a few examples of the big picture automotive and collision repair professionals were exposed to during AASP-MN’s Annual Meeting & Leadership Conference, “The Shop of Tomorrow,” held at the Crowne Plaza Minneapolis West at the end of March. 

This year’s event offered two full days of activities designed to get shops thinking about what they can do today to prepare for tomorrow by way of roundtable discussions, presentations from nationally- renowned presenters, interactive workshops and vendor displays. 

AASP-MN hit the ground running on Day One by preparing automotive professionals with ammunition to increase profit, learn about laws and regulations and implement better hiring practices. 

AASP-MN Executive Director Linden Wicklund and Lobbyist Shannon K. Mitchell teamed up to give shop owners the skillset to be able to find laws and statutes to back up negotiations in order to fight for proper repairs and be reimbursed properly. “The idea is to get you to figure out how to use what you learn about legislation to be able to convince the other person on the phone – the insurer – about what is against the law and to tell them it is in their best interest to listen to what you have to say,” Wicklund explained. 

Many also took the opportunity to hear from Rick White of 180BIZ, whose accounting-based discussion showed shop owners how to understand their KPIs, what goals to set and how to go about reaching them. “You can create a personal goal for yourself and your family and figure out what you have to do to get there,” he demonstrated. Shop owners also gained new insight about hiring practices via the Rework America Alliance team as they explored the entire process, from job descriptions to interviewing, upskilling and systems changes. 

Day Two started off with loads of activity as automotive professionals from all over the state filed into the banquet room to enjoy breakfast with vendors, while Wicklund encouraged all to “have some coffee and meet someone you haven’t met before. 

“I like to say that I’m an extension of your team,” she continued. “The Alliance is here to help you in your business. We’ve been around for decades, because we figured out how to evolve the same way you folks evolve and understand what’s happening in the current climate. So, let us know what you need. We are listening all the time. When we put together the conference, it’s based on all the feedback we’ve had over the past year, figuring out what shops really need to be thinking about.” She also commended those who brought along team members, reminding them, “You get more out of it when you bring someone else along, and it will help you with implementation when you get back to the shop.” 

Dr. Melissa Furman (Career Potential LLC) dove into her opening keynote presentation, “Leading for Today and Tomorrow,” which clearly outlined the message that, in order to prepare for the future, one must understand the diversity that exists today. “If you are not thinking about the future and how the customer base that you are all selling to is going to be so different, you may be in trouble.” 

The workforce is dramatically changing, according to Furman. “It’s becoming more diverse. And when I say diverse, I’m not just talking about gender or ethnicity; I’m talking about diversity of thought. And when these people with diverse perspectives show up in your workplace, they think of work very differently than most of you in this room. These diverse folks are going to expect something very different from the workplace environments that you all are used to.”

Furman motivated the audience to do a “gut assessment” to determine if they have what it takes to lead in the future, and she explored how to decide if one can make the necessary changes or instead be willing to empower someone else on the team to lead. “You may need to do a gut check on the way you run your business, as you may actually be burning out your employees.”

She got members thinking about the systems, protocols and infrastructures they have in place that may be built on old rules and not relevant to today’s needs. “The future landscape is so different that if you don’t figure out how to be relevant, you will have a hard time recruiting and retaining talent and a customer base.”

Furman provided several recommendations on preparing for the future, which includes taking the time to determine one’s own motivations, work ethic and use of emotions. “This is important because people want to know that you care. You need to connect with them, and you need emotional intelligence to be able to do that.” 

Roundtable discussions followed, allowing attendees the opportunity to choose four of the following topics: “Employee Training & Promoting,” “Building & Lot Management,” “Shop Customer Communications & Contracts,” “Tech School Partnerships & Internships,” “SCRS Blend Study,” “Recruitment Strategies,” “Scans & Safety Repairs,” “Shop Safety” and “Business KPIs.” 

The Alliance’s Annual Meeting portion of the event got underway during lunch as leaders shared announcements, recognition and goals for the coming year. 

Outgoing President Mike McLynn (Automotive Electric; Grand Rapids) spoke about the benefits of volunteering time to the Alliance, which ultimately provides one with the opportunity to change their business. He stressed it’s a relatively small time commitment and “getting involved has brought my business a long way.” 

Outgoing Board members Travis Doyle (Arrowhead Auto Body; Duluth) and Jesse Jacobson (Heppner’s Auto Body; Woodbury) were presented with plaques in honor of their volunteerism. The Alliance also welcomed newcomers Ashlan Kaplan (Cannon Auto Repair; Cannon Falls), Scott Miller (Collision Specialists; Austin) and Brandon Wistrom (Deano’s Collision & Mechanical; Elk River) to the Board.

Incoming President Aaron Swanson (LaMettry’s Collision; Eden Prairie) thanked everyone for their support and expressed his appreciation to all those who volunteer their time to the Alliance.

Wicklund reported the Alliance continues its mission to encourage members to engage with the association, elevate their voices, share their issues and build on the tenure of the organization to keep momentum going. The biggest concern members have come forward with is workforce challenges; therefore, the Alliance worked with MNCARS to host the very first Automotive Workforce Summit last fall. Conversations that followed from that event led Alliance leaders to think about how to engage young people who may have zero connection to the automotive world into automotive careers. “We know there are kids who are going to go into automotive programs because they love cars and are passionate about building things, but there are also a lot who don’t know how to use a screwdriver. They have no notion of automotive as there is no connection point for them or career pathway to take advantage of,” Wicklund elaborated. 

Conversations led the Alliance and MNCARS to invest $40,000 to purchase 40 motor bike kits to be given to schools all around the state. “It’s a solid heavy-duty vehicle that kids can interact with, build and can also be rebuilt,” she explained. The Alliance is working with schools to purchase the kits (the school invests $1,000, while the Alliance puts up the other $1,000). Wicklund hopes to see this program take off and encourages shops to consider putting in the monetary investment to get these bikes into schools in their area as well. 

Breakout sessions followed lunch. Dave Luehr of Elite Body Shop Solutions gave shop owners the leverage they need to “break free” and achieve the freedoms that entrepreneurs crave. Sharing his own struggles from humble beginnings, Luehr spoke about his discovery of the “mastermind concept.” Referencing the book Think and Grow Rich, he recalled learning, “The mastermind may be defined as a coordination of knowledge and effort in a spirit or harmony between two or more people for the attainment of a definite purpose.”

Luehr recognized he “had the purpose but not the coordination or the effort. I didn’t have the mastermind.” He went on to outline how entrepreneurs can achieve the four freedoms – time, money, relationships and purpose – of entrepreneurship by utilizing the framework of people, process and planning.

“I want you to leave here with some ideas, so when you get back to the rush of the realities in your shop, you have steps to help you positively change your business.” 

Financial experts Johan Gomez Sang and Kevin Pleasant (Minnesota Bank and Trust) and Brent Lundell (Alerus Bank) reviewed trends in the automotive industry in Minnesota while discussing the resources business can tap to help reach their business goals with their “Leverage Financial Resources to Expand or Stabilize Your Business” breakout session. 

They advised shop owners to find the right people to work with to help guide their business finances. “You want to find those who understand the business and can help with cash flow,” stated Lundell.

180BIZ’s Rick White returned to persuade automotive professionals to change the way they think about how to sell their services with his breakout session “Technology Doesn’t Close Sales; YOU Do!” 

It all comes down to communication. “When you communicate with the client, don’t go into nauseating detail. They don’t want to hear, ‘We’ll let you know if we find more problems.’ Don’t ask for permission.” 

The key is being sure to successfully introduce needed services. 

“Can we stop calling it an oil change and refer to it as a 5,000-mile service?” White offered an example. “We have to get people to stop thinking that one oil change will keep their car dependable for six months. We should start calling it a service so they understand that the oil will be changed and the filter will be changed as part of that service.”

Furman’s breakout session, “Navigating the Multigenerational Workforce & Customer Base,” expanded on her earlier keynote speech as she dove deeper into understanding the differences in people and how best to communicate around those differences. 

“My lens is different than yours, and your lens is different than mine. I don’t have to agree with your lens, and you don’t have to agree with mine. Instead of trying to convince someone to agree with your lens, you need to respect their lens and they need to respect yours. That is what this is all about.” 

Entrepreneurial business coach Matt Schneider closed out the conference with his heartfelt and honest tale of how he rebuilt his personal and professional life after a string of early failures into what is now a successful eight-figure enterprise with his closing keynote “Paid for Done – The Pathway to an Eight-Figure Enterprise.”

“I thought if I worked hard enough, success would just come,” Schneider admitted. “When you work for someone, the checks come every other week. I knew my payscale. I had security. I didn’t realize that until I stepped away and became an entrepreneur.” 

When things went downhill, he and his family faced eviction. He owed a lot of money and felt as though every relationship he had was deteriorating. “It felt like I was in a desert surrounded by 360 degrees of sand, and if someone had told me safety was just 100 yards away, I didn’t know which way to go to get to it.”

Once he made a commitment to change by implementing four core values, it “made a massive difference for me and my team and my family.” Taking the “burn the boats” course, having integrity and a high “give a sh*t” factor and exercising stoicism are his guides. “Have core values and let that be your North Star.” 

AASP-MN is grateful to all its sponsors who supported the event and provided various prizes that were awarded throughout the day. 

Want more? Check out the May 2024 issue of AASP-MN News!