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ASA Hits Its Stride Online

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Earlier this month the Automotive Service Association’s (ASA) leadership team went digital, opting to convene online for its 2020 Annual Business Meeting to provide members with detailed updates and a peak at what’s to come in the year ahead.

The online meeting, which allowed members across the country to log on, tune in and send on questions in real time, was a first for the association that had held all previous annual board meetings in person. But it was also one of many key digital resources the ASA’s provided its members with throughout the year, part of a well-timed effort to offer valuable assets members members can access anywhere, anytime.

The Ratchet+Wrench team caught up with ASA president and executive director Ray Fisher to learn how the association’s invested in its digital strategies, reflect on key takeaways from the Board’s meeting, and its plans for 2021. 

What were some of ASA’s big goals for this past year?

We started out 2019 by looking at the organization as a whole and talking through all of the things we wanted to accomplish, and the mediums we wanted to use to get there. We took a deep look at what was working and what wasn’t, and knew we wanted to elevate our efforts online among other initiatives.

Last August we sent our vice president of industry relations to a “podcast school” and invested in the equipment to get a podcast off the ground late last year. We’d started to discuss increasing our weekly webinars and started putting more time into some of our other online efforts when COVID-19 hit and, needless to say, all of those digital tools were suddenly in much higher demand and our timing to focus on digital was actually 

What were some highlights from the association’s work over the year?

We certainly increased that webinar frequency and ramped up all of our digital efforts across the board with our social media presence, podcast, web updates, everything. We know that not not everyone reads emails or listens to podcasts, so we had to make sure that with everything that’s happened this year with COVID-19 and the election and everything in between, that we weren’t just delivering messages across multiple mediums but really keeping people informed and up to date.

The industry really had to really change overnight and our audience engagement demonstrated the desire for those resources. We saw consistent growth in the interest for those webinars and podcasts with listeners on every continent, saw over 140 percent growth in our social media following over the last two years and brought on nearly 50 new members since July alone.

We also accomplished a huge task in rolling out our new database system. In the middle of all of this year’s uncertainty, we converted our digital tools to a much more hands-on database system in July.

That new membership portal has been such a win because it’s so much more user-friendly than our previous site and allows members to have 24-7 access to our virtual library of trainings, and skill-shares and content that can help keep them and their businesses strong and ahead of the game. The old system was becoming cumbersome for members to navigate which was starting to make that content irrelevant. We also opened up some of that content and those events to the public, which allowed us to connect with so many people in the industry who aren’t already members and were looking for guidance.

The task of staying on top of all of the industry and legislative issues impacting our members this year put a drain on our resources as far as staff is concerned, but our team hit a home run in the process. We threw ourselves in and worked tirelessly to keep the industry informed, especially with all of the work we did in Washington D.C. this year, but I think we’ve seen what we can do and we’re ready for 2021. We’re lean, but we’re mean. 

What work was ASA tackling on up on the Hill this year?

Keeping our members up to speed on what was happening in Washington D.C. was paramount. We're the largest association in the country that represents the independent collision and mechanical repair market that has a representative in DC, so we’re on it when things happen.

We ran industry surveys and found that so many members had not applied Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL)and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and those that had hadn’t heard anything. Armed with that information, we were able advocate for our industry, get the word out to our members and by our May virtual association meeting, many of those members had not only filed for those loans but had received the money. That was an incredible 30-day turnaround.

There can be big misconceptions as to what representatives do up on the Hill, but we realized this year that our political work is a resource we weren’t demonstrating the full value of. Our  team is advocating for the industry and making sure that those working in auto repair have a seat at the table and are being represented in the discussions that will impact them and their work the most, things like data access and AI among others. It’s about being present on behalf of the industry because, let’s face facts, the Senate and House of Representatives are being talked at by nearly every industry.

It’s the kind of work that goes on behind the scenes, that nobody sees and may not value until something like COVID-19 happens. We had ASA representative Bob Redding at every meeting possible making sure auto repair was on that essential workers list so that our industry could stay working and those auto services could be available to all other essential workers who need our members’ services to keep doing their essential work. 

What’s ASA got in store for 2021?

We’ll be formally launching a virtual expo in early 2021. We’ve done physical events in the past but I think in the world we’re living in today we have to utilize virtual opportunities when it makes sense.

There’s a tremendous amount of value in physical events, but we’re most concerned about getting information to members in a timely manner, keeping costs down for members who may have needed to travel and take time away from the shop otherwise, and making sure that a broader part of the industry can attend.

We’re considering doing a mix of physical and virtual events in the year ahead—the world’s changing quickly and our industry right along with it, so it’s important we stay adaptive—but we have to evaluate what will be the best service to our members and that’s what we’ll keep top of mind as we make those calls.

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