ASA Makes a Play to Regain Association Relevancy
On Monday, the Automotive Service Association (ASA) announced a change to its membership model with the hopes of creating a “single, unified voice.”
Under the new model, existing state affiliate agreements will be dissolved, and a 50-state regional structure will take their place, with ASA-National overseeing the entire operation. The goal of the new direction is to create local ASA chapters in every state, with regional directors overseeing groups of states. The new model will go into effect January 1, 2022.
“Our board of directors is taking the necessary steps to ensure the future of ASA and its members. With the changes occurring in automotive innovation and public policy, it’s critical that the automotive repair industry speaks with one voice. ASA is the voice for automotive repair,” ASA Chairman Fred Hules II said.
Since the announcement, in interviews with Ratchet+Wrench, Hules, executive director Ray Fisher and other members of ASA’s board of directors have continued to preach the need for continuity and voiced excitement and anticipation for the shift. However, behind the scenes, several of the industry’s top voices and regional directors within ASA remain skeptical about the new direction, citing ASA’s previous blunders, issues with how the process was carried out and the plan itself.
That came to fruition Tuesday as ASA-Northwest, the largest ASA affiliate, announced it will leave the organization and join forces with Midwest Auto Care Alliance. MWACA, formerly ASA-Midwest, split off from ASA in 2018. ASA Illinois has since announced it will leave ASA and will join MWACA as well.
Officials at ASA-Northwest, which will become the Northwest Auto Care Alliance (NWACA) no later than January 1, 2022, cited a lack of belief in ASA national’s direction and wariness of a national model for the split.
“From our perspective, if it’s local, you know your members and members’ needs,” ASA-Northwest Chairman Bryan Kelley said. “You’re able to provide benefits to them at an intimate level.”
But ASA officials remain steadfast that the new model is the next right step for the organization. Others interviewed by Ratchet+Wrench wonder whether it will be the latest in a growing list of ASA missteps?
A Complicated History
ASA has existed since the 1950s, initially forming from roughly 50 state associations coming together as a group. Industry members advocated for an association with advocacy in the highest levels, like Washington, D.C. Following the formation of the organization, it evolved to include forming regional affiliates and training institutes, like the Automotive Management Institute.
It launched NACE, which further grew the organization. At its height, NACE pulled in nearly 20,000 attendees annually.
However, ASA has weathered a few storms in recent years. In 2009, NACE unceremoniously split with the SEMA Show, and attendance numbers struggled until ASA shuttered the show. In 2013, the board of directors announced it had been the victim of theft by a former employee, causing two association executives to resign, followed by executive director Ron Pyle electing to not stay on after his term expired.
In 2017, after shuttering its sister show, the Congress of Automotive Repair Service (CARS), several years earlier, ASA attempted to revitalize it by partnering with AAPEX. But the event struggled to regain popularity and closed after one year. As a result, former ASA chairman Donny Seyfer, who was brought in to revitalize CARS and re-engage the mechanical repair side of ASA, left to become the executive officer of NASTF.
Then, in 2018, the aforementioned split with ASA-Midwest occurred, which, at the time, was ASA’s largest regional affiliate. That year, executive director Dan Risley also resigned in a shroud of controversy.
“ASA has stubbed its toe several times,” said Judi Haglin, former executive director of ASA-Colorado and newly appointed ASA national board member.
Because of that, Haglin understands the skepticism with ASA making another large pivot. She also admits the future of ASA will depend on the success of this new model.
“If we're going to talk the talk, we have to walk the walk,” she said. “Is it too late? I think not. A lot of people told me it was too late with the Colorado board. Can we turn the Titanic around on this one? I think we can, but it's going to take some hard work and we need people to commit."
Frustration with ASA’s Process
ASA announced its intentions to change the membership model during a meeting with affiliate directors last Friday. It came as a shock to several regional affiliate leaders, including Kelley and Matt Dougher, executive director of ASA-Ohio. By Monday, ASA made the changes public.
“At no time did they ever consult with me or talk to me about getting rid of the affiliates,” Dougher said.
Dougher wasn’t at the official meeting Friday due to a family commitment. He learned from a third-party who was at the meeting. It took until Sunday before Dougher got full details about the change.
Kelley was also taken aback by the news and the lack of input that the affiliates had in the decision.
“I think there’s been a strained relationship [between affiliates and national] for a long time,” Kelley said. “The culture difference of national versus affiliates, they’re two different animals. I wouldn’t say either one of them is right. They’re just drastically different.”
Kelley acted quickly, orchestrating ASA-Northwest’s removal from ASA and following MWACA executive director Sheri Hamilton’s lead, which she reiterated was “clearly the correct choice.”
Dougher has no intentions of returning to ASA either. He is formulating a plan to de-affiliate ASA-Ohio from the national organization and create an independent group in Ohio.
ASA’s Path Forward
ASA’s changes will go into effect January 1, 2022. There is still much that needs to be worked out between now and then.
According to Hules, a basic membership structure has been laid out, but the specific regions have yet to be determined. The organization is getting input from its members on how it should look, but for now the organization knows there will be regional directors overseeing the local state and city chapters. Hules hopes existing affiliate directors will stay with the organization. Some have “expressed some interest” already, Hules said.
Top amongst the priorities for ASA national is to “become stronger and more representative of the entire country.”
In the previous model, the national organization, for the most part, left affiliates alone. That caused issues, according to Haglin, as some of the weaker affiliates struggled to maintain funding. Haglin credits the success of some affiliates—like ASA-Northwest, ASA-Colorado and ASA-Midwest—which were able to survive off funding generated from events. But for the majority, “the state affiliate structure is not successful,” Haglin said. “We are relying on volunteers in almost all of our states. It doesn't work.”
Only 50 percent of members in the previous model were part of a regional affiliate. Creating just one national organization will help ensure consistent benefits are distributed throughout the U.S., Haglin said.
Haglin is among the new additions to ASA national’s board, alongside mechanical division director John Firm and Chairman Hules. She hopes the additions will breathe new life into the executive team and help the organization connect with the younger wave of shop owners.
Still, ASA will need to find a way to differentiate itself, Seyfer, former ASA chairman, said.
“If an association can figure out how to bring a value to the member that a magazine article or a standalone trade show cannot bring to the table, then absolutely, it’s got a value,” he said. “It’s going to take some creativity to make auto repair associations viable. There definitely are some models out there that are viable, but it’s a tough, upward battle, and it always has been.”
Haglin believes ASA’s lobbying efforts—led by Bob Redding, whose salary is covered by ASA national—set itself apart. Losing that would be a hindrance to the industry, especially in current circumstances with Right to Repair entering the national conversation and the rise of EVs and AVs.
“All I ask is that everyone gives this a chance and that we work together to keep our industry where it needs to be,” Haglin says. “If we can all keep that in our hearts and our minds and run the best businesses we can together, we’re an unstoppable industry.”