Running a Shop How to Lead Leadership

Influencing Industry Change through Legislation

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Shop owners automatically develop a business partner when they open their facilities. The partner owns no stock in the company, but takes a percentage of net profits and installs regulations that impact operations. That partner is the government—an entity that most repairers never communicate with, says Charlie Elder, owner of Ray Gordon Brake Service in Tallahassee, Fla. It doesn’t make sense to have a business partner you’re never involved with, which is the driving reason why shop owners need to be present during governmental discussions on local, state and national levels.

Elder, who has been highly active with legislative efforts on behalf of the industry since 1982, discusses how shop owner participation helps protect and improve the industry, offering simple steps you can take to get involved.

Government representatives typically aren’t members of the automotive industry and don’t understand the repair sector. Meaning, they don’t know the best way to solve the industry-specific problems they are trying to regulate. Most governmental representatives welcome input, and depend on industry representatives to assist with resolution proposals. Shop owners need to show up and have their voices heard because bad things happen to industries with no representation.

Getting involved with industry-focused legislative efforts isn’t as difficult as it may seem. There are a few simple things that all shop owners can do to get involved:

  1. Monitor industry issues. Regularly stay abreast of legislative issues that are being discussed. The Automotive Service Association’s (ASA) legislative website, takingthehill.com, is a great resource for that. All shop owners can access the website, even nonmembers, to obtain a list of every hot issue happening on state and national levels. In addition, routinely monitor industry trade publications and state legislature websites.
  2. Join an association. Trade associations are good about keeping you informed about what issues are important to pay attention to. Trade associations also give you some clout. Discussions with legislators carry more weight when you’re speaking on behalf of a network. Government representatives will recognize your name after finding out you’re representing a significant group of people and see you as a key problem-solver for the industry. That’s exactly what you want to happen.
  3. Attend meetings. Monitor county and state governmental websites to identify when meetings will take place to discuss issues or bills that pertain to your shop. This could include anything from city council meetings, to state committee discussions, to state senate hearings. All governmental meeting schedules are public information and usually posted online. The meetings are typically one to three hours long.
  4. See it through. You can’t be shortsighted. Don’t attend one meeting, think you’ve done your part, and expect something to change the next day. Governmental changes are slow, and sometimes take multiple years. You’ve got to be in it for the long haul. It requires persistence, follow-up and attendance at numerous meetings.

Don’t be bashful or intimidated to speak up during legislative meetings. But you need to conduct yourself properly to convey your opinions effectively. A few tips:

Sign up to speak. Most governmental meetings have sign-up slips you must complete to request time to speak.

Prepare a presentation. Governmental meetings have specific three- to five-minute time limits for those who choose to speak, so it’s helpful to prepare a short speech in advance. Make an outline of a few bullet points to cover, or prepare a full speech to read verbatim.

Highlight the impact. Clearly explain how you believe a proposed piece of legislation will impact your business. Be fully honest when doing that. Don’t stretch the story by saying “it will put me out of business overnight” or “it will cause me to lay everybody off.” Those are rather extreme and unlikely outcomes of any legislation. Being truthful about the impact is how you establish the credibility of your viewpoint. Elected officials will listen to you as long as they feel they can trust you, but you’ll never regain credibility if you stretch the truth.

Keep it business focused. Always speak rationally from a business and analytical perspective. Maintain a level head and keep your cool. You will be tuned out and lose your credibility the moment you get angry and make threats.

Ask for questions. Always ask if anybody has any questions. That can be the most productive time. Legislators will ask hard questions, so you need to research and understand the subject matter in and out.

If there’s a question you can’t answer, never simply respond with “I don’t know.” Make note of the information requested, volunteer to research the answer, and follow-up at a later time.

Participating with automotive legislative efforts is key to protecting your business and profitability. The outcomes will eventually impact your shop, and you have no reason to complain about undesirable outcomes if you didn’t do anything to influence them. You can have success if you hang in there.

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