The Benefits of Joining a Trade Association
When Ted Curran purchased Monkey Wrenches Inc. in 2005, the Brentwood, Calif., business was the least profitable shop in town with the worst reputation. Following the lead of a fellow shop owner, Curran joined Chapter 20 of the Automotive Service Councils of California. The association is composed of a collection of 50–75 automotive repair professionals in California who meet monthly with the mission of elevating and uniting automotive professionals.
Curran acts as the chapter’s education coordinator and is responsible for planning meeting content, arranging speakers and working with the executive board to discuss the goals of the association. He recently sat down with Ratchet+Wrench to discuss the impact joining the association has made on his business, and the overall benefits of joining a trade association.
Why did you become involved in an association?
I took over this shop back in October of 2005. When I took over the shop, it was in disarray. It was just a pile of ashes. After I took over the shop, I realized I needed help successfully running a shop. I realized I had to associate myself with people that were successful, that I admired and wanted to model my business plan after.
A good friend of mine invited me to a meeting. He’s a very successful shop owner whose advice I’ve always followed, and he said to me, “If you really want to step up to the next level and do things the right way, you need to join an association.” I always hoped that if I aligned myself with shops who were owned by good, successful people, then maybe some of that would rub off on me.
I went to the first meeting and they were very inviting and professional. Then I saw the level of shops that were there. They were all top-tier shops. I could see that the reason they were there was to not only elevate the profession, but to elevate the former technician to become a business owner. When I saw that, I realized I needed to listen to these folks. I needed to sacrifice a little bit of time every month—although I wouldn’t even consider it sacrificing; it’s actually a privilege to go to these meetings—and learn and share all the different knowledge we have.
What’s the value of joining a trade association?
The networking and communication has been so great. There’s that level of professionalism that I just admired and wanted to model my business after, especially coming from a shop that didn’t have that. These guys just really have it going on and they really have some long-term goals, as far as bringing the profession up. It’s nice to learn and talk to people who have figured things out, other than through trial and error.
I know a lot of people come in with a chip on their shoulder. Unfortunately, the bad players seem to want to set the bar for everyone else. Since joining, I have really changed my mentality. Instead of being a technician who has a shop, I’m now a business owner who used to be a technician. If you really want to stay in this game, you have to plan ahead and you also have to have good mentoring and good advice. The associations provide that.
Why do you think a lot of shop owners don’t get involved?
I think a lot of shop owners either think they don’t need it, don’t see any value in it, or they think they’ve got better things to do. They don’t realize that to go to that next level, you have to be able to go above and beyond going home every day at 6 o’clock and plopping yourself in front of the TV. I’m a great example. Our association meetings are about 30 miles away for me. It’s a drive for me. But I see that there’s value in it.
How can you get the most out of joining an association?
It’s in your best interest but you’ve got to put some skin in the game. You have to come to the meetings. Participation is the biggest key. If you want to be in an association that is going to be doing things that are proactive for you and that’s helping to pass legislation and moving the industry forward, you can’t just sit back and let everyone do it for you.
It really isn’t too much to ask to show up one night once a month. Plus you get a free meal, you meet people, and you walk away with some information.
What are a couple of examples where it’s really helped you out?
I have changed things like my warranty program for my customers. After being with the association and seeing it’s really about developing long-term relationships with the customers, I realized you have to be unique and find a way to differentiate your shop from other people in town.
I saw that a lot of the other shops in the association seemed to have very good warranty programs. So, I asked them how it was working out for them—if they were seeing the returns they hoped to. And they said, it’s working out great and here’s how to set it up. It’s really made a difference.
We’re the only shop in town that I know of that’s giving a two-year, 24,000-mile warranty. People raise their eyebrows and ask why I would do that, but I always say, “You have to stand by what you’re doing, but you also have to stand by the customer.” As customers realize that we have their back, it brings a value to what we do.
I’ve also gotten some great marketing ideas from the group about what works and what doesn’t work. Marketing was something that was very painful for me to do as a business owner.
I have learned through the association that advertising is a necessity. Through networking and our vendor partnerships, I’ve been able to talk to people about starting a website and SEO marketing. Five years ago, our shop didn’t even have website. I realized I needed to get on board with this stuff.
There are also a lot of things about running the business day to day that I’ve brought back with me from speakers or meetings. For example, I didn’t really think about things like human resources. I’ve only got three or four technicians here, but you still have to make sure you set everything up correctly.
What are the business benefits?
There are benefits for being part of the association. We have associate sponsors and members that provide discounts and certain packages to association members. I’ve taken advantage of discounts from a uniform company, marketing companies, even a great IT guy. I never thought I would need an IT guy, but I really do. He comes in monthly and I get him at a great rate. I’ve been able to meet these people that are available through the association and find out the options, ask questions, and get more information.
What does a typical meeting look like?
Typically a meeting starts with 15–30 minutes of social activity. Everybody gets together and chats, we do some handshaking and welcome new members. Then we sit down to a meal and start the meeting. We start with reports from our state representative and about local upcoming activities and events. I have my segment about upcoming training, new events that are happening and what’s going on within the industry.
Then we have our keynote speaker, which usually runs around 30–45 minutes. We’ve had state senators, people from different industries, people with social networking, HR professionals, people from credit card processing. We try to plan our keynote speakers 12 months in advance, so we can let people know what’s going on.
We also do vendor fairs, where we bring in all the vendors and let our chapter members get to see what’s new in the industry, ask questions and get answers. After the keynote speech, we have a Q&A at the end.
Can you describe the association’s legislative efforts?
We have a lobbyist that we’ve been using who is now also our association’s attorney. He keeps us up to speed and lets us know what’s going on and what’s coming.
We just fought a battle over wallet flushing, where the state of California was going after some shops for what they considered inappropriate services. Through our lobbyist, we were able to sit down and talk to the state about it. The state realized it was a knee-jerk reaction to try to pull us away from recommending service and realized that these kinds of shops do need to take care of their customers and these fluids do need to be serviced at recommended mileage intervals. That was one of the things that we were able to fix that we’re pretty proud about.