Gaining Community: The Value of Industry Events 

June 20, 2024
2024 MWACA Best Places to Work winners Danny and Kelley Crawford share what these industry events offer them that keep them coming back.

Industry events like VISION are something many are familiar with, and those who attend receive insight into how to make their businesses even better. For Danny and Kelley Crawford, owners of The Auto Shop in Jefferson City, Missouri, it wasn’t until they attended VISION in person that they saw the potential it had to help their entire staff.   

The husband-and-wife owners tell why they now close up shop each year to bring their entire staff to VISION, and how the changes they experienced from such events helped them become the 2024 MWACA Best Places to Work winner.

  

VISION: A Sight to See 

It all started in 2010 when the Crawfords first opened their shop. It wasn’t unfamiliar territory for Danny, who had been near the automotive field since he was 10 years old helping in his father’s shop.

Danny acquired 15 years of experience at a Honda/Hyundai dealership as a service manager. Later, after opening his shop, he wanted to find resources offered to other small businesses like his. That alongside encouragement from their parts vendors led the shop to join TechNet, doing quarterly training with Carquest, and getting involved with the Midwest Auto Care Alliance. 

It wasn’t long before the Crawfords began hearing about VISION, and they became interested in the opportunity for networking and expanding their industry knowledge. So, Kelley and Danny went on their own to scope it out, attending classes offered on management and finances. 

Upon seeing other teams of shops and their staff walking around at the event, in T-shirts showcasing their brands, Danny and Kelley immediately knew they were not the only ones who could benefit from being there. 

“We were just blown away,” remembers Danny. “We were like, ‘Oh my gosh; how can we afford to bring our employees back?’” 

  

The Annual Shop Field Trip 

After returning the next year with a couple of their staff members, the Crawfords closed the shop each year after to bring their entire team to VISION because there’s insight for everyone—from shop owners to managers and technicians.  

By meeting other techs in the field, Kelley saw an opportunity for their team to collaborate outside the event and share knowledge. 

“When do they ever get to speak to other technicians? They’re always down in the car,” explains Kelley. “It was a really good opportunity for all of them to kind of set their sights a little higher than where they thought they might go; it gives them all kinds of opportunities.” 

For the Crawfords, their team’s experience at VISION is crucial. Each night of their stay, the Crawfords do something with their staff—whether it be taking them somewhere fun for dinner or going out to an arcade for game night, each year it marks a memorable bonding time for the entire shop. 

Using insight gained from the event, the Crawfords have improved their shop’s culture and organization. Much of the conversations they have with other shop owners as VISION revolves around how to encourage positivity and productiveness in the workplace, and the weekly meetings held with The Auto Shop staff is something Kelley credits with why they were named Best Places to Work. 

“We sit down with them, one on one, and say, ‘What can we do better as owners? What resources do you need? What's going on in your personal life? How can we help you with that? What resources can we give you?’” tells Kelley. “Instead of a negative thing, it turned it into a positive thing.” 

  

Seeing the Benefits

The speakers at VISION have been effective at challenging mindsets and asking shop owners to view things from other perspectives: to understand what motivates your employees, and that seeing change in your staff starts with making changes in yourself and management. 

“We had such good instructors that kind of wake you up from the wrong way of thinking or your lazy way of thinking—they just wake you up, and they do a really good job of finding all the right people (to speak at VISION),” says Kelley. 

Not just VISION, but other groups they’ve been involved with such as MWACA, have offered them a look into what others in the industry are doing, sparking ideas for improvement they may not have had otherwise. It helps the Crawfords and their staff know what obstacles others are facing and how they’re handling them. Especially when it comes to rapidly changing vehicle technology, it can be tremendously helpful to know what others are doing to adapt to the change.

“I think it reassures how complicated our industry is. How the manufacturers change the cars constantly, and the expectations of the clients on how the car reacts or doesn't, especially with ADAS stuff,” said Danny. “I think being able to talk to other shop owners about that, and technicians, just makes you feel good.” 

Industry groups are what introduced Danny and Kelley to amazing networking opportunities like VISION, and they encourage others to seek out any resources they can find that will help them get more involved with others in the auto repair field. Coaching companies are a great first step for those looking for a place to start. The Midwest Auto Care Alliance has chapters across the nation as well, representing other regions like the Mid-Atlantic and Northwest, and larger states like Florida and Texas. 

Taking the leap and attending industry networking events can be a commitment, and may even seem daunting, but the benefits a business owner can yield from it are tremendous. Having been named MWACA's 2024 Best Places to Work, The Auto Shop is proof of that—and Kelley can’t help but feel moved by how they’ve truly seen a vision they had for themselves become reality. 

“The first time we went, we saw all these teams walking around with the shirts on, and we're like, ‘Gosh, one day, maybe that could be us.’ And not to get choked up, but that was us this year,” tells Kelley.

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