Vision and Visionaries

Dec. 1, 2015
AAA is altering the landscape of auto repair, but shops have a say in how the future unfolds

The visionary doesn’t look into the future and see things that aren’t there. He looks at the present and sees things no one else has yet managed to see.

But, the problem isn’t knowing what is likely to transpire in the future. The visionary sees the future as clearly as you and I can see what is happening in the here and now. The problem is the resistance and resentment the visionary is likely to encounter from a world unable or unwilling to see what is coming—resistance and resentment strong enough to silence too many visionaries for far too long.

The problem is it’s just too easy to dismiss the visionary’s message as irrelevant, especially when the conditions for that future haven’t quite matured yet.

The world we live in is filled with visionaries. The problem is we tend to ignore them despite the fact the evidence to support their predictions is blatantly clear if we would only open our eyes and look.

A perfect example of the ability to see the future as it is likely to evolve, or the myopia that would allow us to completely ignore it, is the AAA Auto Club Group’s incursions into the repair community.

From the earliest beginnings of the Auto Club Group’s direct involvement in our industry with the Approved Auto Repair (AAR) program, there were those among us who could see the potential danger inherent in a partnership with the AAA. Certainly, what the club has to offer is enticing: a vast number of “quality” clients, powerful and professional marketing tools, the credibility the club has managed to build over the years, high—albeit, externally applied—professional standards that include minimum requirements for tools, equipment and certified technicians that are sadly absent from our industry. So, it’s easy to see how a partnership with the club might seem like the ultimate win-win.

The club needs to deliver high quality, value-added services to its members, while a number of quality shops across the country are desperately seeking validation. And yet, there were those among us who could, and still can, see dark clouds along the edges of what might seem like an otherwise idyllic landscape of the industry.

While the club was applying external structure to an industry in dire need of structure, shop owners like you and I were showing them how to deliver high quality automotive service to a demanding and discerning segment of the motoring public: their members. While they were delivering the “right kind of clients,” we were showing them how to take the best possible care of those clients before, during and after they arrived.

What many of the shops participating in the club’s various AAR programs across the country didn’t see, or chose not to see, were the facilities popping up that were owned and operated by the Auto Club Group itself.

And now the club, or at least a number of its franchises, are asking participating AAR shops to provide them with their customer contact information and repair histories. I’m sure a logical and rational case can be made for harvesting this data, reasons that would seem obvious and perhaps even innocuous to almost anyone too harried and distracted by their current reality to share such critical information. But, to the visionary, the person who sees things as they are both now and in the future, there is a clear and present danger here that cannot be ignored. It’s the danger of further infringement, further erosion, further loss of market share.

These threats are real whether you choose to accept or ignore them, the danger omnipresent for the shop owners who awakened one morning to find a AAA-owned and operated shop across the street or around the corner. But, even with some visionaries warning there may be little or nothing we can do to alter the future or stave off the inevitable, we should realize that we aren’t required to accept it or support it without resistance.

I think the visionary’s purpose is clear and it isn’t to create the future he sees so clearly. The visionary’s purpose is to paint a landscape of the future as he or she sees it—an honest rendering of that future based upon all the evidence so clearly obvious to anyone willing to look through the visionary’s eyes. That vision can be powerful and positive or it can be dark and disarming. It can be embraced and accepted or rejected and ignored.

Either way, the visionary is compelled to share their vision with the universe even though it is generally understood the universe may choose not to listen.

Thomas Watson, the man responsible for IBM as we know it today, suggested there was a world market for maybe five computers. Obviously, there were others who could see the possibilities of a greater market. Ken Olsen, a former president of the Digital Equipment Corporation, suggested there was no reason anyone would want a personal computer in their home! Bill Gates saw otherwise.

I don’t claim to be a visionary, but I have offered you information and evidence of a phenomenon that can and will, if left unchallenged, change the very nature of your future—our future. Whether you are affiliated with the Auto Club Group or not, you have a choice.

You can allow the future to unfold with or without your involvement. Or, you can get involved and create a uniquely different vision for the future. A vision for the future that does not threaten the viability of your business or the future of our industry.

Mitch Schneider is a fourth-generation auto repair professional and the owner of Schneider’s Auto Repair in Simi Valley, Calif. He is an industry educator, author, seminar facilitator, and blogger at Contact him at [email protected]

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