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Today’s world unlocks an industry transformation — for now and time to come

While the pandemic forces associations to rethink how they interact with members, they remain resolved in their core missions to advance the industry forward

Steven E. Schillinger is a P.E. and PBE consultant in addition to being “actively retired.” He can be reached at and

Cancelled events, remote working, government guidelines, mandates, and legislation — every day a new Covid-19 challenge comes along. As the pandemic continues, automotive associations are experiencing drastic impacts on their conferences, membership and operations.

Steven Schillinger

Recently surveyed automotive executives found that 56 percent indicated that their organization had canceled or postponed face-to-face meetings and trade shows. Thirty-five percent said efforts are being made to expand to virtual access, and 9 percent said they moved an event to a different location.

The good news is that the coronavirus pandemic has established an industry transformation. Most automotive organizations now have platforms to inform, educate, and inspire members in a virtual experience. If you are a member of a trade association, you most likely recognize that there is much more to the transformation than originally imagined or thought possible.

According to recent government research, more than 85 percent of businesses that fail are not members of a trade association. No matter the industry, trade associations can provide members many advantages during this knowledge-based recovery.

ASA’s Tony Molla

Tony Molla, vice president of Industry Relations for the Automotive Service Association (ASA), said, “While face-to-face activities for many of our members will continue to be important, our industry has reached a tipping point where hybrid meetings, as a focus of association activity, will continue to have a virtual component even when we get back to live events. I also think we’ll see more virtual events going forward — in fact, we (ASA) were already shifting our focus to the digital and online environment prior to the Covid-19 crisis.”

Because it is important to get the most out of any membership and unlock the benefits, it is also important to understand exactly why people join them in the first place. While the motivation for joining an association may vary according to the needs of the member, Molla outlined the following, which are just some of the common advantages of membership in an automotive trade association.

Certification and accreditation — Many associations provide accreditation and certification programs that are not available to non-members. Not only do these credentials make for safer operating practices, but are an absolute necessity for today’s shop to compete. Certification and accreditation provide a level of safety and security in the minds of customers that is invaluable.

Influence — One of the key benefits of a trade association is the ability to influence legislation that affects the industry. The combined resources of association members can be used to lobby lawmakers and sway public opinion more positively toward the goals of the association and the industry it represents.

Reputation — Some automotive associations are strict about who they approve for membership, and generally require that their members to adhere to a code of ethics. If you are part of the association, people know that the shop and its employees have met and continue to meet those high standards. Shops and their employees can market their membership, which can help give service and repair shops an extra edge on non-member competitors.

Networking — This is the most common and most obvious benefit of joining a trade association. In every industry, who you know matters, and trade associations are filled with potential contacts. Members are able to build long-term relationships that are mutually beneficial. They provide a forum for like-minded individuals to come together and share ideas, strengthen ties, find new jobs, and make connections that would not be possible without the association.

Resources — Most automotive associations provide members access to a variety of benefits, including discounted services. Members of national automotive associations might also get discounts on services such as insurance or accounting.

Strength — It can be easier to get things done as part of an association. Member shops can represent a voting bloc, so they may be able to work with policymakers through the association to ensure they are able to continue doing business in a favorable climate. In addition, automotive associations can use internal email blasts and members-only websites to keep members apprised of updated on regulations and what is needed to stay within compliance.

Training — Continued education and development is crucial during these tough times. If your business is already a leader in service and repair, education is a key to remaining on top.

Information — Membership in a trade association means immediate access to any news or developments that affect the automotive aftermarket. Moreover, the usual communication of members to each other through newsletters, email updates and informative resources can help members stay on top of recent developments in the field.

Best Practices — Any line of work has a specific set of best practices that are vital to safe and efficient work. Membership in a trade association is a great way to learn these practices and perform the safest work possible. The fast pace of today’s computerized vehicle means that procedures are constantly updating and changing, and it is important to take advantage of the best practices available.

Relationships — Aside from all of the professional benefits that are available through automotive trade associations, memberships can provide an opportunity to build friendships and personal relationships that can last a lifetime.

Opportunities to give back to the community — You can use your membership to share knowledge and information with other businesses and promote a stronger sense of community safety and cooperation.

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