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Trade Association Membership is Like a Box of Chocolates

When a person visited my shop about joining a trade association, my immediate response was, “What do I need them for?”

Editor’s note: Paul E. Grech owned the former San Franciso shop, Allied Engine & Auto Repair, before retiring. In this column series, Grech shares his experiences as a shop owner.

Why belong to a trade association you may say? I have been a member of Automotive Service Councils of California (ASCCA) for 43 years for the following reasons.

When I joined, I had been in business for five years and I was very successful at the time after in my initial $2,500 investment in buying my business: after three years, I was able to purchase a second new home in a very plush area for almost all cash. And I had developed an excellent customer base because of word of mouth.

Paul Grech

When a person came in and talked to me about joining a trade association, my immediate response was, “What do I need them for?”

In making all the important decisions I’ve made in my life, I have always followed my gut feeling, so the vibe I felt after he came in told me I wanted to continue on this successful path and, maybe, I should listen to what he had to say.

At the time, my father had just bought a new 1978 Cadillac Seville, and when I looked under the hood I got a glimpse of the coming changes in automobiles: this car had electronic ignition and electronic fuel injection with all these new sensors and a computer. So I listened to this guy. And what he said made sense — so I joined.

After my very first AASCCA convention I went to, I made the most important decision of my life. I bought a building to house my business as a result of listening to seminar, which turned into a multi-million dollar pay off through the years for me, just in the increase of value of the building alone.

It also paid for my retirement. But before then, it allowed me to buy the new and pricey equipment I needed to work on advancing vehicle technology (I didn’t have to worry about my lease running out before I could pay off the tool investments).

For example, the new smog equipment for the Bar 97 smog program was going to cost $50,000 big ones. I was able to order it a year ahead of time at a $10,000 discount. When the new program started in 1997, I was one of three shops that was equipped in San Francisco.

The second biggest ASCCA member benefit was attending monthly meetings and schmoozing with my fellow members. I got see how the industry was doing and, most importantly, be made aware of what changes were coming down the line that I would have to deal with. I was able to make the right decisions about what to buy and where to get training. I was able to do this by networking with my fellow members who had already taken the initial steps to stay up with the coming changes.

I was also able to return the favor by reminding them to try to buy a building to house their shops while they were still affordable. Two weekends ago, I attended an ASCCA meeting in Fresno, and when I walked into the bar for a drink and sat with members from San Francisco we started to chew the rag about stuff, and one member casually mentioned that she planned to expand her business in one big giant leap.

She said she was looking for a 20,000-square-foot building (not a typo), and I told her I knew of a place one block from my building, which was exactly what she was looking for. I also knew the owner. It was a two-story building with 10,000 feet per floor that had been a former repair facility for a Rolls Royce dealer. And the office area was to die for. So I said I would find out how much of the present tenant’s lease was left on it and if he intended to stay there — I was informed it was presently vacant.

How is that for following your intuition? So, we will see what happens. But this is a perfect example of what can happen by attending a monthly or quarterly meeting. It’s like Forrest Gump: “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what your going to get.”

At our meetings we also share with one another what we do to attract new customers and how to keep them in our service loop and what form of advertising works best for our shops.

Another thing that changed in my life as a result of joining a trade association was that I started to write a monthly newsletter. Later on, I decided to write a book for entry-level technicians who I ran my business with during my first eight years. It contains a lot of tricks of the trade to make their entry into our trade much easier.

I realized from the very beginning that it doesn’t cost much to belong to belong to a trade association — it can cost more not to — and it pays big benefits. You never know what will come out of your box of chocolates.

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