by Brian Cruickshank
Editor, Counterman magazine
LANSING, MI — Every spring, Auto-Wares grows customer skills through a full weekend of technician training.
Inside the Lansing Convention Center in Michigan, a line snaked out of the door that lead to a room where scores of automotive technicians were preparing to take the State of Michigan Mechanic Certification test, the state’s mandatory version of the ASE exam.
Getting technicians to take classes or get certified can be an uphill battle for some WDs. But Aftermarket Auto Parts Alliance member Auto-Wares seems to have figured it out.
“This weekend, we will test 494 technicians,” said Auto-Wares Detroit General Manager Dick Zechmeister, pointing to the line. Then, with a broad sweep of his hand, he motioned to the rest of the Auto-Wares Tech Expo crowd of repair professionals as they walked around the convention center, each headed to any number of technical or management classes held that hour. Still others were headed into the manufacturer’s trade show that had started that morning. This scene would repeat itself over and over throughout the course of the weekend-long event, which was held in early April.
Zechmeister and the rest of the Auto-Wares staff know that every newly certified technician means a new customer. Perhaps even more importantly, every trained technician means a better customer, one who buys more and returns fewer parts. This combination of training and certification is one way Auto-Wares supports its customers, and that’s the philosophy behind Auto-Wares’ Tech Expo. For the past seven years, the company has hosted the event, traditionally held in Michigan’s capital city, Lansing.
Zechmeister estimated that about 2,600 automotive professionals attended the event, drawing from Auto-Wares’ trading area of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin. Of that attendance number, most are repair shop employees, but there was also a significant number of WD, jobber and manufacturer personnel in attendance as well.
Auto-Wares, a traditional three-step distributor, services more than 300 repair shops in this four-state market. The company itself owns 83 stores under the Auto Value brand and services its customers out of six warehouses.
The amount of training that goes on during the Tech Expo weekend would make any vo-tech program want to brag: 78 separate training sessions (both technical and management), representing 42 unique classes taught by some of the best instructors in the aftermarket. The Tech Expo was held in three locations, the Lansing Convention Center, Lansing Community College and the Lansing Radisson, all within eyesight of Michigan’s stately white-domed capital building.
According to Zechmeister, about 4,200 classroom seats would be filled during that weekend, which means that nearly every attendee will attend more than one session — not bad for an industry that still has technician education problems.
Jobbers promote the event to their customers, signing them up before the event even starts. For the repair shop, there is great value in attendance. They get to attend top training programs, as well as a manufacturer trade show. For the sponsoring jobber, there is also a pay off: Their customers are able to make discounted purchases during the Tech Expo, with these purchases credited to the shop’s servicing store.
Next year’s Tech Expo will take place once again in Lansing on April 8 and 9.
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