BETHESDA, MD —
Every other week, aftermarketNews.com offers an interview with a high-profile individual in the automotive aftermarket. We give executives free rein to express their views on anything from the state of their corporations to recent legislative news to future trends in their niche markets. Here you see what matters to the newsmakers themselves.
Our latest edition of “Executive Interview” features Kathleen Schmatz, President and CEO of the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA). Schmatz became president and CEO of AAIA on Jan. 1, 2004. She had served as executive vice president of the association since January 2002.
Schmatz came to AAIA after 30 years with Babcox Publications, where she served as vice president and group publisher, with responsibilities for sales, marketing, strategic planning, market research and management of five monthly aftermarket trade magazines; and aftermarketNews.com.
She is a nationally recognized advocate of the automotive aftermarket and a sought-after speaker and presenter. She is frequently interviewed by the media, most recently appearing on the NBC “Today” Show and in the New York Times. Schmatz has served as an officer of the Auto International Association, the Automotive Communications Council and was the founding president of the Car Care Council’s Women’s Board. She has also contributed as a curriculum advisor to Northwood University and as chair of AAIA’s Marketing Communications Committee.
In 2001 she was named the Auto International Association “Person of the Year,” and received the Car Care Council’s Vision Award. Twice nominated for the Young Executive of the Year award, Schmatz received the 1998 Distinguished Sales and Marketing Award from the American Marketing Association and was the 1991 Woman of the Year-Initiative Award recipient of the Women’s History Project.
In addition to filling us in on her first few months at her new post, Schmatz shared with aftermarketNews.com updates on AAIA’s merger with AWDA, Right to Repair legislation and the Be Car Care Award Campaign.
Q: It has been a few months now since you took over as president and CEO of AAIA, succeeding Al Gaspar. How does it feel? How is it going so far?
A: Since January 1st when Al turned over the reins, the job has been exciting, challenging, grueling, fun, at times frustrating, but extremely rewarding. There are 147,000 associations in this country and most of them are in the Washington, D.C. area. AAIA is one of the best when it comes to identifying threats and opportunities then taking the lead in providing solutions on behalf of its members and the industry as a whole. Before joining AAIA, I always marveled at the association’s ability to respond to issues and events rapidly and effectively with quality programs and products. Now I’m even more impressed on the inside seeing the professionalism and pride that drives the association engine. AAIA has a track record of stepping up to the plate to do what needs to be done. I feel like the coach of a championship team. And we’ve only just begun.
Q: What is one of Al Gaspar’s legacies that you would like to see continue?
A: The needs and interests of the association members were always Al’s number-one priority. Any program, product, benefit, service or initiative was first evaluated in terms of “how is it in the best interests of the members.” Al treated everyone fairly and honestly and with respect. I assure you, Al’s imprint is deeply embedded at the association and we will build on his convictions.
Q: Now that you have had a few months to settle in to your new post, what do you have planned for AAIA and its members in the months and years ahead?
A: AAIA has an ambitious strategic plan that guides us. Through the combined efforts of the professional staff and the volunteer leadership, the association is focused on three overall goals: protecting and ensuring the future of our members and the aftermarket industry; expanding the size of the aftermarket; and taking the cost out of doing business for our members. Major efforts like the Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act, the “Be Car Care Aware” consumer education campaign and a number of industry standards like eCataloging, Product Information Exchange Standards (PIES) and Category Management are focused on achieving our goals. In addition, we are constantly striving to add value through valuable market research, educational events like the Global Automotive Aftermarket Symposium and Aftermarket eForum and business development through AAPEX.
Q: Which of these initiatives is most important?
A: They are all important because they are all connected and dependent on each other. For example if we succeed in raising consumer awareness of the benefits of taking better care of their vehicle and thus increase DIY and DIFM activity, we better make darn sure that the independent service providers have the tools and information to repair the vehicles. If we create data sharing processes that improve business efficiency, we better have an educated workforce to understand how to implement the processes. These initiatives are the cornerstones of AAIA and the aftermarket industry. Lose one corner of the foundation and the building is off balance and at risk of crumbling.
Q: You are one of a small number of female leaders in the aftermarket. What advice do you have for women interested in pursuing a career in this predominantly male industry?
A: I’m the poster child (woman) for opportunities available to women in the aftermarket. What better proof does one need than when a predominantly male board of directors representing a predominantly male industry hires a female to head its trade association? I strongly encourage women to consider careers in the aftermarket. My advice is to forget the gender factor. That female card won’t get you in the door nor will it keep you out. Education, training, professional development, networking, initiative and desire are what count.
Q: April is National Car Care Month. How has the celebration fared this year compared to 2003?
A: Last year was the transition year when we switched from October to April for National Car Care Month so we expected more activity this year, but we were pleasantly surprised at just how much more. For example, visitors to www.carcare.org more than tripled in the first year, from 30,000 in March 2003 to 103,000 this March. This shows that the media is hungry for car care information, the consumer is looking for help and the industry is eager to participate. Twelve states and the District of Columbia proclaimed April as Car Care Month. More than 200 individual car care events all over the country featured free vehicle checks for consumers. There were hundreds more that we just didn’t hear about. Another example is the huge increase in media registrations for the on-line media kit; from a few hundred to several thousand. The campaign is a phenomenal branding success story. From concept, research, creation, launch and implementation in 36 months with measurable results in industry participation and support, media usage and consumer awareness and behavior. This is pretty incredible.
Q: Can you give us an update on the Right to Repair legislation?
A: Of course, passage of right to repair legislation is critical to the future competitiveness of our industry. In fact, the lobbying effort has made great progress in the past several weeks. We now have a bill introduced on the Senate side by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC). In addition, the House bill now has 92 co-sponsors, only eight short of the critical 100 number that is needed to get attention of the House leadership. What is most gratifying is the involvement by individuals employed in the aftermarket and car owners in this grassroots effort. The Right to Repair Web site, where letters supporting the legislation can be sent to elected officials, has received 288,118 visits, an average of 57,524 users each month since November of 2003 when we initially began this effort. It will be the industry’s and its customer’s participation and enthusiasm for passage of Right to Repair that is going to make this critical lobbying effort successful.
Q: What is the status of the merger of AAIA and AWDA?
A: AWDA became a segment of AAIA on January 1st. The transition was seamless and we are making great progress in “blending” the AWDA members and volunteer leaders into the association’s governance and committee structure. Feedback from the industry has been positive. Joining forces is a win-win. AWDA maintains its identity and proud heritage while expanding the resources, programs and benefits to its members. The union strengthens AAIA with additional warehouse distributors and suppliers, further demonstrating the benefits of collaboration. It also saves member companies money in duplicate dues and by capitalizing on the economies of scale by fusing market research, technology, trade shows and meetings, and marketing and communications. Larry Northup was recently named to direct the day-to-day operations of the AWDA segment. Northup serves as senior director of segment management at AAIA and has an extensive background in association management.
Q: In February, you and Al Gaspar addressed a group of 30 Wall Street investors at a luncheon meeting at the Yale Club in New York City. Why is it important to pursue opportunities such as this? Do you feel that the aftermarket does enough to present an accurate picture of itself to those outside the industry?
A: The presentation to analysts was a real eye-opener. They were up to speed on both the “Be Car Care Aware” campaign and the Right to Repair Act, which surprised me. They also were extremely interested in the data sharing and inventory management industry standards. It is imperative that AAIA position itself as a reliable source of information and insight for investment analysts. We have not been as active in this arena as we should, but I assure you that relationships are being established with investment analysts and groups, as well as the business and financial media.