NAPA Auto Pro Convention: 35 Years of Progress

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On October 13 NAPA Canada hosted its 2018 National Convention, celebrating 35 years of Auto Pro.

Shop owners, staff, suppliers and members of NAPA’s corporate team from across Canada descended upon Blue Mountain Resort near Collingwood, Ont., for information sessions, networking opportunities, industry and network updates, plus an on-site trade show and a special gala awards ceremony.

Things kicked off on October 12 with general meetings and a special town hall address, where a panel discussion fielded in advance questions as well as live queries from the audience.

Town hall proves popular

This was the second time NAPA hosted a town hall at this event and it proved just as, if not more popular. A number of key topics were covered, ranging from initiatives designed to add value to Auto Pro members through the NAPA network, as well as recruiting staff and technicians; support for high school shop programs, simplified shop processes including establishing a single Shop Management System (SMS), product quality and warranty, as well as new and continued efforts in areas such as marketing and social media.

Following the town hall was the on-site trade show, which featured vendors from NAPA’s own programs as well as suppliers representing their own brands—everything from lubricants, to ride control, brake components and specialist servicing.

On Saturday, it was the turn of the general sessions. Dan McKim, Regional Vice President, Atlantic Region, talked about the last 35 years and how the coming together of two strong brands, NAPA and Auto Pro in 2004 has only served to further enhance them as well as the automotive aftermarket industry in general.

Riley Pratt, Senior Vice President, NAPA Canada, talked about the strategy of continuous improvement and how NAPA, as a network is committed to providing consistent and solid support for its franchise members. He also highlighted the importance of the customer experience. “Customers are willing to pay more for a better experience,” said Pratt. He noted that a consistent approach to branding and messaging will help ensure success moving forward, providing piece of mind for the customer as well as a solid foundation for which franchisees can build upon.

Distinct brand positioning

John O’Dowd, Vice President, Marketing, went into a deeper dive on NAPA’s marketing strategy, including the importance of distinct brand positioning and what it means to be part of NAPA. “One word describes the NAPA Auto Pro network,” said O’Dowd. “And that word is authentic.”

He talked about the importance of being local experts catering to customer’s car care needs, which is essentially what NAPA Auto Pro locations represent. In terms of the company’s advertising strategy, he discussed the impact of the partnership with the NHL and how currently, in many markets the audience objectives have surpassed expectations by 20 percent. Yet O’Dowd also stressed the importance of audience fatigue, which can quickly set in if ads are run too frequently. He also talked about social media initiatives, which have witnessed relatively high page visits, low bounce rates and solid impression numbers, plus strategies designed to engage shops and the network with their customers and between each other, along with the importance of tools such as newsletters and partnerships through trade media.

Andre Latreille, National Director, said that despite NAPA Auto Pro rating as J.D. Power’s top automotive service provider in terms of customer satisfaction for 2018, there are still issues and challenges that remain. “The future success of aftermarket shops and the industry as a whole depends on labour,” said Latreille. “Without skilled labour, what is the point in having the best tools, if we don’t have anybody to use them?”

He talked about the need to be prepared for changes happening at the OEM level, such as the continued electrification of the automobile, deployment of autonomous vehicles and changing ownership models such as subscription services and car sharing—all which could significantly impact the aftermarket sector. “It pays to be prepared,” said Latreille who noted that despite the disruptions taking place in the industry, “we really feel the future is bright. We want to remain number one and it is because of you—because of everybody here—that we are number one.”

The importance of C.A.R.E.

Keynote speaker Peter Van Stralen delivered a very inspiring address. Starting a lawnmower business with his brothers back when he was a teenager, he talked about how, through trial and tribulation, a true focus on delivering exceptional customer experience was developed. Van Stralen calls it CARE (Create A Remarkable Experience).

He talked about the importance of having a system in place–everything from talking with customers, to software, to aftersales service. “When we adhere to the system, we will have a much better chance at success,” he said.

He also stressed the importance of having a good family name and reputation as being one of the best assets you can have in business, plus how certain ways of doing things and certain behaviours will give you a better chance at success in life. Additionally, he also talked about support. “There is an abundance of support in a big family,” he said.

Van Stralen also noted that a key factor in making his business grow to be a hugely successful franchise network was creating a culture of dreaming big. “Make it an impossible dream,” he said. “Write down that dream and stick it somewhere where you can see it from time to time. When that dream is at the back of our minds we continue to grow and attract people to our team.”

He also talked about how personal dreams are what fuels a business. “The business is the vehicle that gets you toward your dream,” he said and that many businesses fail because they struggle to get everybody on board with their vision.

Van Stralen discussed the importance of providing schooling and development as a key part of your business and that by encouraging inventiveness, ingenuity and vision; the business itself will continue to grow and improve because of the people working within it.

He talked about establishing the HUDDLE concept of meeting (Have somebody recite our values, Uniform and PPE check, Discuss yesterday, Discuss today, Listen and share good news, Energize each other).

“When values are clear, decision making is easy,” said Van Stralen who also noted that in order to be truly successful, creating a remarkable experience should extend into every aspect of your life, whether its business, family and personal.

Look where things are going, not where they are

Gair Maxwell’s session, entitled The Branded Highway was a real eye opener. Maxwell, recognized as a leading expert in the field of marketing, presented a metaphorical road trip to the audience and talked about how, like Wayne Gretzky, recognized as the greatest offensive sportsman in NHL history was always focused on where the puck was going, not where it has been.

Maxwell took us through 50 years of advertising and noted that for six decades, there was always a consistent message, namely price, value and quality. “We are now at the biggest crossroads in marketing history,” said Maxwell “and very few of your competitors are ready for it.”

He looked at the success of modern-day marketers such as Gary Vaynerchuk and Casey Neistat and how they’ve been able to cultivate huge audiences by being able to effectively deliver their message.

Maxwell likened the new generation of marketers to the British Invasion of the North American music industry in the 1960s and that traditional marketers are reacting like older generations did to bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones back then.

He noted that today, it’s simply no longer effective to convey messages of price, quality and service because you won’t be able to stand out against the background noise—or in the context of the metaphorical road trip, cut through the traffic jam and reach the open road.

“We pollute the airwaves and assassinate the eyeballs with meaningless unsubstantiated claims,” said Maxwell. “Service, experience, value, professional, quality—these words are meaningless now.”

Instead, he talked about the need to create and share stories—things that resonate with the people you’re trying to connect with—even though they might be completely unrelated to your core business. He cited a good example in Jim Gilbert, who has become Canada’s Huggable Car Dealer—a marketing strategy that has been hugely successful.

Maxwell stressed the need on creating a pull strategy and the emphasis on brand marketing which is relationally-focused, long term and takes the farm approach in cultivating good soil and planting seeds that will not only grow, but blossom.

And even though his address was in front of an audience primarily engaged in the business of automotive service repair, Maxwell said that it was important for attendees to rethink the way they convey their messaging to customers. “Today, you’re a media company first and an automotive service provider second.”

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