Adapting to a New Normal by Diane Freeman

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Diane freeman AARO president portrait
Diane Freeman Photo: Diane Freeman

Guidance and support are critical during times of crisis.       

When times are tough and uncertain, as they have been since March, we often realize the need for having guidance and support. For automotive service providers, being a part of industry associations can be hugely beneficial and a great way to look for both answers and ideas. In AARO’s case, over the past few months, we have answered more and more calls from members concerned about the changes and impact COVID -19 has had on their business.

In March, during the first week of the virus, AARO fought hard to ensure that repair shops were designated as an essential service. With the uncertainty of whether they would be able to keep their doors open and employees on payroll amid the lockdown, AARO assured them that we would do everything as their association to keep them operating.

On March 24, we received some good news–automotive service repair shops were deemed an essential service and could remain open.

Protecting customers and employees

During the early stages of the pandemic, customer and employee safety was a priority and AARO took steps to ensure its members were able to take all the necessary procedures. These included having customers drop off their keys in lockboxes outside the shop, performing only essential service to vehicles, booking customers in by appointment only and ensuring that staff had hand sanitizer, proper washing of hands, gloves, personal protective equipment (PPE), and disinfectant for high-touch areas inside the vehicle including the steering wheel, door panels, HVAC controls and seats.

We surveyed our members and saw that there was a 40% drop in revenue during the first two months of the pandemic. This was no surprise and as time went on, we knew that we weren’t going to see a speedy economic recovery and wondered if things would ever get back to the level they were before.

Different methods

In the meantime, we had to contend with a ‘New Normal’ that’s resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes everything from the way businesses are operated to how we communicate with our customers and our suppliers from who we purchase parts and also schedule delivery of those parts.

As part of assisting its members, an association like ours has an important role to provide up-to-date and accurate information during a crisis such as COVID-19. We have and will continue to send out important information, such as how to receive financial aid from the federal government through programs such as the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB).

When the pandemic first struck, AARO had the capability to quickly adapt to remote working—aided by video conferencing and webinar technology. We held our first Virtual Board Meeting in June and it was so successful that we will continue to hold meetings by video conferencing in the future.

Changes in training

Our training continues with Mark Lemay of Auto Aide with his Webinars and Online courses that saw more than 100 participants logging on for each session. The advantage to this is that Mark was able to cover a wider audience than before.  His online training was able to attract all technicians right across the province from rural areas to larger cities.  This doesn’t mean that we won’t have our in-person training classes again, but until we’re able to host them again we will use the tools and technology to virtually reach out to all those who continue to upgrade their skills and training needs.

The ODP courses have continued online and we will continue to send out the information by email and you can register by calling AARO at 1-800-268-5400 Extension 2.


Today, here in Ontario, we are seeing most regions in Stage 3 re-openings, although a spike in COVID-19 cases in some areas has resulted in a return to modified Stage 2. That being said, we have, overall this year, seen more businesses resume operations and things starting to improve but to able to further open up our businesses alongside others and serve the public—we need to continue with our ‘New Normal’ practices, with social distancing still in effect.

While uncertainty remains, as Canadians we have proven that we are capable to adapt to as well as a rise against any challenge we might face. As a nation—we will continue to strengthen our economy and it might just prove that this ‘New Normal’ won’t be so bad after all.

Diane Freeman is President of the Automotive Aftermarket Retailers of Ontario (AARO). You can reach her at [email protected].


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