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AIA Curbside Chat: Samantha Coates

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Bob Jaworski (right) interviews Samantha Coates during the April 21 Fireside Chat. PHOTO AIA

From both staffing and business strategy, understanding diversity is going to be key to success moving forward.

In April, AIA Canada hosted its most recent Curbside chat, featuring Samantha Coates, Vice President of Operations at Lordco Auto Parts in British Columbia.

Coates began her career in the aftermarket 25 years ago, having performed multiple different roles within the industry, it has given her a unique perspective.

Like previous Curbside chat sessions, this one focused on discussing key areas shaping the industry and one of them is diversity, not only from a workforce perspective but also from a business operation standpoint.

Tremendous opportunities

In speaking with President of Auto Electric Service (and incoming AIA Chair) Bob Jaworski, Coates said that while the automotive aftermarket has long been recognized as a largely male-dominated industry, there are tremendous opportunities regardless of background or gender.

Speaking from a female perspective, Coates said that at Lordco, “I think that we have a very comfortable environment where women can really thrive.”

She noted that within the company, approximately 40% of the workforce are female. “This is a statistic we are proud of and has been consistent for a number of decades,” said Coates.

Lordco continues to actively encourage diversity, investing in recruitment strategies such as career website pages and social media to attract the best and brightest to the organization.

Coates also stressed that in terms of diversity within the aftermarket, it’s important to consider people on their skills and merit and not just label them based on gender or background. “Quite honestly,” she said, “whether they are men or women, I think it’s important to identify talented individuals and recognize the contribution they make.”

Besides the human resources element, diversity in business is also becoming increasingly important, even within established sectors like the automotive aftermarket.

Sector expansion

Coates discussed Lordco’s expansion into commercial and recreational vehicle markets. “We’ve expanded a little bit more into camping,” said Coates.

“It’s been an evolution of what we’ve been doing with our RV accessory supply business, plus around six years ago we also added truck centres to our stores.”

She noted that adding towing and hauling type products was a notable benefit and helped further expand into the outdoor market as well. “As you know,” she said in a conversation with Bob Jaworski, “there’s a real lifestyle movement out here in British Columbia.”

Besides the commercial and RV segment, Lordco has also been expanding its presence in the collision repair sector, though Coates was keen to mention that while there are synergies between mechanical and collision repairs, the latter is a different business.

“The reality is, that the collision segment is going to see the introduction of newer technology before the mechanical segment,” said Coates, though an industry-wide trend in both segments is a move towards more training and higher repair standards.

She also noted that for mechanical businesses looking to expand into collision, the latter has “a whole other side to manage as far as inventory control,” so that is something that must be considered for mechanical shops and traditional auto parts businesses looking to diversify into collision.

In summarizing, Coates said that from her perspective, people have always been the driving force within the aftermarket industry.

“The relationships that I’ve been able to develop, those have been very important, certainly for my career growth.”

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