The potential and pitfalls of technology
On the tenth anniversary of the network, the biggest AutoCare Trade Show and Conference yet was all about the appliance of technology.
In the exhibition hall, independent garage owners and staff mingled with over 85 approved supplier exhibitors, showcasing the very best new products and practice in the aftermarket industry. Stand-out exhibitors among a top class crowd included Valeo, WAI Global and Draper Tools.
This year’s show was very much about the potential of technology, and not only on the trade show floor. In the first seminar of the day David Massey of ADS inspired the audience with a presentation focusing on online marketing for independent garages. “Nobody is better positioned or more motivated than you to grow your business,” David said, and his audience was left in no doubt that a good, well targeted and frequently updated web presence is something ambitious garage owners cannot afford to overlook. We’ll be taking a closer look at David’s advice in a future post.
The opportunities afforded by the advance of automotive technology were everywhere on display. On the trade show floor, exhibitors showed off the latest in diagnostic tools and engine management systems, among much else. In the conference that followed, Laurence Harrison of Digital Radio UK outlined the opportunities for garage owners arising from the rapidly accelerating switch to digital radio. Harrison estimates that 15-20 million car owners may want to convert from FM car radios to digital over the next few years.
Also in conference, Robert Stevens of Delphi explained the promise of telematics for the independent garage owner. Imagine being able to remotely monitor the state of a vehicle, Stevens explained, so you know as much as your customer – and often more – about its repair and servicing requirements.
So the accent of the show was on the opportunities advancing technology can deliver, and indeed Jim Mazza, managing director of UK Trade Groups for Alliance Automotive, began his own speech by showing a video of the first commercial drone delivery in the UK, which involved GROUPAUTO member Brakeline.
But Mazza also issued a warning about the misuse of technology by those who would seek to deny motorists the right to choose where they take their cars for repair and servicing.
Mazza, like Robert Stevens, talked of advanced automotive electronics, but his target was the threat posed by closed proprietary systems in which manufacturers control access to a vehicle’s technical data.
But this was a rallying cry as much as a warning. The industry had won victories against anti-competitive initiatives before, and the Independent Automotive Aftermarket Federation (IAAF) was already lobbying hard on the behalf of the nation’s independent garages, Mazza said. A recent European report had also made it clear that relevant policy should not leave independent operators at a competitive disadvantage.
But the speech was not the only hint that technology, despite its many obvious benefits for the industry, needed to be closely monitored. A seminar by eXponentia earlier in the day had highlighted the increasing complexity of downsized engines, and the need for independent garages to keep abreast of rapid developments in both engine technology and the environmental legislation that was driving it.
Hitting the bullseye
But more than anything this was an optimistic gathering. The scale of the event and the enthusiasm of those attending pointed to a thriving AutoCare network and an aftermarket industry in rugged health.
AutoCare network manager Maria McCullough announced that the network had grown to 410 garages, with 63 new additions in 2014 and a further 17 so far in 2015. The strength of the brand was demonstrated by the annual Garage of the Year Award, won by Earby Autos in Lancashire after an excellent year. Worthy runners up were Broad Street Motors in Pontypool, Millennium MOT Centre Ltd in Newcastle and last year’s winner AAK Auto Services in Kent.
On the tenth anniversary of the network, anniversary plaques were given to the 27 garages who had been with AutoCare for a decade, and at the gala dinner that evening, a fiercely contested round of stand up sit down bingo raised £5000 for Derbyshire Air Ambulance, Zoe’s place Children’s hospice and Cancer research UK, all of which had been nominated by AutoCare members.
And it was a piece of very old technology that provided another of the highlights of the day. Approved Garages celebrated its successful sponsorship of Premier League darts with a giant inflatable board and a set of Velcro arrows. The high score competition to win tickets to the Premier League finals in May featured a nine dart total of 339, achieved by Alastair Ratcliffe from Express Motor Factors in Ferryhill, County Durham, who also went home with a dartboard signed by all the stars of the PDC Premier League. “That’s an average of 113,” exclaimed Approved Garages network manager Phil Seymour. “Better than Phil Taylor!”
It was a fitting climax to an AutoCare Trade Show and Conference that managed to hit a few bullseyes of its own.