Picture this: You’re traveling down Repair Shop HQ Boulevard as the faint smell of rubber wafts through the air. Shift your gaze to the left and you get a glimpse of the latest and greatest technologies in tires and tire service. To your right, a treasure trove of diagnostic and telematics troubleshooting tools awaits. Then, out of the corner of your eye, you see that ADAS calibration system that’s been on your radar for the past few months, just waiting for you to check it out in action. You unfold your schedule and notice a training session on ADAS coming up that will pair nicely with your new purchase.
This is the vision for the 2021 AAPEX Show, co-owned by the Auto Care Association and AASA, the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association, a division of MEMA (Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association).
Coming off the heels of a successful Virtual AAPEX Experience, the AAPEX Show is looking to build upon the virtual training and product demos it offered this year to become a one-stop shop (excuse the pun!) for independent repair shop owners and service professionals. With tires and tire service equipment added to the mix, the show promises to offer a value-added package for tire dealers across North America, show officials say.
We caught up with Mark Bogdansky, vice president of meetings and events, Auto Care Association, and Vic Tarasik, owner of Shop Owner Coach, former shop owner and member of the AAPEX Events Committee, to learn more about how they incorporated tires into the Virtual AAPEX Experience and what tire-focused solutions we can expect to see at the 2021 AAPEX Show.
TR: Last year, AAPEX set out to debut its Repair Shop HQ and Joe’s Garage, which was billed as the place for training and education and to participate in hands-on experiences with vendors. With the Virtual AAPEX Experience, much of this went online with the focus on the shop owner and service professional. How was it received by the market?
Mark: When we realized we had to cancel AAPEX because of COVID, we made the decision to really focus the Virtual AAPEX Experience on the shop. We have a number of audiences who typically come to AAPEX, but we felt like the shop audience was the most underserved in virtual trade shows. We said if we can figure out a good and robust training atmosphere and a meaningful experience that’ll be worthwhile for them, it’ll work for us to really continue in our effort to engage with them and grow their participation in AAPEX.
By all accounts, we’re very happy with how things shook out from a numbers perspective. We had over 4,000 buyers and attendees take part in the Virtual AAPEX Experience—that doesn’t include exhibitors and people who watched sessions from one login. At last count, 47% of them had never come to an AAPEX Show before, so we were able to extend our reach, which is what we were hoping to do.
The great news was that the typical attendee attended just under seven sessions, and of the people who came to the Virtual AAPEX Experience, over two-thirds of them have already said they’re planning on coming in person next year.
TR: With Repair Shop HQ and Joe’s Garage not taking place in person this year, what are the show’s plans for 2021? Still a dedicated tire section?
Mark: Everything that we had planned to do at AAPEX 2020, we’ll plan on doing in Vegas in 2021 in person. We are planning for a Repair Shop HQ in 2021 that will include a tire section, and it will absolutely include Joe’s Garage, which Vic Tarasik has been working hard on for us. He did an amazing job transitioning that to a virtual component as part of our event this year.
One of the things that I think gets lost sometimes when we talk about a tire section is that we had somewhere between 75 to 80 companies that were already exhibiting at AAPEX that would have qualified to be in a tire section—whether they were doing TPMS systems, tire alignments, tire accessories or tire adjacent-type programs. So, it wasn’t like we were starting from scratch. It was a matter of putting them together into one area to create a space for shops to go to find everything in one place.
Vic: In 2021, I can see us having one bay in Joe’s Garage for tire changing equipment, TPMS, accessories—anything related to, or focused on, the tire industry. I see Joe’s Garage as being the place where a shop can come in and get an answer to, ‘What’s this going to look like in my shop?’ A shop owner will be able to come in and see the product, talk to companies on its technical aspects and see what their product can do for them prior to making the buying decision.
We had six bays slated last year for Joe’s Garage and, given the success of the Joe’s Garage Virtual Experience, I can see there’s going to be more interest and we may go larger. It may go from 8,000-square-feet to 10,000-square-feet (about twice the area of a basketball court).
TR: From what you both describe, the idea for a tire section seems to be a natural fit for Repair Shop HQ and the Joe’s Garage concept.
Mark: Yes, typically at AAPEX, we don’t really “segment” the floor, but we decided to segment this part because we have an audience that asked for it, and it just makes sense to have the tire section there. We know tire dealers are doing a lot of other repairs, too, when they have the car up on the lift. They’ll be able to see the stuff that they specialize in, and also check out what they need for those other repairs in Repair Shop HQ.
We started to make some inroads with tire manufacturers this year, but that’s one of the areas that I think we got hurt with because of COVID. But, we do feel that in 2021, we’ll be able to get more tire manufacturers to be part of it, and we’re looking forward to having a really robust area for everything related to tires.
TR: By attending the AAPEX Show and Repair Shop HQ/Joe’s Garage, what are some things tire dealers who attend can immediately implement when they return home that will positively impact their business’s productivity and profitability?
Vic: So, anyone who is coming to AAPEX who has never been there wants to know one thing: ‘Why should I go? Because I’m going to be losing money while I’m there.’ To put it succinctly, if dealers can take an idea back that allows them to increase their sales per ticket by $20 dollars on average…And, if you look at the average shop that runs 300 to 400 cars a month, that gross sales increase is anywhere from $72,000 to $96,000 dollars per year. If they have a 50% gross profit structure, that shop owner is putting an additional $50,000 in gross profit in the bank annually.
We’re going to have training you can’t get anywhere else: technical and leadership training as well as business management-style and communications training. We’re going to have demonstrations on DVI (digital vehicle inspections), on ADAS, on tire equipment, etc. In a broad view, what shops need to grow will be available in Joe’s Garage or Repair Shop HQ.
TR: As we know, tire dealers do a lot of service work. What do you feel is the most daunting emerging technology in the market today and how will the AAPEX Show help independent tire dealers meet the challenge of repairing vehicles equipped with this new technology?
Vic: It’s demystifying ADAS and leveraging it to becoming more profitable. ADAS calibration and wheel alignment are inherently tied at the hip. So, if a tire dealer is doing a wheel alignment, and he doesn’t know how to do an ADAS calibration, he’s going to hit some challenges that he’s not going to know how to deal with. The challenge shops are faced with is how to be more profitable and keep from getting in trouble…and how to stop sending the vehicle to the dealer or to someone else. Our job at AAPEX is to give these guys the equipment—whether it’s training, tools or education—to become profitable and keep as many vehicles coming into their shop as possible. We’ll have other things like the connected car, but ADAS is the biggest one. Not dealing with it could put some shop owners out of business at some point.
Mark: Whenever anybody says anything about the newest technology, the answer everybody gives to that question is ADAS. Every time I hear that, it reinforces to me how important it is that we at AAPEX continue to provide the amount of ADAS training that we do. Both associations (Auto Care and AASA) are absolutely committed to ADAS education and ensuring that shops get all the access to the data they need to be able to service vehicles with ADAS. We’re also committed to making sure that AAPEX continues to be the place for as much ADAS training as possible.
TR: What else would you like tire dealers to know about the AAPEX Show?
Mark: I’ve learned over the last few years that once people come to AAPEX for the first time, it doesn’t take much convincing for them to come back and to spend more time. When you come to Vegas, do me a favor and spend just an hour at AAPEX. One of the ways that we have grown AAPEX, especially as we’ve grown the training aspect, is hearing from people who came to the show and listening to the audience who said to us, ‘We need this.’
I would welcome the opportunity to hear from more tire dealers about what they need. Anybody who wants to reach out with ideas about what could make their experience at AAPEX better or convince them to come, I’d love to have that conversation or an email exchange with you ([email protected]). That’s the only way we’ll know how to make the show better.
A Tire Dealer’s Perspective
When Gord Carnahan first went to the AAPEX Show in 2012, he was skeptical. “Was this show really worth the time away from the shop?” he wondered. After all, his OK Tire store in Saskatchewan, Canada, was in the midst of a grueling winter tire season.
“The first time I went, I had to check things out,” said Gord, who started out as a tech and progressed through the ranks to buy his own store in the mid-2000s. “But the level of training AAPEX provides is really why we keep going. There’s so much information out there, and they got it all in one spot.”
Since making his inaugural trip to the show, Gord has returned in 2013, first with a business partner; in 2017, with one of his employees; and this past year, with the show’s virtual format. Gord admits that at his shop, tires bring customers in, but “we’re so much more than tires.” His shop offers a full suite of mechanical maintenance to customers, too, and Gord is always looking for ways to serve his client base better.
For Gord, the AAPEX Show helps elevate his business to make sure they’re staying on top of key industry trends.
“If you plan on doing one training per year, that’s one to go to,” he says about AAPEX. “As far as your bang for your buck, they have a little bit of everything and it’s all top quality.”
Will the Virtual AAPEX Experience Return in 2021?
To some extent, event organizers say. “I think what we’ve learned this year is that the virtual component is not going to go away and it’s necessary for our industry,” said Mark Bogdansky, vice president of meetings and events, Auto Care Association. “It’s safe to say we’re going to have something, and training is where it will be focused.”
Finding the Right Training
In forming this past year’s technical and management training schedule, AAPEX conducted a call for topics from shops across the country. According to Vic Tarasik, owner of Shop Owner Coach who is also a member of the AAPEX Events Committee, the show received around 110 session ideas. To narrow down what sessions would appear on the schedule, a panel of shop owners graded every session and then selected the schedule. “It was completely curated by the audience,” Tarasik said. “It’s as close to crowdsourcing as you can get for something like this.”