Driving forward: Insights from AIA Canada’s 2024 National Conference 

April 26, 2024

AIA Canada’s annual National Conference was held on April 23rd and 24th in Toronto, Ontario, where everyone who is anyone in Canada’s auto care sector gathered under one roof to connect and learn about current industry trends and challenges. 

The 2024 AIA Canada National Conference kicked things off with a networking reception, where attendees could mingle, connect, and talk about the latest developments, challenges, and opportunities in the auto care industry. 

Driving innovation: The here, now, and next of Canada’s auto care sector 

The second day of the event started at 9 a.m. with opening remarks by Wakefield Canada’s Vice President of Sales and AIA Canada’s Past Chair, Shannon Spano. 

“I think there’s something really powerful about networking. It’s about individual opportunities, conversations and learning. I hope you all leave with great opportunities and inspired to create action for the sector.” 

To start the day of sessions was President and CEO of AIA Canada, Jean-François Champagne, CAE, where he provided the audience with insight on the work that AIA Canada does for the industry, from conducting industry research, to advocating for the industry as a whole to ensure the sectors’ longevity and success. 

“Our biggest challenge is labour right now. Our capacity to grow and sustain the growth of the industry depends on our capacity to attract and retain great talent. It is hard but we are all rising to the occasion and finding new ways to overcome this challenge. It is connecting people in this industry, from the decision makers to the ones shaping the industry that are finding new ways to attract new people and talent.” 

“I would be remiss if I did not mention our continued commitment to the upskilling of the workforce in the collision sector with the I-CAR Canada program. We continue to actively upskill thousands of collision sector employees and will continue to do so for years to come.” 

Overcoming labour market challenges in the industry 

The current state of the auto care industry’s labour market is a hot topic, so attendees were excited to tune into the panel discussion moderated by James Channer of In Motion Brands, who was joined by Dr. Mauricio Zelaya of Ernst & Young (EY), Alan McClelland of Centennial College, Sylvain Seguin of Fix Auto Canada, Shannon Spano of Wakefield Canada, and Kevin Weaver of Georgian College. This discussion showcased insights from various industry sectors and exploring potential strategies to overcome labour challenges across the industry. 

“Supply of labour is a huge issue. If I look at it, the word “attractiveness” is problematic—everyone is trying to be an attractive industry. I think it comes down to finding people, rather than trying to attract, how do we find people that are worth investing in and finding people who are a good fit within the organization. They may not be exactly what you’re looking for but there are opportunities to develop those skills.” said Alan McClelland. 

“It is about attracting youth and attracting them early and inspiring them to career and career pathways in our sector. Our youth are not hearing about mobility and non-linear careers. They want opportunities in sectors that are part of the greater good. They are looking for companies that will give them growth and prosperity over time.” said Kevin Weaver on the topic of inspiring young people to join the industry. 

Simultaneous sessions allowed attendees to pick their learning path 

After a brief networking break, three concurrent sessions were offered twice throughout the course of the morning to allow attendees to sit in at least two out of three sessions of their choosing this year. Each of these sessions dove into challenges and trends that affect the industry today. 

One of three sessions,Creating an inclusive industry for women in the auto care sector, was led by Stacey Miller, vice president communications, Auto Care Association. During this discussion, attendees learned about the gender disparity in the industry and how companies can attract more women in the industry and keep retention rates high by creating a welcoming and inclusive workplace environment. 

“For women, a diverse workplace is important. Can they share experiences with others? If so, they’re more likely to grow and blossom within their role. Having other women is inherently an easier way to make your employees more engaged and more involved.” said Stacey. 

“Diversity is not a target; it is a culture that we build. We need to make sure that work environments are accommodating to make sure that our industry is the best it can be.” 

A second session, Shift happens: Mastering change in Canada’s auto care sector, was presented by MANN+HUMMEL’s Vice President, Sales and Marketing Automotive Aftermarket, Daryl Benton. 

With the industry changing at a rapid pace, change is inevitable. Daryl Benton provided the audience with various insights on how to positively react to change in the industry and understanding the nitty-gritty about change dynamics through strategies, leadership principles, and real-world examples. 

“Change is not a threat; it is an opportunity. Change is going to happen, and we need to think how we will embrace it and view it as threats that are opportunities. These opportunities will allow you to adapt, innovate and work to ensure your business stays competitive.” said Daryl. 

“Events are going to happen. And what matters in the delivery of the outcome is not what happens but how you respond to it.” 

The third session touched on market research and data. The impact of the evolving fleet on vehicles in operation and vehicle kilometres travelled, presented by Todd Campau, MAAP, ACP, aftermarket product lead, of S&P Global Mobility, showcased various insights and data on how the vehicle fleet is evolving, potential factors, and how these factors can impact businesses in the near and long-term future. 

“Electric vehicles are getting a lot of miles. They are below diesels, but EV are doing better than traditional petrol from an annual mile travelled. However, we need to keep an eye on this to see if the trend maintains or changes over the coming years.” said Todd.  

“Younger vehicles on average are beginning to be exported. In 2019, vehicles were being exported at around nine years old, but now it is around six to seven years old. The cars get towards the end of life, leave the fleet in Canada, then to go the United States. This takes aftermarket work away from us; and so, if younger vehicles leave the fleet, it is something we need to keep in mind and take a closer look at what this means for our aftermarket businesses in the present and the future.” he continued. 

The road ahead: Top trends in the auto care sector 

After a networking luncheon and an awards presentation, where the 2024 AIA Canada Distinguished Service Award was presented to Bill Hay, and the 2024 Young Leader of the Year Award was presented to Patrick Verriet, the sessions resumed. The afternoon started with a live recording of AIA Canada’s Curbside Chat, talking about the road ahead and top trends in the auto care sector. This Curbside Chat episode was hosted by Lorraine Sommerfeld, who was joined by Paul McCarthy, president and CEO of MEMA, Sabrina Thring, brand president, collision group, of Driven Brands, and Chris Kinghorn, vice president strategy and growth of UAP Inc. The four of them had an engaging conversation about auto care trends of the past and future, how companies can pivot, and what needs to be done in order to ensure long-term success.  

AI and the future of auto retail 

Lastly was an invigorating session on artificial intelligence (AI) and the future of auto retail. Founder and CEO of Retail Prophet, Doug Stephens, provided valuable insights on how the auto retail space is changing, and how AI is leading that charge. 

“AI gives us opportunities to capitalize on teachable moments and to make training more interactive, timely, and relevant. Companies that came down to a granular level about an individual are seeing significantly better results. AI can help us get down to the key words, ideas, and motivators to help drive better conversion and revenue.” said Doug. 

To close off the event, AIA Canada’s Chair and President & CEO of CSN Collision, Ryan Bruno presented the closing remarks. 

“There are a lot of challenges in our industry but there’s a lot of opportunity—if you are here, you are part of the solution, so thank you for attending the AIA Canada National Conference.”

To those who attended the 2024 edition of the AIA Canada National Conference, thank you! Visit our Facebook photo album to recap the event.


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