The AIA Canada National Conference 2023: Getting ready for the future

May 1, 2023

With the COVID pandemic behind us for the most part, industry events have moved back to in-person gatherings where colleagues can get together face to face to network and learn. After several years of being stuck behind a screen, attendees have elevated expectations when it comes to an event’s organization, presentation and its lineup of speakers.   

It is against this backdrop of high demands that AIA Canada hosted its 2023 National Conference. The two-day event held April 25 and 26, in Toronto, rose to the challenge, offering the nearly 200 attendees a packed schedule of A-list speakers and an easy-going atmosphere in which to catch up with their industry peers.  

Welcome to the future 

Following a welcome reception held the night before, the conference’s full day speakers and panel discussions began with breakfast and a chance to network before AIA Canada President Jean-François Champagne opened the proceedings.   

“We see a bright future ahead, but one that is more complex—one that requires us to adapt and change.” 

If there has been one thing that has remained consistent in the Canadian auto care industry, it is Automotive Industries Association of Canada (AIA Canada) itself. AIA Canada has beenchampioning the national auto care sector for over 80 years—a longevity made possible by an ability to change with the times.  

Jean-François Champagne then invited members of the senior leadership team to discuss how the association has been changing to meet the needs of members today and in the future.  

Alana Baker, senior director of government relations, spoke about AIA Canada’s efforts on right to repair and skills training, something echoed by the newest member to the senior leadership team, Stuart Klein, senior director of collision programs.   

But for an association like AIA Canada, keeping members informed about ongoing advocacy efforts is as important as the efforts themselves.  Recognizing this, Brendan Mullen, senior director of digital marketing and communications, explained how AIA Canada has been modernizing member engagement and focusing resources to provide them with the communications they need and want.  

“It is a member-centric approach,” Brendan explained. “At the end of the day, it’s all about you.” 

Women in the auto care industry: building relationships and breaking barriers  

There are many parts to being successful in business, but for Christine Botham (Canadian Tire), building authentic relationships built on trust is one of the most important.  Building a leadership style around the qualities that promote trust is essential. 

“There are three key themes concerning leadership; agility, communication and innovation,” she asserted.  

Business success is something Emily Chung, owner of AutoNiche in Markham, Ontario, knows something about. Women are still a minority in the auto care industry and that is something Emily would like to see change. Drawing on her experience, Emily offered advice on how to build an inclusive environment that is attractive to everyone.  

 “There are two major stereotypes: that women don’t know cars, and that men should know about cars, where it is not necessarily so. That’s why it’s important to look for common things that we all share, regardless of background.” 

Young Professionals in the Aftermarket: becoming a leader   

The sessions dedicated to young professionals in the aftermarket focused on offering practical advice for up-and-coming auto care industry workers—whether they are on the shop floor or the corporate office—as they move up the corporate ladder.  

When looking to advance in one’s career, self-promotion plays an important role. In the opinion of Jacki Lutz (Sensata Technologies), the social media platform LinkedIn is a powerful but underused tool young professionals can use to build a personal brand.  

”We do business with people we know,” she affirmed. ”LinkedIn is a great way to show others who you are.”  

Moving up the ranks often means taking on a position of leadership. Sabrina Thring’s (Driven Brands) presentation offered the audience a modern look at leadership, one that promotes a culture that attracts and retains the best talent and gets the best results from them.  

”You have to learn what motivates people,” Sabrina insists. “If we aren’t building an environment that engages people, they won’t stay.” 

The future is electric 

With all new vehicles sold in Canada set to be zero emission in just over a decade, the role that electric vehicles (EVs) will play in shaping the future of the auto care industry cannot be understated. That was the message of Guido Vildozo (S&P Global Mobility), whose talk focused on the potential risks and benefits to the industry as Canadians get behind the wheels of a growing fleet of EVs.  

“We forecast that Canada will have the highest plug-in hybrid ratio compared to anywhere in the world because of the weather here and other factors that come into play,” he said. 

Celebrating outstanding members 

When the morning sessions ended, conference attendees could be heard bouncing the ideas they had just heard back and forth as they sat down to lunch.  

During the midday break, Young Professionals in the Aftermarket Committee Chair Patrick Verriet took to the stage to announce this year’s winners of the Young Professionals in the Aftermarket Young Leader of the Year Award while Bill Hay of Bestbuy Distributors presented the AIA Canada Distinguished Service Award.  

The Young Professionals in the Aftermarket Young Leader of the Year Award was presented to Brad Cochrane, director of sales operations and business analytics at NAPA Auto Parts. Brad Shaddick, director of sales Canada at Tenneco/DRiV and current chair for the Shad’s R&R annual industry charity golf event, received the Distinguished Service Award, AIA Canada’s highest recognition for an individual.  

Industry leaders’ panel 

After lunch, the conference’s focus returned to the future of the industry as Jean-François Champagne, invited Mauro Cifelli (Groupe Del Vasto), Steve Leal (Fix Network World) and Jasna Smiljcic (Gates Canada) to the stage for an insightful panel discussion. Touching on topics ranging from the supply chain to the perennial issue of skills training, these industry leaders offered their takes on what forces will be important in shaping the auto care sector.  

On the supply chain front, Jasna saw manufacturers bringing their production lines closer to home. “Regional production is going to become the norm.”   

Mauro drew the connection between new manufacturers, new technologies and the need for additional training to be able to work with them. ”We focus on the technology, but not the public perception of who has the skills. What keeps me awake is the customer’s perception of who is best qualified to install the part.”  

For Steve, the industry needs to take the lead for training. “On the collision side, I was worried about the technician shortage. We decided to build training facilities to ensure we have the training we need.”  

It is impossible to speak opportunities without speaking of challenges, but on the whole, the panel was optimistic. As Steve Leal put it, ”The future is bright, but you need to be flexible. Do not stay status quo. Keep doing what you are doing how you are doing it today and you will be lost tomorrow.”.  

Google auto retail insights 

Data and information are a valuable and necessary tool when it comes time to repair and maintain our vehicles—AIA Canada has been fighting for fair and timely access to vehicle data for the auto care industry for years. But in-car data is not the only digital information that the modern auto care sector needs to be successful. Mathew Growden, head of Google Canada’s Auto Retail Team, presented the conference some of the tech giant’s cache of data.   

In an increasingly connected world, non-traditional outlets like Google are destined to become more and more important to the auto care industry.  

”About 62 per cent of electric vehicle buyers expect to make their next purchase completely online.” Mathew said.  

The future of work: Getting 2030 ready 

The theme of the technology changing the future was carried on by the conference’s keynote speaker, Andrew Au. A global thought leader on digital transformation and culture change, Andrew asked a simple question: are auto care businesses ready for a future where automation and new technology completely changes the way we work?  

Setting the not-so-distant date of 2030 as a tipping point, Andrew offered insight into the sorts of changes technology would bring, but also the shift in leadership and culture it will take to succeed in the new world of work.  

”When tech adoption fails, it fails for human reasons, not tech reasons. Being culturally intelligent about how we use tech may be the difference between success and failure.” 

Ready for tomorrow 

Focusing on the future is a necessity for every industry, business and individual to be successful in the long run. But it is not about making wild guesses or consulting crystal balls and hoping things work out for the best. As the speakers at this year’s AIA Canada National Conference made clear, it is about using the data available to help predict where we will be in five- or ten-years’ time, and then making the most of the existing and emerging tools to get there.  

AIA Canada looks to lead by example, showing how the Association is preparing for an auto care industry very different from the one that existed when they were founded. Using the information and insights shared by the speakers at the conference, attendees are in a better position to meet the challenges of tomorrow. 

A photo gallery of the event is available on the AIA Canada Facebook page.  


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