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Service-EDU offers training without the sales pitch

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SAN RAFAEL, Calif. — Everybody knows you can’t spell “training” without “sales pitch,” but Service-EDU doesn’t abide by that logic.

The Service-EDU training program, which launched earlier this year, is a joint effort between Gates Corp., Mahle Industries Inc. and NGK Spark Plugs (U.S.A.) Inc. Its goal is to provide technicians with high quality diagnostics and systems training — without a side helping of hard sell, according to Mark Sprague, general manager of marketing for NGK.

With its first two training events out of the way and another three scheduled this fall, the group’s biggest challenge so far has been getting technicians to “view this training as training,” Mr. Sprague told Tire Business.

“I think the industry has probably conditioned service people to believe that any type of training involves a sales pitch, and they’re reluctant to devote their time to anything like this,” he said.

“Our biggest message we want to get out is that this is truly diagnostic training — understanding the system and understanding how to diagnose problems more efficiently in a technical environment, not a sales environment,” he continued. “Once word-of-mouth starts spreading that this is truly an informative and worthwhile training seminar, I think we’ll get a lot more acceptance.”

The three automotive components manufacturers approached The Marx Group to produce the joint training program. The San Rafael-based firm comprises a team of aftermarket experts with more than 30 years of experience in developing marketing, strategy and other services for automotive industry suppliers.

According to The Marx Group, each Service-EDU training event is held in partnership with the Universal Technical Institute (UTI), taking place at a regional UTI campus within the U.S. All three manufacturers sponsoring the program provide training courses focused on their unique category of expertise, including accessory belt drive systems (ABDS), coolant systems, engine components, filtration, ignition system, thermal, timing belt systems and tools and equipment.

Tom Marx, CEO of The Marx Group, said diagnostic training is becoming more important in the automotive industry as more companies move toward expanded service and repair offerings.

“Specialists—tire people, exhaust people, undercar people — more and more they’re becoming general repair shops because that’s what keeps the doors open,” he told Tire Business. “In order to do that, they need to understand the diagnosis process, and in many cases they may not have come from that background. And they may have techs that have been specialists in certain areas that don’t have that training, so this is a great opportunity to learn what they have to sell.”

Service-EDU training consists of classroom and hands-on instruction on proper system troubleshooting, advanced service techniques and component replacement, The Marx Group said, providing value for attendees who can receive training in multiple product categories during a single event.

“The issue really was that doing training programs is time-consuming and expensive on both sides, for the supplier to deliver and for the technician to attend,” Mr. Marx said. “By providing a diverse training program all in one location by really top quality suppliers, we believe that provides a strong impetus for the technician to attend.”

In its first year, Service-EDU will consist of only five training events, a decision that Mr. Sprague said was intentional.

“That was designed so we could understand what we need to improve upon and build upon what we do well,” he said. “We didn’t want to go full bore because we don’t know what it’s going to take to get everybody’s expectations met. We’re using this as our benchmark, our learning curve.”

Service-EDU kicked off its inaugural training event April 29-30 at the UTI campus in Avondale, Ariz., with its second event taking place a few weeks later at the UTI Dallas/Fort Worth campus in Irving, Texas.

Those events, which drew about 50 attendees each, generated positive feedback, Mr. Sprague said. They also generated some changes moving forward.

“We’ve adjusted our presentations slightly to compensate for some of the questions,” he said. “…We talked about older technology (during the events) and attendees said, ‘Don’t worry about that, we already know it. Focus and go a little deeper into that future OEM technology that’s being put into vehicles today.’

“From that we’ve learned how to become better presenters, better trainers.”

The Marx Group has scheduled three additional Service-EDU automotive training courses for technicians this October and November, taking place in the greater Chicago, Los Angeles and Charlotte, N.C., metro areas.

Donny Seyfer, co-owner of Seyfer Automotive Inc. in Wheat Ridge, Colo., will provide the keynote address — “Defining the Connected Car” — for training events scheduled Oct. 7-8 at the UTI campus in Lisle, Ill., and Oct. 21-22 at the UTI campus in Mooresville, N.C.

Sarah Burgess, driver and owner of BMI Racing, will provide the keynote address for a third event, Nov. 18-19 at the UTI campus in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

Ms. Burgess, who is competing as the first female in the Pro Lite class of the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series, will address the topic, “Women in the Driver’s Seat.” Her presentation is meant to help automotive repair shop owners and technicians understand the critical importance of improving the way they communicate with women, according to Marx Group.

Each of the three events will begin with a Friday night keynote address, along with dinner, orientation and networking from 6 to 8 p.m. Training courses are scheduled to take place from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturdays and are taught by trainers from Gates, Mahle and NGK.

Registration for each event is $49 per person and includes the training courses, Friday dinner, Saturday breakfast and lunch and opportunities to win raffle prizes. Registration can be completed via the Service-EDU website, www.service-edu.com.

As the program grows, future iterations may include additional training events, as well as online training components to meet different needs within the industry. None of these are set in stone, but they are being considered, according to organizers.

“The Marx Group has been supporting suppliers with designing, implementing and delivering training programs for quite a few years, and there’s no set standard in this industry about what people want,” Mr. Marx said.

“Online, webinar, in person — each one seems to have its advantages depending on the product line, depending on the quality of the trainer. From what we’ve seen so far, hands-on training is still a very important aspect because it allows people to interact, provides them with a networking opportunity with their peers…and it also allows the suppliers to get a much better understanding of the challenges, because of the two-way communications that happen.”

According to Mr. Sprague, those who appreciate and enjoy hands-on training are the technicians that Service-EDU has been aiming for.

“We all learn differently, but the people we’re getting are the people who want to sit in the classroom and be able to ask questions and banter back and forth to really get to that ‘ah ha’ moment of, ‘I know how to apply that now,’” he said. “…That’s the type of person that comes to these classes, and that’s who we’re trying to get to.”

One thing Mr. Sprague said also may change is the inclusion of vehicle parts and components manufacturers from other categories in Service-EDU’s training program.

“I think there’s a possibility for that in the future,” he said. “Today we’re looking at making this a sustainable and beneficial program, so I think we have to start out kind of small and that’s why we chose who we chose.

“But in the future, if this is accepted by the industry, then we would for sure think about expanding the offering and making it a complete training program.”

To reach this reporter: wschertz@crain.com; 330-865-6148; Twitter: @Will_Schertz

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