ORLANDO, Fla. (May 19, 2000)—"Coming soon to a theater near you" may eventually take on a slightly new ring for auto service providers and technicians across the country.
The Florida Automotive Industry Association (FAIA) has embarked on a campaign that it hopes will eventually bring special targeted advertisements to movie houses in 32 states. In theater parlance, the group´s ad goal is a two-reeler:
*To try to convince motorists that it´s cheaper, in the long run, to do repairs on their vehicles rather than forsake them for a new car; and
*To motivate young people to consider an auto service career.
It´s no secret that the industry has been begging for fresh recruits for years. And, according to statistics cited by the FAIA, 38 percent of young people entering high school never graduate; of those entering college, 67 percent will never graduate.
"That leaves a lot of young individuals who have the ability to learn a technical skill and make a great future out of it," said FAIA Executive Vice President Tom Morrison.
The theater project and the association´s newly developed Internet Web site—www.autojobonline.com—grew from what Mr. Morrison called "a little thing" he developed over a weekend into something "that´s taking on a national scope and presence." The lynchpin for the FAIA´s efforts is the Web site, principally geared to developing auto service careers nationwide.
"There´s really nowhere on the Internet that focuses on the automotive arenas we focus on: career opportunities, benefits, the availability of certification training, scholarships and online classified ads," he said. And since the site is run by a non-profit trade group to benefit the industry, "we´re not in this to banner-ad the thing to death."
The Web site focuses on two areas: Increasing the availability of qualified parts and counter people, service writers and technicians; and expanding the aftermarket.
It includes "links" to and information about educational opportunities offered by the "University of the Aftermarket," an educational alliance of three industry trade groups; the Automotive Service Industry Association (ASIA) Management College of Aftermarket Studies; Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) training programs; the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) and its certification training; and Northwood University, a "special-purpose" college, with campuses in Michigan, Texas and Florida that offer a wide automotive-based curriculum.
One of the biggest competitive factors facing the aftermarket, Mr. Morrison said, is the decision a consumer often makes to purchase a new or used car rather than have their current vehicle repaired, especially in regard to replacing a blown engine.
"Because when they (buy a new car), nobody gets anything in the aftermarket. Tires aren´t put on. Nothing," he said.
The FAIA´s objective to expand aftermarket sales is being tied to the Web site´s tagline, "Good automobile, bad engine. Consider engine replacement," though swapping power plants is just the beginning.
Mr. Morrison believes more consumers will consider that option once they realize it "beats the high cost of new cars, saves on insurance, taxes and interest, and extends the life of your auto." A new motor, with a five-year, 60,000-mile warranty, can be acquired for between $3,500 and $4,000, he contends, vs. perhaps $35,000 for a new car.
"We´re not focusing on just engines," he continued, "but that´s the thing that gets people going and the reason is, everything starts at that point." For a typical engine replacement, he said half the price tag consists of essential parts such as belts and hoses etc., "so it benefits the aftermarket tremendously.
"If they spend that to do an engine on, say, a 1990 car, then eventually the tires will wear out. Then the consumer may want to dress it up with custom wheels.... So you get people thinking about an engine replacement and everything else will come."
In turn, if the aftermarket is impacted by as little as 5 or 10 percent, Mr. Morrison said that could translate to "hundreds of millions, or billions of dollars" in added revenue.
In engine shops, "sales people are trained to tell customers they can´t buy a new car for $3,500. And after saying that for about the seventh time, it finally clicks, because after you put that amount down on a new car, along comes 60 months of $250 payments and interest and higher insurance rates."
The association is currently about halfway home to funding the launch of an advertising campaign in Florida theaters, and Mr. Morrison has begun discussions with theater chains around the country so the FAIA can eventually reach its goal to advertise in 825 major theaters across the U.S. He foresees a state-by-state rollout possibly beginning by the end of the year—as quickly as the FAIA can enlist financial support from its member companies and others.
As planned, there will be three different theater ads run in each state, with 10 four-color, high-quality logo spots on each ad. Sponsors will be able to choose the states in which they want to participate. An ad logo will cost $10,000 per state, so "for $310,000 a company can be seen in 31 states," Mr. Morrison said. "They´re getting a lot of bang for their buck on this campaign."
The FAIA can achieve its 825-theater goal with a $10 million budget, which he said is not that much when considering the message ads could reach an estimated 300 million-plus consumers in one year.
"We have a consortium of about 10 or 11 state associations around the country linked through a sister organization," Mr. Morrison said, and the FAIA is trying to enlist them as business partners to help make its theater project fly.
Although he has yet to approach many of the firms the FAIA hopes to sign on, Mr. Morrison maintains that the project is a natural for tire companies such as Goodyear, Michelin North America Inc. and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., which have a presence in the auto repair field and "want brand recognition for their product as well as to promote careers within the automotive industry."
The FAIA has been around since 1954, and was predominantly a jobber-oriented association until 1995 when, he said, "our members felt it was important to bring their customers into the house." Now, auto service providers—including tire dealerships—represent about 40 percent of overall membership.
The group has presented its plans to the AAIA, the Motor Equipment Manufacturers Association, and has held strategy sessions with those and other groups to solicit help in further enhancing its Web page as a national career development site, as well as support for its theater ad campaign.
But Mr. Morrison is most buoyed by a chance meeting some of his association´s members had with the Florida School Counselors Association when the two groups were holding board meetings simultaneously in the state´s capitol.
Members of the counselors group "were astounded at the career opportunities our member business owners were willing to offer students fresh out of school," he said.
For instance, a student one year out of high school and working in the parts business can start at $20,000 per year and hit $25,000 to $30,000 with incentives, he noted.
"We´re working very hard to aggressively educate (the counselors) to understand these things so they will be more than willing to tell kids in middle schools and high schools, `Here is the way you need to go.´ "
Still, trying to undo years of stereotypes about "grease monkeys" and "you don´t have to be smart just to turn wrenches" will take some work, he admitted.
But in order to work on today´s vehicles, a tech needs to understand major computer technology, physics, electronics. "That´s where we´re going with the educational component of our Web site: to educate people on how exciting and lucrative this field is," he said.
"If a tech is aggressive, good, and technologically advanced, after five years he or she can essentially work toward owning their own repair shop." And that, he added, "tends to get school counselors excited.
"We´ve got a problem occuring in this industry. That is, not enough technicians to fix the cars on the road. If we don´t bridge that gap in the next five years, we´ll be waiting two weeks to get an auto fixed, and we´ll have a lot of unsafe vehicles on the road."
The FAIA has a variety of volunteers and members involved on high school technical training boards, in vo-ed schools, in community colleges. It also plans to participate in the school counselors´ annual state convention and has invited that group to its convention, he said.
"We´re doing everything we can to get ourselves in front of these counselors to say, `We want your children coming into our industry.´ ´´
A number of FAIA members also plan to open their doors for "field days" so schools can take students to a local auto repair shop, for instance, or engine rebuilder or parts store "to show them the latest technology," Mr. Morrison said. "It´s a good opportunity for them to show off our industry."
"This isn´t a flashy industry," he continued. "We need to add a little flash and flair to it!"
As he puts it, there is no "magic wand"—"no one person or tire dealership or trade association, whether national, regional or state, will fix this problem by themselves. The industry needs to unite itself, needs to look to the leadership of such groups and support them."
Some FAIA ads in Florida hit that premise squarely between the eyes, stating: "You can either be part of the problem or part of the solution—you make the choice."