The Virginia Automotive Association (VAA) has taken a proactive approach to automotive service training.
Responding to a perceived need of its membership, the Midlothian, Va.-based association retained an automotive service instructor nearly two years ago to conduct classes on its behalf around the state.
``It goes back to bringing value,'' said VAA Executive Director Steve Akridge. ``We're fulfilling a niche that is badly needed. We think it has and will continue to help our membership-recruitment and retention.''
To provide the training, the association retained Bill Mays, an ASE-certified automotive service technician for Duffy's Repair Service in Ashland, Va.
He has a passion for training and can teach on any topic, including technical and sales, Mr. Akridge said.
For the association, Mr. Mays conducts classes at six different locations around the state per topic to make it more convenient for members to attend.
Typically in a year, the association will cover four training topics-or about 24 classes in all.
Class sizes are small, with attendance capped at 15. Technical sessions typically last about six hours; sales classes are about four hours in length.
``What makes our (training program) unique is it's hands on and (the) small class size,'' Mr. Akridge said, adding that this is ``as close to one-on-one instruction as you can possibly get.''
The training topics vary. Technical classes might tackle scan tools, air conditioning, basic brake work, anti-lock braking systems and electrical. A sales class, which is open to anyone in the dealership-including the owner, manager and counter salespeople-might focus on selling service and ``talking technical to your customers,'' he said.
This summer, in reaction to members' concerns about tire pressure monitoring systems, the association initiated a four-hour class on that topic as well, Mr. Akridge said.
The VAA charges $175-$195 per student per class-which includes dinner, a manual and a certificate-and takes the risk if the class is not successful financially. ``In most of the locations the classes sell out,'' he said.
The training program reflects the VAA's efforts to broaden its membership. Last fall the group changed its name to the Virginia Automotive Association from the Virginia Tire & Automotive Service Dealers Association so that businesses such as automotive repair shops and collision centers could join.
On the repair side, there was no automotive-focused association covering the entire state, Mr. Akridge said. ``We felt like everything we're doing-the programs, services, training and education-could help other automotive-based businesses, as well.''
That doesn't mean there's any less focus on independent tire dealers. ``Tires are part of the automobile, so they will be represented.'' Mr. Akridge said. ``We will continue to represent the tire dealer. We've been doing so for 40 years and will continue to do that.''
The association has about 200 member companies operating 350 to 400 locations.