Sarah Bruce
Public Relations / Member Engagement
Email: sarahbruce@ara.bc.ca
Phone: 604-432-7987

A Shift in the ARA Membership Base

by David Ribeiro

The ARA has undergone continuous evolution since its beginnings nearly 70 years ago, but the foundation has always been the same. It is an association of businesses looking to better industry for all.

The ARA has been around since 1951, when a group of B.C. gas station and garage operators established an association through which they could come together to identify and address issues they were all facing. At the time, the issues included a lack of control over profit margins associated with gas prices and harsh treatment from oil suppliers.

As time progressed, the role of this representative body expanded significantly. The association grew to include hundreds of members seeking representation, information, and support across a diverse range of automotive sectors such as towing, collision repair, mechanical repair, auto recycling, and more.

It was eventually necessary to organize the ARA into specific divisions to ensure that the needs of each category were being met. As of now, we have eight divisions in total, with more than a thousand members across the province.

However, has a shift begun to take place in that membership base? If so, what are the current issues driving any perceived need for change? Some could argue that we continue to hold true to the original intent from 1951—identifying and addressing issues—but it is more complex in today’s marketplace.

We have unprecedented technological challenges, in terms of diagnostics, calibration, and the complexity of repairs driven by advancements in vehicle design and materials used in their construction, as well as the expanding role OEMs play in developing rules around repair procedures.

Through all these developments we are simultaneously seeing technology drive reductions in service intervals, reparability, and even the frequency of repairs. Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) components such as auto-braking, blind-spot detection, and lane departure are just a few of the many technologies employed to make the vehicle run safer, longer, and leaner.

What impact does this have on our businesses? We are beginning to realize that, while you can still operate as a mom-and-pop shop, more are becoming very specialized repair centres. The reality is, repair facilities today require consistency and speed in order to maintain profitability because everybody is being squeezed on their profit margins across the board. Therefore, getting more efficient, getting leaner, and getting your business practices in order is vital to compete in today’s world.

Just as generic repair methods and techniques are no longer adequate, neither is a static repair network. Continuous monitoring and adjustment of a dynamic network is required. Facilities must continually adjust their capabilities with new equipment, and new vehicles require new training and certifications for technicians. While all networks strive to deliver proper and safe repairs, one size does not fit all.

Repairers are likely to participate in both OEM-certified and carrier direct repair programs. Since the KPIs and metrics for each program may differ, it is critical to have in place a system that allows for the management of proper and safe repairs, especially against varying performance measurement criteria.

From an association perspective, the ARA has also morphed into a network of sorts. The western alliance of industry associations, representing B.C., Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, is an informal information-sharing agreement between the collision repair industry associations in the three western provinces that have public insurers.

Considering Saskatchewan’s 140 SAAR (Saskatchewan Association of Automotive Repairers) members, Manitoba’s 130 ATA (Automotive Trades Association) members, and B.C.’s 300 ARA collision repair division members, what you have is an alliance representing nearly 600 collision repair facilities. The establishment of this alliance began simply, with regular discussions, sharing of ideas, and best practices to help each other understand how to deal with government insurance companies who also meet regularly with each other.

We also see a new pattern in the membership base in the ARA’s associate member category. 1997 saw the ARA reach its largest membership total ever, but the fewest associate members. Since that time, associate members have nearly doubled and now represent seven percent of our membership base, compared to only 2.6 percent in 1997. Suppliers take seriously the role they play in helping industry to gain efficiency, become leaner, and implement practices to ensure the proper management of safe and quality repairs. They rely upon the success of the industry they service.

The ARA is no different, having adopted a change in philosophy, becoming less dependent on others to do the right thing, and instead driving the changes necessary for industry. The past five years have seen an increase in member support—especially in the auto glass and collision repair sectors, for whom the ARA introduced certification programs.

Is the ARA done? Not even close. We are only beginning to understand and harness the influence that we, as united partners, can impart on decision-makers. Programs like our certification models and the latest project related to zero-emission vehicles demonstrate how industry, through its representation on the ARA executive committees, is able to make lasting improvements.

If you are a non-member, you should ask yourself, is it right to rely on others in my industry to set the course, or should I contribute through membership or even volunteer time? These are programs built by and for industry. Through your support, the ARA helps industry to run safer, longer, and leaner.

Become the ARA’s member today!