Three Guys and A Convention
Three unique perspectives of the ARA Annual Convention offer up a full picture of the event's experience.
Whether you are a seasoned ARA convention attendee or a newbie, the 70th Annual ARA Annual Convention & Exposition had something for everyone! This year we thought we’d take a look at the event through the eyes of three attendees (with a little creative license on the part of the writer).

A View from an International First Timer
Brent Shaw, Maztech Parts World, Rotorua, New Zealand

“Welcome home!” I heard as I was greeted by the employees at Maztech Parts World as I entered the office after returning from my trip to the U.S. I had been gone for about two weeks and I had attended the Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo (AAPEX) and Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Conferences in Las Vegas, and the ARA Convention and Exposition in Arizona.

“Well, how was it?” they asked.

I leaned against the desk and said, “It was really beneficial and I learned a lot that I think we can use here in our business over the next year.” I think the things I learned will do our business a world of good. I wish I would have spent more time at the ARA conference instead of missing the first day.

We arrived at the ARA conference on Wednesday just in time to catch a taxi over to the reception at Brock Supply. I was traveling with Peter Butler from Affordable Parts World, also from New Zealand. We were both pleased to make it in time for a brief tour of Brock’s facility, then we boarded a bus that took us over to the party at Phoenix Automotive Cores. Peter and I reconnected with some of the Australian recyclers we had met last year at the Auto Parts Recyclers Association of Australia (APRAA) Conference in Sydney. It was good to see them again and catch up. Both Peter and I were really impressed with the hospitality and the operation at Brock Supply and Phoenix Automotive Cores. Actually, as the week went on, I was really impressed with the hospitality of the other recyclers all around.

With all the social gatherings and hospitality, the party provided an easy way to meet other recyclers and gain ideas and tips that we can use here at home.

“You’ve already said you were able to get some new ideas for us which was one of the reasons you went, but did you also find out more about industry trends so we could keep up with them?” asked another employee.

“Yes!” I said enthusiastically. “I felt like the speakers and educational sessions were very valuable in providing insight into the industry in the U.S. today and into the future direction of the industry as a whole. We did a lot of networking as well. Between the networking and the speakers, I feel like we have a lot of new tips to help our business. I was also impressed with the great unity amongst the ARA members to push the industry ahead as a whole.”

“So, what was your favorite part besides the business stuff?” was another question.

“NASCAR!” I replied with a big smile. “What a show it was! We had a great day at NASCAR and it’s something to experience, for sure.”

Overall I had a great and successful trip to the U.S. – I just wished I had longer to spend with the ARA members.

Long-time ARA Member, First Time Attendee
Wally Nichols, Ripples Auto Parts,Upper Marlboro, MD

“Well, I guess I’m living proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks!” was my thought as I smiled and settled into my seat for what would be about a four hour plane ride back to Maryland.

As I reflected on the events of the last few days, I felt somewhat humbled by my experience. When I left for the ARA Annual Convention & Expo earlier in the week, I thought I was going for one main reason and that was to check out three computer inventory systems.

Our business, Ripples Service, Inc., a CAR Certified facility, has enjoyed more than 65 years of continuous operation by four hard-working generations of the Ripple family and we’d been active contributing members of ARA for the last 25 years.

Yet, this was the first ARA convention we’d ever attended. I guess, if I’m truthful about it, we always thought we were up to speed on everything in the recycling world, therefore, there really wasn’t any reason for us to attend the conventions.

This year would be different as a new computer inventory system was needed and we felt this might be a good opportunity to go to the Exposition and see the systems firsthand. So, Patrick Gray and I set off for Phoenix.

We missed the annual golf tournament that was held at the Ocotillo Resort on Tuesday. We heard they had over 100 participants and that is was a lot of fun. I heard that the winners were:
Third Place John Ladd, Ernie Jackson, Jim Duiling
Second Place: Gary Grandsko, Vince Vincent, Brent Sapergia
First Place: Larry Montplaisir, John Rooney, Scott Williams

Our first event was the reception at Brock Supply. We had been their customers in the past, but had not done business with them in a few years. We spent some time talking to Ted and touring their warehouse. We soon realized that this was a very valuable contact for us to make and have become regular customers of theirs once again. After this successful business deal, we headed over to the Phoenix Automotive Cores party. It was a very good social gathering and although I enjoyed myself immensely, we also got an in-depth look at what goes on with our cores once they leave our facility.

We decided since we were already at the convention, we’d go ahead and sit in on a seminar the next day. I went into my first seminar thinking that we would hear the speakers tell us a bunch of things we already knew. As I walked into the seminar titled “How to Survive an OSHA Audit,” I wondered how so many recyclers were there eagerly ready to take notes and learn. I took my seat and prepared to have a review. As Sue Schauls started speaking, I found myself leaning forward to hear what she was saying. Other actual yard owners chimed in with their real world experiences that directly apply to us. Only the first ten minutes had gone by and I suddenly understood how wrong I had been. It became very clear that I had a lot more to learn!

When the session ended, Patrick and I decided to attend as many educational sessions as we could from then on.

On my trip home, I chuckled as I reflected upon all I had learned the rest of the week in the educational sessions. I thought about the small tweaks we would make to become a safer facility – especially those ideas I picked up during the session on OSHA compliance. The information given during all the sessions was eye-opening, even after all these years in business.

My favorite session I reflected on was presented by keynote speaker, Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40, who spoke on “Helping People Win At Work.” It was the most interesting session to me and I thought about the great tips and approaches on employee/employer relationships that we were going to implement immediately when I got returned home.

Even some turbulence on the plane ride didn’t keep me from thinking more about the Exposition, and the benefit of meeting the representatives of the computer inventory systems I was interested in. That was our reason for attending after all and we were not disappointed. We were successful in finding a system to which we are going to upgrade. In fact, we enjoyed the Expo so much that we attended all three days! I thought about all the great contacts we made, as well as the great people we met. Since we were looking for a new computer inventory system we spent a lot of time in those booths. All the representatives from each company booth we visited were very helpful and knowledgeable.

Peering out the window of the plane, I went back to reflecting upon our trip. I thought about the friends we had made each night at the late night informal gatherings in the hotel lobby and how much I enjoyed the people I had met there.

We had a great time at the Mexican fiesta at American Auto Recycling, hosted by Mark Buessing. What a great time! I was impressed I was by their facility and how organized they were.

I thought about the beautiful weather the day of the NASCAR race and how much fun we all had there. It really was a great way to top off a great week.

I shook my head at the irony of the whole thing. In the end the educational sessions had been the best part of the week, and also the worst. They were the best because of the information we received, but they were also the worst because we realized how much work we still need to do when we get home to get us up to par.

We gained information that you can’t put a price on as we exchanged ideas and information with other recyclers and the speakers. We were able to meet the speakers and engage them one to one, which was priceless. 

Yes, it would seem that Phoenix had changed me after all. I had gone out there a skeptic and come back a believer. I didn’t know anyone besides my co-worker, but I came back with many friends from other yards. I was coming back armed with tips to improve our business and business contacts. I smiled and decide that from now on I would become a regular face at the ARA events.

A Seasoned View From a Convention Veteran
Ron Wilbert, Wilbert’s, Inc., Webster, New York

As the breathtaking landscape of the Arizona desert loomed before me, I took in the beautiful Red Rocks of Sedona one last time. We had just visited the Grand Canyon the day before and its beauty was so astounding that it’s hard to put into words. I wish we could stay longer but I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to experience this wonderful part of our country.

That’s one of the things I really like about the ARA conventions and expositions. I have been coming to them for more than 25 years now (which in itself is hard to believe that time has gone by so fast) and I have traveled to so many great cities because of them.

We would be back in Phoenix before too long. As I drove, dusk was slowly making its way towards us. I thought about the conventions I had been to and the great people I had met over the years. They had become like family to me. When we first started going to the conventions and expos, I felt that the main draw of the convention was the trade show. That was the main reason I used to go and, even though I still liked them, I realized that over time my main reason for attending the conventions had shifted.

In our business today, we do so much trading with other recyclers that the networking and relationships with other recyclers had taken precedent for me.

I also thought about how the social events had really become outstanding over the years and how so many great hosts had willingly stepped up to the plate to ensure success. As I saw glimpses of the ARA conventions over the years in my mind I felt a pang of nostalgia. The one thing I really miss is the familiar and much loved faces that are gone, including my Dad, Arthur Wilbert. I smiled as I remembered how much he loved coming to these ARA conventions.

The city limits of Phoenix stood before me. I glanced at the clock. We would have enough time to join the others for the Brock Supply reception and the Phoenix Automotive Cores party. I was really looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones. I also was looking forward to touring American Auto Recycling on Saturday. I enjoy touring the different yards around the country at the convention. Over the years we had picked up ideas from them that had proved to be invaluable.

The next few hours seemingly passed in a flurry of activity and greetings. We boarded the bus to Brock Supply where we saw their impressive facility and visited with friends. From there the social gathering continued at Phoenix Automotive Cores. As always, they were not to be outdone, especially in their own hometown! We returned to the hotel, tired but having had a terrific evening.

Light streamed in through the curtains of my hotel and I fought the urge to roll over and go back to sleep. I went over to the window and peered out. It looked like another beautiful day in Phoenix with plenty of sunshine and blue skies on hand. I got ready and after a quick breakfast and a cup of coffee, headed up the street to the convention center. There seemed to be some very good educational sessions on the day’s schedule and I was really looking forward to the ones on self- service since we are new to that area of the business. I was especially pleased that there seemed to be even more of these educational sessions dedicated to this growing segment of the industry.

As the day wore on, I was not disappointed with the educational sessions. I learned a lot of good information from them and I, along with other recyclers, commented that we really enjoyed the fact that more of the sessions are being led by industry peers. I especially enjoyed and learned a lot from the sessions led by Amber Elenbaas and Chris Mantas.

I looked at my watch; time to head for the exposition. As I rode the escalator up, I heard a thunder of applause.

“What’s going on?” I asked my wife who was next to me.

She shrugged her shoulders.

“Maybe some celebrity is in the building or something,” I muttered.

There was whooping and yelling and more applause from what sounded like a huge group of people. As we got to the top of the first escalator, we saw a group from Phoenix Automotive Cores standing in the landing applauding all the Exposition goers.

You couldn’t help but smile and wave at them as you went by. Then we rode up the second escalator.

“That was nice,” I commented to my wife. Then, as we reached the top and started walking towards the exposition where the Past President’s Reception would be held, there were about 100 Phoenix Automotive Cores employees lined up on both sides making a walkway that we had to go through. They were smiling at us and applauding us as we walked through. It was a greeting fit for royalty. As it turned out, the ARA expo attendees were the celebrities!

It was nice to be celebrated in a world where, all too often, we go unnoticed. This show of appreciation made the whole convention extra special.

The outgoing ARA President Chris Wright rushed in with his father, Ken Wright, and his wife and children, who had just arrived, and together with all the Past ARA Presidents in attendance, they cut the ribbon and we all eagerly entered the trade show.

I spent the next several hours wandering from vendor to vendor, and must say that I really appreciate all the vendors who were there. I also met more first time exhibitors than ever before, which provided opportunities to see new products and services.

After spending some time back at the hotel with friends, it was time for some sleep after a long and successful day. It’s funny how quickly the morning seems to arrive when you are at an ARA convention. After handling some phone calls for business back home, I took in more of the educational sessions and the expo and soon it was time to attend the ARA Awards Dinner, always a highlight.

I looked around the room and it really was packed. It seemed to be the best attended ARA Awards Dinner I had ever been to. I made a note to give credit to ARA for changing the night it was held (in recent years, it moved from the last night of the convention to an earlier night in the events line-up to allow for more to attend) and also credit to the other attending recyclers for realizing that we need to pay tribute to those who donate so much time for all of our benefit. Auto recyclers who serve in various volunteer positions in ARA were recognized throughout the dinner.

With a full stomach and a heart full of appreciation, we continued our social networking for a few more hours after the dinner ended.

“Ok, bus one is ready to go,” said Kim Glasscock as she guided convention attendees onto one of the three buses headed for the yard tour at American Auto Recycling on the final night. Saturday had been another full day of educational sessions and the expo, but I noticed I wasn’t the only recycler taking advantage of the lovely Arizona weather as I took a short break poolside that afternoon.

Now feeling refreshed, I boarded the bus, ready for what I had been waiting for all week – a yard tour! We traveled across Phoenix to American Auto Recycling and as we got off the bus, I could tell this was going to be a fun and impressive evening. Eagerly, I toured their spotless facility and was really impressed. My only regret is that I could not have toured it during the day when I could have seen the yard better. Perhaps one day I will return and do just that.

The party was a Mexican fiesta with good Mexican food, a DJ, and a dance floor.

I also enjoyed the competition between the bar tenders to earn the most tips to support the Scholarship Foundation. The teams served drinks at all the social events throughout the convention. The teams were the Executive Committee, Ladies of Automotive Recycling Association (LARA), and Past Presidents. The very competitive LARA team won!

Before we knew it, Sunday arrived and we were off to the NASCAR race. What a great way to finish the convention week. We enjoyed the whole week in Arizona, and as I headed back to the hotel, I realized that this was one of the best ARA conventions I had ever attended. That’s saying a lot since I have been to all of them for over 25 years! Even as this one came to a close, I found myself looking forward to the one in Nashville next year.

Michelle Keadle-Taylor is a freelance writer based in Northern Virginia.

Click to download the full January/February 2014 issue in PDF format

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