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SAAR Gears Up for Its Largest-Ever Conference and Trade Show

by Tom Bissonnette, executive director, Saskatchewan Association of Automotive Repairers (SAAR)

The Saskatchewan Association of Automotive Repairers (SAAR) is in the midst of final preparations for its biggest-ever Fall Conference and Trade Show, scheduled for September 7–8, 2023. The event features keynote speakers Dave Luehr from Elite Body Shop Solutions and Ryan Mandall from Mitchell International who will provide their insights into the collision repair industry. The morning presentations will conclude with contributions from key management personnel from Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI). (Click here for a full schedule.)

For us, this is a big deal. SAAR has a decent amount of momentum thanks to SGI’s continuing presence at our events. They do not just come for the formal meetings; they show up early and they stay late. Their people are always eager to engage with our shop owners and managers, always looking for ways to understand our pain points and resolve them as best as they can. When we have conflict, we work to understand the issue and provide coaching to both sides to resolve the situation. It is not perfect, but we are a long way from where we used to be.

Our trade show has been moved to our local Prairieland Park Convention Center, where we can provide a world class venue for our exhibitors and our attending shop folks. Currently we have around 40 exhibitors and a full slate of presentations on our live stage and in our breakout rooms. Essentially, the event will be very similar to a mini-SEMA show.

One of the key events taking place is a meeting between SGI, our local body shops, and the Paintless Dent Repair shop (PDR). Currently SGI has a robust certification program in place for body shops, but there are literally no guidelines for PDR vendors. In our quest for safe and quality auto repairs, the collision repair industry is working with SGI, the PDR industry, and Saskatchewan Polytechnic to develop a reasonable certification standard that PDR technicians must meet in order to repair vehicles in our province. Some vendors are not too happy about this, but for the most part, we have the majority on board and ready to engage in the process.

SAAR has initiated some work education programs with high schools throughout the province, and we expect a good number of students checking out the auto body trade at this show. We will provide them with opportunities to compete in virtual painting and welding competitions, so they will get a chance to see some of what happens in body shops every day. The goal is peak their interest and have them look at the collision repair industry as a viable option for future employment.

We are also hosting 14 Saskatchewan Polytechnic graduates in a metal work skills competition, with the main prize being a $2,200 set of starter tools supplied by SAAR and Sutherland Automotive, one of our industry’s key suppliers of automotive and body shop supplies. The tool award was initially started by one of SAAR’s founding fathers, Joe Schmidt, who passed away in April of 2017. Covid derailed that program for a few years, and we are glad to bring it back.

Another new twist for this year is a mini auto body Olympics of sorts. We will be hosting three skill-testing competitions for body shop techs in the areas of welding, spraying, and estimating, and we will be providing cool prizes for the winners (and of course bragging rights).

We will kick off the event with a golf tournament on Thursday, September 7, and we wind up with an after party at the Dakota Dunes Resort Hotel, so there will be plenty of opportunity to network and connect with all industry stakeholders. I know some people feel the social aspect is not necessary, and they prefer to focus on the hard issues at stake. However, what I have found is that when you get to know people in a more personal, relaxed environment, it opens the doors to some great conversations, and opportunities for positive change are greatly enhanced.

I constantly say, “We are not where we want to be, but thank goodness we are not where we used to be.” It takes a lot of effort and persistence to run an auto body organization. Everybody is too busy. Some just resist change. Some just can’t be bothered. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter. I focus on those who are getting the message and do my best to work with them. I know how it works—you get out of anything based on what you put into it, and I am reminded of the famous Zig Ziglar’s water pump analogy.