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Mitch Schneider: What Happens in Vegas, Shouldn’t Stay in Vegas

I just returned home from Industry Week in Las Vegas. I know … This is where you say, "Tough job!" And, I reply, "Yeah, but somebody’s got to do it!" I should mention that I wear almost as many hats in Vegas as I do at the shop, so Industry Week isn’t just "walking" the show. It’s meetings from early in the morning until late at night, dinners that start long after dinners at home would have ended, industry events, press conferences, booth visits, client meetings and a host of other responsibilities. So, in more ways than one, it really is a ….

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By Mitch Schneider
Contributing Editor

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I just returned home from Industry Week in Las Vegas.

I know…This is where you say, “Tough job!” And, I reply, “Yeah, but somebody’s got to do it!”

I should mention that I wear almost as many hats in Vegas as I do at the shop, so Industry Week isn’t just “walking” the show. It’s meetings from early in the morning until late at night, dinners that start long after dinners at home would have ended, industry events, press conferences, booth visits, client meetings and a host of other responsibilities. So, in more ways than one, it really is a “tough job!”

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To compound matters, I hate Las Vegas…Not the whole city, just the Strip. It’s just that I never get off the Strip. From early in the morning until late in the evening, I’m with the other 100,000-plus manufacturers, jobbers, warehouse distributors and service professionals celebrating the depth, breadth, richness and resiliency of the Aftermarket: Aftermarket with a big “A.”

I hate Las Vegas, but with all my whining and complaining, too much to do and not enough time, no rest and too much of the wrong kind of food, I love Industry Week! Not just SEMA, where all the so-called “cool stuff” is: I love AAPEX — the Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo, where our Industry lives, just as much or more!

That’s where the hard parts are…That’s where Aftermarket parts, tool and equipment manufacturers and suppliers “strut” their stuff every year. That’s where the warehouses and jobbers we buy from go to negotiate with the manufacturers and suppliers they buy from. That’s where you and I can get a look at the tools and technology we will be confronting in the service bay next year or the year after, and the parts we’ll be purchasing to fix them. And, it’s where you get to see all the people who help to make this Industry as good as it is in one place, at one time.

As long as I’ve been going to the show — and I’ve been going for a very long time — there is always something new to look at, something valuable to take home. This year was no different.

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In past years, trying to see everything and be everywhere constituted what could only be described as an exercise in futility. In fact, I’d almost given up. But, this year was different somehow and an exercise in futility suddenly became an exercise in utility.

This year, I was prepared. This year, I had a plan and my planning paid off. Perhaps because this year I got in some much needed “windshield time” before the show ever started and spent the almost five hours it normally takes to get from L.A. to Vegas in my car; not in the air, or at an airport. And, generally there is a lot to think about with that amount of free time.

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For instance, the Las Vegas Visitor’s Bureau makes a big deal out of hyping the fact that: “Whatever happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas!” And, I guess that for some people, that’s a pretty big selling point. But I’m not sure it’s true. In fact, I know people who have brought back some things they never wanted or expected to: things requiring large doses of powerful antibiotics!

I know the big selling point for me this year wasn’t what I could leave behind: it was what I got to take home with me (microbes and bacteria excluded!). And, what I got to take home were the experiences, images and impressions of the show.

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Sure, I came home with the usual bags of “stuff” I come home with every year: new product information, training materials, press releases, a briefcase full of business cards and valuable contact information. But, there was something new in one of the bags when I got home…something I don’t remember packing. That something was Hope.

It could have been the questions that came up during a panel discussion I was fortunate enough to participate in: the feedback and genuine interest to find out what members of the service segment actually think. It could have been the sense of “cautious optimism” I felt after listening to the discussion that filled AAIA’s (Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association) Town Hall breakfast Wednesday morning. Or, the manufacturers I encountered on a tour of the show floor that afternoon…manufacturers who seemed genuinely glad to see members of the repair community at the show, and even more interested to find additional ways to encourage still greater participation next year.

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They were actually interested in what we had to say, how we felt and what we were thinking. They were, and I believe, still are, looking for ways to promote open and unfiltered communication: ways to begin a new and different kind of dialogue.

On the way there, all I could do was think about everything I had to do, and how difficult getting it all done was going to be. All I could think about on the way home was everything that had happened over the five days I was in Vegas and how I could bring all that back to the shop.

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I don’t know if it was the drive, the road, the weather, the music, the 78.7 mph average speed or the 28.3 mpg average fuel economy in a vehicle that has over 400 horses—every one of them wanting to break free!

Or, maybe it was just a great trip filled with good information, incredible experiences and indelible images. Whatever it was, I was as excited to be back at work that following Monday morning as I’ve ever been.

That kind of energy is necessary in an industry like ours; critical in difficult times like these. It helped me work through the weekend and fuel what I’d like to think was one of the most dynamic team meetings we’ve ever had.

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At a team meeting before the show, we talked about “Core Values:” the Values we live by as a company, the Values we hold ourselves accountable to as individuals. I asked everyone to write down the values they felt best described who we are and what we’re all about: the beginning of a small flame. By the time I returned home and had the opportunity to review those Values, that fire was “white hot.” I spent the rest of the weekend incorporating those Values into a single document: a statement of what we believe in, a statement of our Core Values.

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With a deep understanding of the values we hold dear, we will create a shared Vision of what this business could be, and must become: along with a deep understanding of what that would mean to everyone here.

From that Vision, a clear directive will flow, pointing us to what needs to be done: a new Mission. And, from that Mission will come the specific goals, objectives, strategies and tactics necessary to make it all a reality.

What has this got to do with AAPEX, SEMA or a week in Las Vegas? Could you have done any or all of this without leaving the shop? Weren’t you going to do it anyway?

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Those aren’t the right questions…And, even though the answers are: Everything! Sure! And, Yes!, that doesn’t tell the whole story.

I believe the synergies I saw developing at the show helped me to recognize that there is hope. It certainly gave me reason to believe that change is possible and that action may finally displace rhetoric as the order of the day. Recognizing that things can change resulted in an even stronger commitment to help drive that change. And, I brought the power of that hope to our meeting.

Did all that come from simply attending a trade show: from celebrating the richness of our industry?

Maybe…Maybe, not. Who knows?

But, what did come from the show was a sense of encouragement and empowerment that I haven’t felt in a very long time. What I took from the show was energy and new ideas, concepts and a greater sense of the “possible.”

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They say that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. I sincerely hope not!

I hope that next year you’ll think about joining us at Industry Week. Consider yourself invited. I hope you will take advantage of the educational opportunities that await you there. The selection will be even richer next year. Stop and visit with the manufacturers; ask them what you can do to help drive this industry — our industry, your industry — toward success. And, I hope you will allow them to ask you a few questions of their own along those same lines.

All I ask is that you recognize that the Show isn’t just about all the cool, cute, physical stuff you can cram in a bag and then drag home. It’s about ideas, information and relationships. More than anything else, it’s about education and communication.

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Try to also remember this: You have been invited because the Aftermarket really is interested in having you attend and participate. And, because we have been invited as guests to participate as equals, we have a responsibility to act accordingly.

So, if you find yourself at a booth where you are not being treated appropriately: if the representative you encounter is reluctant speak with you or take you seriously, it just might be because they’re intimidated that you may know more about their products or services than they do. If that happens, ask to speak with someone else. If that doesn’t work, move on…We can talk about it later.

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Remember, AAPEX is an investment that can result in a significant Return on Investment, if applied correctly. Because after the Show is finally over and you’re getting ready to pack, you will have the opportunity to take whatever happened in Vegas anywhere you want to.

You can even take it home with you if you want, without having to worry about strange or inappropriate behavior, shots, microbes, bacteria or anyone who may find out!

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