40 YEARS STRONG
In 2020, the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association (AAAA) celebrates four decades of serving and fighting for its growing membership base
From a courageous group of 15 businessmen to a leading industry Association representing more than 2,500 members, the AAAA has flourished since it was established to the unquestionable benefit of the aftermarket.
While the challenges of changing legislation and vehicle technology are as prominent today as they were in 1980, today the way the AAAA delivers for its membership has expanded exponentially to include not only information sharing and government advocacy – resulting in achievements such as the Choice of Repairer campaign and pending mandatory data sharing legislation – but also the delivery of specialist research, representative councils, HR and Legal advice, a world-class trade show, respected magazine, state-of-the-art innovation centre, international trade delegations and more.
“As with most industry associations, the AAAA was born in response to a government deciding to introduce regulations without consultation; and so it was for us in 1979,” inaugural AAAA President and honorary Executive Director, Graham Rose, explains.
“Those proposed changes would have had a catastrophic effect on the aftermarket. I was in a position to bring this information to the industry and following an emergency meeting during my Automotive Parts and Accessories Trade Show, a 15-person Steering Committee was formed.
“We were able to get the ear of the Ministers and a seat on a number of Federal and State Committees. It took nearly a year, but we finally got them to scrap the proposed legislation.”
The first official meeting of the Steering Committee was held on the 15th of May 1980, during a conference hosted by the APA Trade Journal in Sydney. At this meeting, Graham was appointed as Chairman and SEMA Vice President Vic Edelbrock gave a keynote address about associations which played an important role in encouraging the committee to later officially incorporate the AAAA in October of 1981.
Following the incorporation, Graham was elected as President and his offices in Melbourne became the Association’s headquarters while his trade show and APA Journal played an important part in the AAAA’s early growth.
“Membership was slow to begin with aside from almost 100 percent of trade show exhibitors. However, we went to work promoting the Association and over time it increased,” Graham said.
“An agreement had been struck between my company and the AAAA in regards to the trade show which in my opinion was a ‘win win’ arrangement and in 1987 it was time to renegotiate. I was advised that a financial component would be required in the new agreement and unfortunately we could not agree, so I sadly announced my resignation.
“While I still struggle with how my involvement ended, I am very proud of how far the AAAA has come. I believe the industry should be thankful to have had a very strong Association tackling the issues while assisting members to navigate the rules and regulations successfully.
“Without an association, we would float along without direction or input. Having government representation is as important now as it was in 1979 and I believe all in the industry should support the AAAA so it can continue to fight on their behalf. As such, membership fees should not be seen as an expense, but instead as an investment in the future of your business.”
As the AAAA evolved and changed, so too did its council, as council member of more than two decades and AAAA President for 1996-1998, Greg Barker, explains.
“At the beginning you had a lot of business owners and managing directors on the council. These were people that had direct personal involvement with their member company and the industry,” Greg said.
“As time went on and big businesses started to see the value of the AAAA, we saw more company representatives on the council – these weren’t the people that owned the member company, they were people put forward by the company to represent it on the council because they saw the value in what the AAAA was doing.
“I don’t think this was surprising and it still isn’t today as the AAAA has obviously always had successful member benefits and it has outlasted other associations and individuals, so of course members see there is strength in the membership and the Association. I am certainly glad the company I worked for saw the benefit in having me on the council and I don’t believe you can put a figure on that.
“While the Executive Director steers the ship, the council plays a very important role and I feel we have been lucky in how things have evolved as it has meant we have always had the best people on the council for the period or need of the time.”
It is certainly true that it wasn’t long before major players were sitting up and taking notice; with the AAAA’s aftermarket specialisation appealing to many as Mark Pedder – the current AAAA President and Managing Director of Pedders Suspension and Brakes – explains.
“My dad Ron Pedder, who was the Managing Director of Pedders then, thought it was really important to be involved in an association which was looking after the aftermarket specifically,” Mark said.
“We were a long-time VACC (Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce) member but I remember him saying they had so many interests and he believed it was important to support the aftermarket, which is why we got involved so early.
“Having access to others in the aftermarket and the networking side was really beneficial, and we also enjoyed huge success on the export side of things which the AAAA supported us in.
“More recently, the Association’s advocacy work has been fantastic for Pedders. We have seen a number of proposed legislative changes which could have really hurt our business if the AAAA hadn’t fought against them. Having an association all about the aftermarket tackling issues like this was really important to Pedders, and still is.”
Frank Hutchinson founded Don Kyatt Spare Parts in 1969 and was another who got in on the ground-floor.
“When the AAAA started I thought it was important we join so we could participate in the trade shows,” Frank said.
“It wasn’t just the shows though which attracted us. I wanted to buy from local manufacturers, but found it difficult as a group called WASPA (Western Australian Spare Parts Association) would not allow smaller companies to buy from a lot of the big Australian manufacturers. When you joined the AAAA, you had clout behind you and could finally get supply as the AAAA would introduce and support you.
“I have also always enjoyed how as part of the AAAA, you feel like part of a team. They give great support, so much information, and importantly have always treated every member as equal – eventually some of the bigger players came on board but still everybody was treated with the same respect. It has been like a big family and has never changed its culture; in fact I think with (current Executive Director) Stuart Charity at the helm it has been even better.
“It was also great that through the AAAA you could find other Australian companies which could make certain parts and so on, as the AAAA brought us all together, communicating and fostering the understanding that there was a lot of trading which could be done within Australia.”
Unsurprisingly, Frank is encouraging of anyone considering becoming a member of the AAAA.
“The AAAA has so much to offer. As things continually change you need the latest information and the AAAA delivers while also providing great connections, ensuring members are in touch with what is happening all over the world,” Frank said.
“When it comes to the government, the AAAA is fantastic in keeping them balanced while also keeping us connected with incentives and financial support.
“On top of all of this, the new Auto Innovation Centre is world class and of course there are all the other benefits of newsletters, emails, special nights, trade shows, training, HR and Legal advice, the magazine, finance assistance for trade shows overseas and more.
“In my opinion, if you are not in the AAAA, you are missing out!”
While in 2005 some theorised 1,200 members would be a ceiling for membership numbers, today the AAAA has 2,500 members employing 40,000 people and turning over eight billion dollars of products and services.
“Back in the early days those membership numbers were fanciful and setting up the Automotive Innovation Centre would have seemed like building Disneyland. It is certainly something none of us would have ever envisaged and it is absolutely fantastic,” Graham said.
“I always thought the Association would get to this level and to be honest I think it is only scratching the surface. Amidst ever-changing times, the AAAA has been here and is going to continue to be here to lead for all and I think that is really valued by our industry,” Mark said.
“We don’t just serve larger companies, we work for everyone at all levels. We can do this because of our people – we have a really passionate group who believe in the aftermarket and what we do. From Stuart to the staff to the specialist councils and the Board, we are exceptionally lucky to have people with the same passion we have for our businesses running the Association that looks after our businesses; with a great spread of specialisations which allow us to appeal to all industry segments.”
The aftermarket industry is indeed broad, so AAAA specialist councils championed by industry experts provide in-depth knowledge for issues specific to their area. Current AAAA specialist councils include the Automotive Repairers Council of Australia (ARCA), the Australian 4WD Industry Council, the Automotive Product Manufacturers and Exporters Council (APMEC) and the Performance Racing and Tuning Council (PRTC).
Further strengthening the AAAA’s ability to educate and inspire the width and breadth of the aftermarket is the AAAA’s biennial Australian Automotive Aftermarket Expo (AAAE), Collision Repair Expo and Autocare Convention. These shows combined with training events, member networking sessions, international trade show delegations, the Association’s magazine and aftermarket awards program all allow the AAAA to connect and serve.
“Launching our own show and bringing our magazine back in-house in the early 2000s were two important milestones,” AAAA Executive Director, Stuart Charity, said.
“They are highly valued and we are best placed to deliver these as we are in tune with what our members want and need. Further, we have been able to reinvest the profits to add further member value – we could never have achieved what we have with government advocacy funded by membership fees alone, so it is a win-win.
“We also couldn’t have achieved what we have without the early work of the Association under Graham Rose and George Weatherstone to establish our government credentials and networks. This work provided an important platform from which we have been able to grow a constructive and ongoing relationship.
“It is also important to recognise the work David Wright and Kim Elliott undertook to help our industry internationalise – this has been so important in terms of our sustainability, particularly for the aftermarket parts and accessories sector.
“With the demise of the local car industry, many thought the parts industry would go the same way but it hasn’t because it has diversified in terms of market segments and internationally. The aftermarket is exporting 800 million dollars of Australian manufactured products all over the world each year and a lot of that was pioneered by the AAAA throughout the 80s and 90s.”
Since those early days, there is no doubt the industry has shifted dramatically, as Stuart explains.
“It has always been very entrepreneurial, creating markets and then evolving those. Today the industry has maintained this entrepreneurship while becoming more sophisticated in how it designs and develops products,” he said.
“If you think about the car parc of 1980, it was dominated by a few brands under a highly protectionist regime, with predominantly locally-built vehicles and large volumes of particular makes and models. Now we have 68 makes, hundreds of different models and tens of thousands of variants to the point Australia has one of the most diverse car fleets in the world for its size.
“The industry has had to adapt and a good example is in service and repair parts – resellers here can be singled out for their sophistication and supply chain development which allows them to get parts on any vehicle out to all of the 25,000 odd independent repairers often in a few hours. Logistically this is mind boggling and a great example of how aftermarket players are evolving to meet market needs.”
As the industry has changed, the AAAA has changed along with it.
“In the past, we have been quite reactionary – after all, the Association was started because individual members were concerned about legislation changes,” Stuart said.
“While we have certainly served the industry well in that function, we have also shifted to a more proactive approach; actively talking to governments so they know they can come to us with issues.
“While over the years we have had to respond pretty decisively to Governments which don’t engage and we have had to bind the members together around regulatory changes, we are now a highly respected body and we are seeing Government coming to us more proactively.”
Over recent years the AAAA has been proud to achieve some big wins. These have included the Choice of Repairer Campaign and gaining a landscape-changing commitment for legislation around mandatory data sharing after more than a decade of campaigning; as well as strides forward in battling anti-competitive behaviour. The latter has resulted in a number of car companies signing court-enforceable undertakings.
“There are so many stories of the AAAA playing a part in the Don Kyatt journey; you would think the AAAA is a team of 100 with the amount of work they do,” Frank said.
“The AAAA should be congratulated on convincing the government that qualified mechanical workshops can service vehicles during the warranty period. To me this was a game changer and probably the biggest change I have seen in 54 years in the industry; it has really helped so many.
“It truly fascinates me how much work the AAAA achieves, from information and research to government representation to events; and now of course the amazing Auto Innovation Centre.”
The Auto Innovation Centre (AIC) Frank mentions is part of the AAAA’s push to lift the bar on how our industry develops, tests and validates its products. Launched in late 2019, it is designed to bring together the industry and promote the adoption of new technologies while providing testing services. A centre of excellence, the AIC has open-door facilities where companies can collaborate and also facilitate training to take advantage of new methods.
“We think the AIC is an absolute game changer, allowing us to work more collaboratively as an industry and we also want to invite regulators in to work with us on their areas of concern which would again shift the game dramatically,” Stuart said.
“Collaborating with car companies is also on the table. In the US car companies are actively working with the SEMA Garage to provide pre-release vehicles and CAD data, as having aftermarket accessories ready on release is helping drive vehicle sales. We are hoping the same will happen here.”
The AIC will definitely play a large role in the industry’s future, but of course it isn’t the only focus point for the AAAA moving forward.
“The industry, along with the rest of the world, is facing an unprecedented time of uncertainty and disruption currently with the impact of COVID-19 being felt at numerous levels,” Stuart said.
“The AAAA is working around the clock to support and guide members through this difficult time and once the worst of this situation has passed, we will help members to regroup and rebuild so we can resume our industry’s growth trajectory.
“While this emergency is a core focus at present, we are also working on other challenges for the industry – such as skills shortages and skill gaps as well as increasing consolidation and specialisation.
“I am proud to say the AAAA is up for supporting the industry through whatever may come. While things are uncertain now due to the health crisis and long-term the industry may change, I believe exciting times are most certainly ahead.
“Our research shows the independent repair sector is highly valued and with mandatory data sharing laws to come, we have a strong competitive environment. If we can maintain that, we have a very bright future.”
Mark echoed Stuart’s sentiments with this closing thought:
“With the car companies now out, this is the aftermarket’s time to really step up and take its place at the forefront of the automotive industry in Australia,” he said. “I think the AAAA is going to play an exceptionally important part in that.”
AAAA EXECUTIVE DIRECTORS:
1981: Graham Rose
1982 – 1983: Terry Mahoney
1983 – 1985: Kim Aunger
1985 – 1987: Ray Della-Polina
1987 – 1989: David Hutchins
1989 – 1993: David Tennent
1993 – 1994: MM (Joe) Jones
1994 – 1996: Eian Mathieson
1996 – 1998: Greg Barker
1998 – 2000: Frank O’Connor
2000 – 2002: Peter Armstrong
2002 – 2005: John Scott
2005 – 2008: Andrew Schram
2008 – 2010: Peter Hein
2010 – 2013: David Fraser
2013 – 2016: Bob Pattison
2016 – 2019: Graham Scudamore-Smith
2020 – current: Mark Pedder
For more on the AAAA, please visit www.aaaa.com.au