We continue our coverage of achieving growth in 2018 with topics such as effective leadership, merchandising, goal setting, metrics, evaluation, and sales execution. Let’s keep the ball rolling with a spotlight on networking, featuring Melanie Hellwig-White of Hellwig Products; Jenna Jefferies, National Accounts Manager at Pilot Automotive; and Josh Poulson, owner of Auto Additions in Columbus, Ohio.
It’s become yet another dirty buzzword, hasn’t it? Networking: an excuse for corporate climbers to rub shoulders with industry leaders currently out of their league by way of a mutual acquaintance, a dashing smile, some forced laughter, and an effortless stroke of ego, right? Wrong. Sure, this method may happen to land a business professional in an influential circle temporarily. But odds are, the results will prove ho-hum in comparison to authentic introductions. Because ultimately, real networking is far bigger than the word “I.” It encourages others to critically consider how “we” ensure a prosperous tomorrow, as the examples below will showcase.
This feature isn’t meant to provide a step-by-step guide of “How to Network Effectively.” Any general Google search can help you there. Rather, the purpose of this topic is to stress the importance of getting involved in some way, somewhere. We applaud the success within your personal space. But we challenge you to extend that network beyond your front door. For now, more than ever before, it takes a village to navigate the complicated inner-workings of the automotive industry.
Bob Schuetz, President of KW Suspensions North America, had a candid discussion in the January issue of Keystone’s RPM. He explained we’re in the midst of an industry-wide paradigm shift. Independent specialty shops are at a crossroads, and their only way to survive is to adapt. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to get involved in the industry networking scene. At the very least, to have access to different viewpoints, continued education, advanced training, and proven diversification models. And at most, to be an integral part of the good, or change, you wish to see.
Communication Is Key
Melanie Hellwig-White is a fourth-generation leader at Hellwig Products. She views SEMA committees and networking events as ideal opportunities to discuss, face, and resolve challenges head-on with the benefit of industry-wide support. In a recent interview about industry regulation, Hellwig-White said one of the many reasons why she volunteers her time and talents to SEMA is to ensure there’s a thriving aftermarket in the many years to come.
“[Networking and committee participation] is a means of continuous improvement and eyeing the market. I volunteer because I want to be on the ground level where we’re helping each other. Because this industry is amazing, and so many companies grew out of its passionate history [including hers],” she said. Connecting and networking through a fluid transfer of knowledge and bright ideas helps to craft a shared message that everyone believes in and is working toward. So, together, “we see where opportunities lie [and what’s around the bend],” continued Hellwig-White.
Finding Common Ground
For Jenna Jefferies, National Accounts Manager at Pilot Automotive, coming together under the umbrella of a common purpose “is the most powerful thing that I have witnessed as part of a networking event. The relationships that individuals develop with each other [whether a business partnership or competitor] to help grow the industry and do what is best for everyone involved is amazing. At the end of the day, attendees may be competitors. But we are all here for the same reason—we all love this industry and want it to be as successful as possible,” she continued.
No Need To Be So Formal
If the traditional meaning of networking bothers you, consider a more comfortable setting for you or your type of business. Check out the local Chamber of Commerce. It’s a great way to volunteer and exchange information with other businesses that care about the local economy. And though there never seem to be enough hours in the day, make the time to meet new people. One-on-ones with other business owners, investors, and enthusiasts can have a valuable impact on the future of your shop.
Josh Poulson is the owner of Auto Additions in Columbus, Ohio. He is involved both at the national SEMA level and through a smaller restyling group. They are an alliance of shop owners across the country that discuss the industry at large. They also monitor trends and share best practices. This type of networking gives Poulson a personalized experience right alongside businesses experiencing similar situations. They can share insight on shifts in consumer demand, changes in regulations, and inventory overhead. As well as discuss things like showroom merchandising, personnel struggles, and more.
Above all else, and regardless of the personal networking opportunities your business chooses to pursue, be mindful, be considerate, follow through, and be you.