By Ellen McKoy
Since PRO’s inception, its members have gathered to discuss topics of mutual interest and concern, explore new directions and collaborate on developing meaningful programs for manufacturers, WDs and manufacturers' reps and restylers and installers.
Originally known as customizing, restyling emerged as an outgrowth of the soft trim industry as new suppliers entered the market in the ’70s and ’80s. Among the first products introduced into the market were body-side moldings, vinyl pinstripes and graphics, sunroofs, ground effects and roof treatments.
Throughout this period, considerable variation existed in product quality, fit and finish, durability, reliability and warranties. There were also varying levels of experience and expertise among installers. As vehicle manufacturers upgraded their offerings and provided extended warranties, they began to look more closely at—and express concern about—the quality of aftermarket products installed at the dealer level.
These issues raised concerns within the restyling industry, but there was no unified representation devoted to addressing the needs of the restyling market. While SEMA was generally viewed as being the only organization that represented specialty-equipment businesses, it was also perceived as having little experience in the restyling segment, as most of its efforts were then focused on the performance industry.
Flash forward to April 1988. The owners of Razzi Ground Effects organized a meeting with key industry players to discuss a course of action. The group included representatives from 23 companies: a handful of installers, Nat Danas of Auto Trim & Restyling News and several manufacturers, including ASC Inc., E&G Classics, Webasto, Cars & Concepts, 3M and Dee Zee among others. Together they created a stand-alone organization for accessory manufacturers known as the Automotive Aftermarket Restyling Manufacturers (AARM).
AARM had three primary objectives:
AARM members soon recognized the need to expand membership to also include restylers and installers. The name was changed in 1989 to the Professional Restylers Organization.
By this time, the restyling industry had become a major force in the marketplace—and had captured SEMA’s attention. But PRO was hard-pressed to maintain its momentum as a standalone organization. Members asked Nat Danas to approach then SEMA President Chuck Blum about merging PRO into the association. PRO became a SEMA committee in spring 1990.
PRO was the second niche-market group to become a SEMA committee, joining the Street Rod Market Alliance (SRMA). The Automotive Restoration Market Organization (ARMO) was later added to the committee roster. In 1993, the SEMA Board of Directors approved the council concept, and ARMO, PRO and SRMA (now the Hot Rod Industry Alliance or HRIA) were elevated to council status.
Initiative and Achievements
Over the years, several key PRO projects have emerged. Among them: a SEMA exhibit at the annual NADA Convention; the PRO video/DVD “Vehicle Accessorization: The Fast Track to Greater Profits;” recommended codes of ethics for manufactures, WDs and restylers; and the SEMA Installer Certification Program, which certified more than 1,600 professional installers between 2001 and 2010 before it was put on hold last year.
Other tools include the PRO Owner Information Packet (a two-part glovebox insert that includes information on new-vehicle warranty coverage), sales-training seminars and two step-by-step handbooks—“PRO Sales-Training Manual: A Restyler’s Guide to Selling Dealer-Direct” and “PRO Business Development Guidebook: The Nuts and Bolts of Running a Successful Restyling Business.”
PRO launched its newest venture, the Technical Skills & Training Conference (TSTC), in 2010. TSTC is aimed at providing shop owners, installers and technicians with a firsthand opportunity to learn new installation techniques and discover cross-marketing opportunities.
For 24 years, PRO has developed effective strategies and programs to meet the special needs of its members and provide a valuable forum in which to address industry-specific issues. PRO has much to offer forward-thinking companies, and the council continues to benefit from member input and participation.
To learn how you can get involved, contact SEMA Council Director Zane Clark via e-mail.