Selling to car dealers is not an easy proposition. It takes more than installing a few accessories on a vehicle and walking cold into dealership to make a sale and build a long-lasting, value-based relationship.

To be successful, restyling and accessory businesses need tools to get the job done right. Not just tools of the trade, but marketing and other resources, too. And since its inception, the Professional Restylers Organization (PRO) has always been focused on helping members raise the bar.

Over the years, several key projects have emerged from the council’s annual long-range planning sessions. Examples include recommended codes of ethics for manufacturers, WDs and restylers/installers, an Owner Information packet—a two-part glovebox insert that includes information on new-vehicle warranty coverage—and the sales-training flyer, “Vehicle Accessorization: The Fast Track to Greater Profits.” PRO also played a key role in two former association initiatives: the SEMA Installer Certification Program and the ProPledge warranty assurance program.

But one of the council’s most ambitious undertakings was the “PRO Sales Training Manual: A Restyler’s Guide to Selling Dealer-Direct.” Developed by industry experts and introduced in 2005, the manual has been updated with help from the Truck and Off-Road Alliance (TORA).

The manual contains the primary elements of a sales/marketing strategy, techniques essential to building successful and profitable dealership accessory programs. Hailed as a valuable resource, it continues to help restylers drive sales and cement relationships with dealers.

“The sales manual is an excellent guideline,” said Kevin McGowan, president of St. Louis, Missouri-based Auto Trim Restyling and a member of the PRO Select Committee. “It gets you thinking about the best ways to mold your sales techniques and to brush up on and get back to the basic principles.”

“The manual isn’t just theory,” added Tony Hinton, PRO Select Committee member and general manager at AutoPlex, which operates four restyling centers in the Denver market. “This information was gathered from a lot of people who’ve been in the business for decades. We know these techniques work, and if people do these things, they should see a measure of success.”

Nevertheless, PRO has not been content to rest on its laurels. Rather, the council set its sights on a new initiative, and two years ago began working with a third-party expert to create a knowledge-based exam centered on the sales manual.

SEMA Accessory Sales Professional Certificate: What’s in it for You?

So, what, exactly, is a certificate program? A certificate program typically shows completion of a course with a specific purpose—in this case, study and review of the “PRO Sales Training Manual.” The second aspect of the SEMA program is the exam based on the manual content. The result demonstrates end-of-course knowledge.

From Hinton and McGowan’s perspective, the benefits are significant. “It all goes back to the more we can do to be the best we can be,” said Hinton. “We were very involved in the installer certification program and ProPledge. So we see great value in differentiating ourselves from our competition, to being better versions of ourselves and our company. We’re going to do everything we can to be properly educated and (credentials) for the sales team just go hand in hand with that.”

As McGowan sees it, the certificate program also helps to instill greater confidence in his company and the products and services it provides. “Starting with installer certification and ProPledge to the sales certificate, they’re all extremely important to our industry and to shops like mine, because they lend credibility.

“It allows us to go to the dealer and say we’re different from our competitors—we’re professional, we have insurance, we stand behind our products, and we’re here to be your partner in profit and help grow your accessory business,” he added. “Any time you can earn a professional certificate, it will help your shop continue to grow, and most dealers will see the value that you bring to the table.”

Stepping up to the Plate

The SEMA Accessory Sales Professional Certificate test is geared toward shop owners and employees who seek to earn recognition for individual achievement. The exam consists of five sections with 50 multiple-choice questions and answers; the score is posted immediately after taking the test. Topics include:

  • Customer Relations and Strategy
  • Salesperson Knowledge and Practices
  • Business Structure and Sales Process
  • Marketing and Promotion
  • SEMA (PRO) Recommended Business Practices and Preparations

The exam, now in a soft launch mode, is slated for rollout the first quarter of 2019. But rare is the person who looks forward to taking a test. To ease employee anxiety and lead by example, McGowan and Hinton took a proactive approach.

“I wouldn’t ask my employees to do anything I wouldn’t do,” said McGowan after he took the exam.  “To be a leader, that’s how you lead. If we’re not learning or willing to take a test or review the basic principles, we’re not growing. It’s all about staying sharp in the industry and gaining that credibility. So why wouldn’t we have our salespeople earn a certificate in accessory sales that will help us grow as a company?”

Hinton opted for a day-long training session with his three-member sales team. “The book is all about principles and habits, and we believe it’s a very good piece for what we do. But nobody likes to take tests, so we held an education day and combed through the book page by page.”

In citing his reasons for the process, Hinton said he referenced PRO’s mission statement. “First thing in that statement is achieving the highest level of professionalism. That drives everything we do, and we want to apply it to the sales team as well. Also, improving customer satisfaction, being attentive to dealer needs, not just selling things, but being a good partner. And the third part is the code of ethics. We absolutely have a code of ethics in the shop and for our salespeople.”

A week after the review, the sales team took the test. Much to their delight, they all passed with flying colors. “The reaction was very positive,” said Hinton. “Everyone was excited and proud that they had passed. It’s a credibility builder for us. I guarantee we’re the only company in Denver that can promote that.”

The 80-page “PRO Sales Training Manual” is available for purchase, bound in a three-ring binder, or in a free electronic format for easy use on a tablet. While it can be purchased by anyone for $149.95, PRO and TORA members receive the special discounted price of $24.95 for the printed copy. It can be ordered online at For more information, contact Allan Keefe at