By Ellen McKoy

SEMA Member News July 2020

PRO: Making a Difference Through Cooperative Action

PRO Select Committee Member Colby McLaughlin of Trim Illusion.

When the SEMA Board of Directors approved the creation of a council structure in 1993 (in lieu of committees that existed at the time), the concept was considered somewhat radical. In the decades since, the council model has not only taken hold but mushroomed.

From the original three councils—the Automotive Restoration Market Organization, the Professional Restylers Organization (PRO) and the Street Rod Market Alliance (now the Hot Rod Industry Alliance)—there are now six, along with three networks. The groups embrace and represent virtually every segment of the marketplace.

While each group dances to a somewhat different tune and implements strategies and programs specific to its target niche, there is a common thread: It’s all about enthusiasm for a vibrant aftermarket industry—an industry about which members care enough to ensure its longevity and the success of their own businesses.

For some, this passion translates into a sort of grassroots action to be on the front lines, helping to move a council—and ultimately a particular market segment—toward a positive growth mode. Those are the folks who get involved.

They attend council membership meetings and events. They network with their peers. And, in many instances, they volunteer their time and expertise by serving on a council select committee.

Such is the case for three relative newcomers to the PRO select committee. Elected last year to their first terms, they joined a group of fellow volunteers who help guide the council and implement its agenda.

Cristina Jorge of Specialty Auto Treatments is a second-generation restyler. Industry veteran Rod Bennett heads up Chrome Enhancements, a Keystone Automotive Industries company. Colby McLaughlin is a lifelong enthusiast and customizer and president of Trim Illusion. They recently shared their thoughts on what motivates their engagement and the ways in which PRO delivers value to its membership and the industry.

SEMA Member News: What motivated you to get involved in PRO?

PRO Select Committee Member, Cristina Jorge (middle) from Specialty Auto Treatments speaking at the 2019 SEMA Show PRO Reception.

Cristina Jorge: My involvement in PRO began in 2017 after I became involved with a group of restylers who share ideas and best business practices. In the group, I learned the importance of involvement, continuous learning, and improvement within the automotive industry. What affects one restyler will typically affect others. The ability to have a platform to share and learn within a network of industry professionals is what motivated me to be involved in PRO.

Rod Bennett: I was asked to attend a PRO breakfast meeting at the SEMA Show in 2017. I was impressed by the people at the meeting and thought it would be a great networking opportunity. I had attended the Show for over 30 years and never knew about PRO. I was excited when I found out that there is an organization that focuses on restyling.

Colby McLaughlin: I heard about the great initiatives being driven by the PRO council while networking with customers and other manufacturers. The SEMA Show has played a huge role in the development of my career. Fifteen years ago, while displaying the TLC Rides’ “Summer School Chevelle” at the Show, I received my first career opportunity. The Show has been the nucleus of my career growth, so I wanted to give back.

SMN: What is it about PRO that makes it valuable to the restyling industry?

CJ: The value of PRO has two layers: the value that members see and use, and the value that all members inherently benefit from. For example, the SEMA Accessory Sales Professional (SASP) exam and certificate provide value to members that they can use and put into practice. On the other end, we have committee members who work on keeping the membership updated on [issues] that affect restylers and what they can do to overcome them. Keeping restylers at the forefront of the aftermarket is essential to our industry.

RB: There is a wealth of experienced and successful business owners who are members of PRO. The select committee is composed of seasoned and experienced professionals who are on the front lines of distribution, manufacturing and restyling. Council [members] can collaborate to bring changes to an evolving marketplace. This collaboration and leadership is important to the future health of the restyling industry.

CM: PRO is a melting pot of motivated restylers, manufacturers and other support systems anxious to move the needle for our segment. I’m constantly impressed by the drive and sacrifices of those whose goal is a stronger restyling industry. With a room full of extremely intelligent and talented people, there is one objective: how to better serve our PRO-member companies.

SMN: What are some of the benefits of PRO membership?

CJ: Knowledge is power. The council’s work on the “PRO Sales Training Manual,” the vehicle accessorization flyer, the SASP certificate program and the PRO Cup Challenge is invaluable information for a restyler. As vehicle manufacturers get more involved [in accessorizing], automotive dealerships are beginning to see more value in information, data or accreditation that is backed by SEMA, the organization recognized as an authority when it comes to the aftermarket industry.

PRO Select Committee Member Rod Bennett of Chrome Enhancements.

RB: I find the creation of the “PRO Sales Training Manual,” the sales certificate program, the letter from SEMA President Chris Kersting addressing warranty concerns and the PRO Cup Challenge to be incredibly beneficial. I have more than 70 sales reps, and all have passed the SASP exam. That was important to my business, my reps and my customers. It built credibility with my customers, and my reps were proud to have their certificates. It built their confidence and helped to increase sales.

We were also able to partake in the PRO Cup Challenge at last year’s SEMA Show. We built a Gladiator, and I watched several attendees come to the PRO booth and ask questions. Programs such as that help to increase interest and drive more [people] into the space.

CM: There is something for everyone. The “PRO Sales Training Manual,” complemented by the SASP certificate, should be implemented in every automotive business that sells to dealerships. Our whole team took the test, even though they don’t all deal directly with dealerships, but I wanted to make sure they were familiar with our customers’ side of the business if a restyler called.

The PRO Cup Challenge is an exciting one. It allowed restylers at the 2019 Show to identify packages they could immediately take home and build for their local dealerships. After our inaugural year, we have been overwhelmed by the positive response from member companies using replicated packages to open new business opportunities.

SMN: What do you see as the most significant restyling trends?

CJ: Lifted trucks continue to dominate the industry. However, I have noticed that outdoor camping equipment has started to take over quickly. From vehicle-mounted rooftop tents to enclosed hammock-like shelters, sleeping outdoors is more elevated than ever.

RB: The industry is constantly changing. The biggest change we see is with automotive dealership groups. The bigger auto groups are buying smaller auto dealerships, which is requiring restylers to make changes in the way they approach restyling and servicing dealerships.

CM: Overlanding is standing strong. With most OEs phasing out production of most of their sedans and offering more SUV/CUV models, the opportunities are endless in the restyling industry.

SMN: With one year of select committee service under your belt, what are your main goals going forward?

CJ: As chair of the communications subcommittee, one of my major objectives is to make sure that PRO members get the most value out of their membership by making information more easily available [through] PRO’s communication platforms on social media.

RB: I enjoy working on the committee. I have multiple responsibilities outside of the council that pull me in different directions each day, so it is refreshing to take time away from the day to day and work with fellow professionals to focus on the future of the industry.

CM: My goal moving forward is what PRO-member companies need in order to better our industry. I currently chair the SEMA Show seminar task force and the membership subcommittee as well as helping out with the PRO Cup Challenge. But at the end of the day, it is up to our member companies to help shape the goals and objectives of PRO.


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