SEMA Member News - July/August 2010

The Making of TSTC

By Zane Clark

  SEMA Member News-July/August 2010-PRO

The Technical Skills & Training Conference, held April 30, at the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima, included both classroom work and hands-on demonstrations of skills ranging from installing leather interiors and electronics to sunroofs and performance parts. The inaugural event was praised by attendees as a “must” for professional restylers.  

A critical initiative for each council is its long-range planning (LRP) meeting. The LRP takes place annually and is designed to discuss industry issues and then formulate a strategy that will drive council goals. In 2009, the Professional Restylers Organization (PRO) held its LRP in Detroit, Michigan. The attendees were divided into subgroups that brainstormed and developed ideas to present to the group.

One group was tasked with the challenge of reinventing a training conference that had been pulled at the last minute due to lack of registration. The defining moment in the brainstorming session came when David Stringer of Insignia Group suggested that the conference take place at a technical school or university. From there, the group began to formulate the concept that would become the Technical Skills & Training Conference (TSTC). The original premise was to have manufacturers provide training content in a classroom setting and to also allow attendees to experience hands-on training in a designated shop area.

After the group’s presentation, a task force was created to bring the concept to fruition. The initial objective of the task force was to determine where to hold the event.

The task force created a weighted survey that evaluated criteria such as geographic location, facilities, existing trim curriculum, local restylers and other pertinent accommodations. Several schools were considered, but the University of Northwestern Ohio (UNOH) in Lima was ultimately chosen to host the one-day event.

The University of Northwestern Ohio has a long tradition of providing students with high-quality education in many technological fields. Students learn to become technicians working in the fields of high performance, alternate fuels, diesel, agriculture equipment, automotive or heating, ventilating and air conditioning. “The University believes that we must be one with our industry to serve our industry,” said Tom Grothous, dean of UNOH’s College of Technologies.

Once the location was determined, the task force finalized the format. The group began this process by identifying key industry segments that are relevant to professional restylers. Leather interiors, electronics, sunroofs, performance parts and graphics were just a few niches that were targeted. What resulted from this segment identification was an industry-encompassing lineup of presenters that included Katzkin Leather Interiors, Webasto North America, Curt Manufacturing, Audiovox, ProPledge, Restylers Choice, Eagle Enterprises, Superchips, Donmar Sunroof and Accessories, Check Corporation, and Artlux Inc. Each manufacturer would provide one hour of classroom training and would be able to extend its session into the “bullpen” area, which would afford attendees the opportunity to take part in hands-on demonstrations and training.

After the location and format were determined, the task force began the daunting job of marketing the event and finalizing logistics. A tireless marketing campaign ensued that consisted of e-mail notifications, postcards, phone outreach, articles in SEMA eNews as well as Restyling and Mobile Electronics magazines and a focused social media blitz on, Facebook and LinkedIn. As the event neared, the task force turned to UNOH to secure shop space, classrooms and vehicles that would address the needs of the manufacturers. With everything in order, the time for TSTC had arrived.

Early Friday morning, April 30, attendees began to fill the lobby of the Dr. Jeffrey A. Jarvis High Performance Motorsports Complex. The classes, which ran concurrently, were standing-room only, and the bullpen allowed installers to see firsthand how to properly install spoilers, graphics and even sunroofs. PRO leadership breathed a collective sigh of relief as the members realized that their vision and effort had paid off. Restylers, installers, students and faculty joined manufacturers in an interactive learning experience that proved to be a true benefit for all involved.

Attendee Adam D. Howard of No Joke Upholstery in New Carlisle, Ohio, best captured the event when he commented, “I found the TSTC event to be both educational and inspiring. I operate a ‘cut-and-sew’ automotive trim/upholstery shop but am always looking for related ways to diversify my business. I personally got the opportunity to install my first sunroof complete from start to finish while at the event. This is something that I probably never would have just tried on my own. Now, we are looking to add this service within our business offerings. As always, it’s also great to rub elbows with some of the most influential individuals in the industry. Just having the opportunity to chat with other successful business owners, installers and manufacturers keeps me fueled to try new and innovative things. These are just a few of the reasons why this is a must-attend event for all restylers in the future.”

To learn more about the next Technical Skills & Training Conference, e-mail me at