As far-flung as its members are, the automotive aftermarket is a closely knit community. The opening general session of the Aftermarket Warehouse Distributors Association’s (AWDA) Annual Business and Education Conference is a perfect example. If you’ve ever attended the in-person event – and there have been 72 of them, prior to this year – you’ve no doubt experienced the camaraderie and fellowship that make the aftermarket such a great place to work. It feels more like a family reunion than a business conference.
While the pandemic has put the hugs and handshakes on pause, it hasn’t stopped the industry’s associations from staying connected. On Nov. 16, AWDA kicked off a four-day virtual conference that came on the heels of the AAPEX Virtual Experience earlier in the month. During the opening session, AWDA presented its annual Industry Awards to a who’s who of aftermarket leaders, and passed the torch to its new chairman: Ryan Samuels, vice president of Vauxhall, New Jersey-based Samuels Inc. (known to its customers as Buy Wise Auto Parts).
In his opening remarks as AWDA chairman, Samuels was quick to point out that the pandemic hasn’t stopped the industry’s associations from advocating for their constituents. He lauded the Auto Care Association and AASA for their part in ensuring that the federal government deemed the aftermarket an “essential” industry, and for championing an update to the “Right to Repair” act in Massachusetts – which passed with overwhelming voter approval. He also noted that Auto Care communities AWDA and HDDA: Heavy Duty have finalized their plans to unite. “The next time we meet, we will be joined by our new members in the heavy-duty market, and I’m excited to begin this great partnership,” he said.
In the day-to-day operations of New Jersey’s largest independent auto parts dealer, Samuels sees some silver linings to the pandemic. To promote social distancing, his company has shifted some workers to previously unused office space, and has implemented vigorous cleaning practices at its seven locations. With the flu season on our doorstep, he believes these stepped-up health and hygiene measures “probably weren’t a bad idea in the first place.”
“Tough times can wind up being blessings in disguise, because you really take a look at your operations, and you’re forced to be as efficient as you possibly can be,” he told AMN/Counterman.
As the new chairman of AWDA, he believes that the challenges of 2020 have opened some eyes to “the value of associations.” Whether it was ensuring that the aftermarket was deemed an essential industry or shepherding the Right to Repair update in Massachusetts, the work of the industry’s trade groups this year has reaffirmed the importance of “having someone look out for big-picture items for all of us.”
“If we all had to try to accomplish something like that on our own, where do you even start?” he said. “It’s somebody who has your back all the time, and can focus on the things that we certainly couldn’t accomplish as individuals.”
Samuels is confident he has plenty to contribute to AWDA in his new role. At the tender age of 41, he brings a “fresh perspective” and understands the need for the industry to embrace technology and “bridge the gap” with the next generation of talent. But as the fourth generation of his family to work in the automotive business, he still brings an “old-school” mentality to the table.
“I think I kind of bring that unique perspective where I’m young enough to relate to the ‘YANGsters,’ but I’ve been doing this long enough to be able to trade war stories with the industry veterans,” Samuels told AMN/Counterman. “So I feel like I’m a good conduit as we have a little bit of a changing of the guard in the industry.”