We came, we saw, we connected!
Last week, over 140 commercial diesel repair shop owners (along with managers, technicians, and support staff) descended upon Phoenix, Arizona, to attend numerous panels and presentations, network, and threaten to unplug the servers at Chase Field.
(You had to be there.)
Diesel shops don’t often get their own conferences. Oh, sure, they may attend the many industry- and manufacturer-related shows to see what’s going on, but until now there hasn’t been a conference just for them. Diesel Connect arrived on the scene to change that, and hopefully open the door to a new era of shop networking and—dare we say it?—friendships.
We did this by locking them in an auditorium for two days.
Well…okay. We gave them some bathroom breaks and snacks, too.
But seriously. For all the cool stuff shop owners can learn through online webinars, phone calls, emails, and social media, there really is something special about getting these entrepreneurs together in one place.
“There are a lot of great people in our industry,” said Bill Black of National Fleet Management, Inc.
A lot of us knew it. It was just a matter of getting all these great people together.
So let’s start there.
“WILL ANYONE SHOW UP?”
We (Fullbay) had two major issues to contend with:
One, Fullbay as an entity had never put on a major event before.
Two, shop owners weren’t routinely invited to gatherings just for them. Would they come?
There were fears, of course. Fullbay’s CEO Patrick McKittrick discussed them during his opening remarks. When the idea of Diesel Connect first originated a couple years ago, the big fear was, “What if nobody shows up?”
But the Fullbay team pushed onward with the planning. Our fabulous event coordinator, Erin Spring, may have essentially stopped sleeping. The invitation went live.
Patrick decided that if 50 people showed up, he wouldn’t feel too bad about things. “I think we had 50 people [sign up] in the first two weeks.”
Then we got 50 more.
Then 50 more.
The diesel folk joined speakers, Fullbay staff, and the media, bringing the total over 200 for the inaugural conference.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
What is in a name? A moniker may be straightforward or sentimental in nature, but at the end of the day, a name does mean something.
The theme of Diesel Connect is right there in the title—connecting—and it’s something a lot of shop owners just…well…don’t do. It’s a tough industry to make friends in, because everyone you try to befriend is fundamentally your competition. And while there’s plenty of work for everyone, independent shops are competing for a dwindling supply of technicians and keeping a wary eye on the dealerships that may start further draining talent (and jobs).
But while a shop owner might not be inclined to be BFFs with the other shop owner down the street, they might have no problem teaming up with the owner from across the state or across the country. That was the driving force behind Diesel Connect: take the immediate competition out of things and let people talk to each other.
And oh, how they talked. Which brings us to a very important point about the event.
IT ALL BOILS DOWN TO COMMUNICATION
If we had to pick out a theme for this year’s Diesel Connect, it would be communication.
Duh, Fullbay, you might be thinking. Connecting is about communicating. DUH.
Work with me here, people.
Communication is insanely important…and yet it’s not always recognized as such. How do we know this? It didn’t just pop up at Diesel Connect. We see it mentioned in webinars (ours and others), in interviews, and heck, even our own blog posts. We might not use the word communicate over and over again, but we keep delivering the advice: listen to each other. Talk to each other.
And in almost every presentation, speakers highlighted the role it plays. We all keep having to drive it home…so apparently we aren’t as good at it as we’d like to be.
Here’s just a few from the two days of presentations:
- “Communication with the customer solves so many problems in the end.” – Dave Kettle of Quality Mobile Fleet Services during his Ins and Outs of Mobile Repair presentation.
- “Anything that happens that is negative…it’s gonna cost you one way or another, so you might as well learn from it [by communicating].” – Stacy Conner of Equipment Experts, Inc., during a Shop Owners Roundtable.
- “Listen to your technicians and take action. Show respect…even if you can’t fix things, close the loop. Make them realize they’re heard.” – Jay Goninen of WrenchWay during his Tackling the Tech Shortage presentation.
- “People respond to clear, concise, articulate expectations. If you don’t know what the expectation is, how the heck are you gonna do a good job? Sometimes we think we’re doing a good job [of communicating] and we’re not.” – Patrick during the State of Heavy-Duty Repair panel.
And that’s just scratching at the surface.
(You may notice some of the presenters have turned up frequently in our blog and on our webinars. Honestly, it was like spotting celebrities in the wild.)
Reaching out to others and solidifying bonds is what makes a great team. And to be clear, behind almost every great repair shop is a great team.
That’s why the message of our first keynote speaker, Colonel Greg Gadson, resonated with so many.
THE TEAM IS EVERYTHING
There were very few dry eyes left after the Colonel’s talk, and we’ll devote a full article to the lessons he shared with attendees very soon. But in summary, he highlighted one of the most important things in life (and in the repair world): teamwork.
What is a repair shop if not a team, a group of people working together to make the roads safer for all of us? And yet we don’t always treat our teams as, well, teams; we don’t always see them as the remarkable unit they can be. Colonel Gadson encouraged the crowd to see a team as the best part of us all: “Every day we have a chance to build a team that compels us to be part of something greater than ourselves.”
The Colonel talked about the fateful day when his team saved his life; if he’d been on his own, if they’d not been able to reach him, he would have died.
Hopefully your shop isn’t dealing with the same stakes the Colonel and his soldiers faced every day, but your team is your support network, your lifeline, your everything. Without your techs, your office support, your spouse, your dog, your coffee (just me?), you aren’t going to get very far.
So yes, communication was a big takeaway during this first-ever Diesel Connect. But we covered a lot of other stuff, too.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE
In the next few days and weeks, we’ll add more articles covering some of the cool stuff we learned at Diesel Connect. But for now, behold some of the events we attended. BEHOLD, we say!
- Making Sense of the Market with Jonathan Starks
- Shop Owner Talks: Gaining & Retaining Customers
- Shop Foundations: Setting (And Raising) Labor Rates
- Getting the Most Out of Techs: Utilization & Efficiency
- Writing a Financial Plan For Your Shop
- Shop Owner Talks: Lessons From the Parts Shortage
Believe it or not, there were way more cool classes, as well as some neat courses designed to help you get the most out of Fullbay. That, says Cynthia Thomas of Austin Fleet Services, was especially welcome. “[New features] will help with our flow,” she said, adding that “networking with everyone!” was another big draw of the event.
OH YEAH, WE HAD FUN TOO
It is a universal law that if you’re going to jam hours of education into someone’s head, you need to let them
pillage the city like Vikings er, go out on the town.
On Wednesday night, attendees pregamed at The Duce, a swanky warehouse venue, where they got to know each other and dug into food like chicken pot pie, macaroni and cheese rolls, and more (yes, there were some vegan options, but no, I didn’t dig into them). On Thursday, everyone headed for Chase Field to tour the stadium (no Diamondback fans were harmed*) and attend happy hour at Guy Fieri’s DTPHX Kitchen & Bar. Oh, and we heard there were a few afterparties throughout Phoenix, too.
We’ll be covering more of what went on in the coming days and weeks, so don’t worry too much if we missed a topic you were excited about. Overall, we had a blast—we hope you guys did, too. And we can’t wait to do it all again next year!
*That poor staffer monitoring the server room is going to remember us forever, though.
(Editor’s note: The guy was fine. The servers were fine. There was a joke…sigh. You had to be there. I, unfortunately, was there.)