It was record dealer attendance at the 2023 ACE Conference and Expo, held this week at the Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls, Ont. The two-day conference and trade show, organized by the Motor Vehicle Retailers of Ontario (MVRO), brings dealers, suppliers, and industry experts together for a jam-packed event filled with learnings, new technologies, and lots of social events and networking.
Lee Jeyes, Innovation Strategist and Business Futurist, set the stage for the event with a thought-provoking opening keynote about change and, more importantly, how business leaders must own the change process — not shy away from it. Jeyes, former Head of Innovation at Walmart Canada, shared examples of how he led change initiatives, and said it’s never about the technology; rather, it’s always about the people.
“Frankly, I don’t think there’s many industries in the world that have gone through as much change as this one. You guys are probably one of the top two or three industries that fundamentally go through disruptive change in every single segment of the industry,” said Jeyes. “From how people buy cars, what type of cars, how the cars are manufactured, do they even want cars or not? How many do they want? How do they work? What do they expect from a car? Every single element from design to sale and beyond in this industry is being disrupted. You guys are in it, and I’m sure you see it every single day.”
Selected vendors from the trade show hall then took to the main stage for the Demo Theatre, sponsored by Kijiji Autos. Representatives from the exhibiting companies had only two minutes to deliver an elevator pitch about their business offering. In talking to exhibitors who took part in the pitch, they say it was one part exhilarating and one part terrifying standing in front of the 500-plus attendees pitching their wares.
The Demo Theatre was just one strategy employed by the event organizers to ensure the exhibitors and sponsors, who underwrite the bulk of the costs for dealer attendees, had a chance to derive more value from participating.
Other ways included having all the breakfasts, lunches, breaks, and a cocktail hour in the exhibit area. And having high profile celebrities like Leaf hockey legend Darryl Sittler, Olympic and world champion curling superstar Jennifer Jones, and Canadian auto driving sensation Ron Fellows available to sign autographs. A passport program where attendees were rewarded with lucrative prizes also sparked more booth visits.
“We’re incredibly excited to be here today at ACE,” said Mustafa Oweida, National Sales Manager at AutoSync. “The turnout is outstanding. It’s nice to be amongst your Canadian dealers. It is one place that connects us all between dealers and vendors.”
Another popular session was with Hayley Wickenheiser, Assistant General Manager, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Canadian gold medal hockey star, who was interviewed in a fireside chat style by broadcaster Rod Black. Considered one of the top female hockey players of all time, she recounted her career journey in multiple sports and inspired the attendees.
Other sessions included panels with industry experts on the used car market, the importance of training and retaining the next generation of talent to succeed in automotive, retaining service customers and keeping them from going to the aftermarket, tips from the leading 20 groups, and an economic update from a senior banking leader from Scotiabank. There was also a ceremony to recognize this year’s winners of Scotiabank’s Women Driven awards.
“It’s been great being here. We really appreciate the opportunity to be a sponsor here at ACE,” said Adam Weir, Scotiabank Canada’s Director and Market Lead for Ontario dealers. “We’re here promoting our Scotia Women’s Initiative, which is a program that focuses on female entrepreneurs. And so we’re here in conjunction with the ACE to show support for that and show support for the auto business.”
After the cocktail reception, delegates made their way to Margaritaville, where they ate, danced and drank to the sounds of Dwayne Gretzy, a 10-piece cover band that had delegates dancing and singing along to some of the iconic and popular songs of all times. Delegates the next day were still buzzing about how great the band was, which featured four singers alternating between leading songs, doing harmonies and a broad range of instruments and sounds from various decades.
The second day of ACE was all about hands-on workshops dealing with the nitty gritty of business operations for dealers.
Those sessions delivered insights and audience interaction on topics such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its impact on dealers, building a culture of engagement within your dealership, how to measure metrics in aftersales, applying for grants through the Canadian Digital Adoption Plan, workplace mental health, managing data, making fixed ops more profitable, and finding funding to install EV chargers.
Google guru Matthew “Growdy” Growden delivered colourful insights punctuated by a few of his trademark f-bombs to wake up the crowd about the changing consumer buying journey and the importance of video, and later delivered another workshop on Google Analytics.
Growden told dealers that video is a powerful tool that is not being used effectively by dealers or OEMs, partly because no one knows who is responsible for it. “Online video, digital video, is a more nebulous bucket than search, and that’s been true for five, six years. The depth and the use of those solutions is just growing. It’s not declining,” said Growden.
“But I think we have misconceptions about video. I was sitting down with an auto group person last week for dinner, and I said, ‘the problem with video is that across tiers, no one seems to know who’s responsible for it.’”
He said dealerships think it’s the responsibility of their OEMs, and for the OEMs, they say, “well, we do the ads, but all the other videos, that’s probably the responsibility of the dealerships, right? And in the end, nobody does anything. Sound familiar?”
Growden said video is not just a branding or top of the funnel marketing tool, because when people see the video content they then go do the lower marketing funnel actions.
“It was interesting to hear Growden’s perspective on video,” said Kristina Alexiou, VP of Client Success with Universus Media, one of the exhibitors at ACE. “We are hearing the same message from dealers. That’s why we launched vivi — virtual video — here at ACE. It’s a low-cost approach for dealerships to produce a high volume of videos.”
The successful event wrapped up mid-afternoon on the second day, and tired but happy delegates headed for home armed with new learnings, deepened relationships, and new business leads to follow up on.
Canadian auto dealer was the official media sponsor of the event.