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Nace Keeps Long-Time Attendees Informed, In Touch

Thursday, Nov. 1, 2007
By Bruce Adams, ABRN Correspondent

U.S. President Ronald Reagan calls the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” Swatch introduces its first watch, McDonald’s introduces the McNugget, and the first annual International Autobody Congress & Exposition (NACE) is held in Nashville, Tenn.

The year was 1983, and since then NACE has been growing more popular with exhibitors and collision repair specialists. It has been most popular with a small handful of attendees who have been to every show. Two of these long-time industry activists say that a desire to learn new things and to renew old friendships are key reasons why they return to the show every year.

Jack Caldwell
Though now retired, Jack Caldwell, former two-time NACE chairman, still attends the event to see friends and former colleagues.
“I like to check out the latest developments, see what I can learn and renew old acquaintances,” says Jack Caldwell, former owner of Autobody by Caldwell in Laguna Hills, Calif. “I sold my business in July 2007, but I still go to renew friendships and enjoy experiences that last a long time.”

Caldwell chaired NACE twice, in 1988 and 1989, and his son chaired it three times after him, he said.

Don Peers, former owner of AA Collision Repair in Omaha, Neb., is at a similar stage in life.

\“I sold my shop three years ago but I continue to go to NACE every year to stay on top of the industry,” says Peers. “My son got into the business and I’m helping him. I always liked working on cars better than dealing with insurance companies.” His son’s company is called Peers Auto Works and it’s in Omaha.
Don Peers
Former shop owner Don Peers continues to stay abreast of the collision industry by attending NACE each year.

“With the advent of the unibody in 1979, NACE was the right thing at the right time,” Caldwell says. “People were trying to learn new things about new vehicle designs, and this is where they’d go to see it. It was a risky venture at the time. The independent ASA of Texas and the Automotive Service Council joined to produce the show. They merged in 1986 to become ASA.”

Caldwell was a charter ASA board member as officers from the two organizations blended together into one.

Peers said the industry has matured over the years.

“In the early days, around 1983, the auto body industry was not very professional,” he says. “That’s one of the biggest changes I’ve seen. The repair technology today is very sophisticated. The centerline gauge is a thing of the past; now we have laser measuring systems. I remember a big deal at one of the first NACEs was 3M’s spray masking material for cars. They did a live demo and you couldn’t get near their booth. People were amazed. That’s not as necessary with downdraft booths today.”

Caldwell said he would like to see the show rotated to cities other than Las Vegas.
“I’d like to see the location move around because I don’t want to be stuck in Vegas every year, although there are lots of good reasons to stay there,” Caldwell says. “When the show moved around in its early days we would always see a huge jump in attendance when we went to Vegas.”

Peers, who served on the NACE attendee advisory board, said moving the show creates logistical problems and it should stay in Vegas. “It is good the way it is.”
But both men agreed that size of the show has made it a victim of its own success.

“I have a hard time finding my friends, who I only see once a year,” Peers says. “We don’t see each other and lose touch because the show is so big. It’s not fair to NACE to say we need to make it smaller. They should have an old timer’s lounge or an activity where we could go to meet our peers.”

Caldwell agreed. “The show has gotten so big that it is harder to see all the people you want to see,” he says. “It’s lost that cozy, family feeling.”

Ron Pyle, ASA president, said this is the fourth consecutive years NACE has been in Las Vegas.

“We’ve not had any reason to go anywhere else,” Pyle says. “For the near future, that is where it is going to be. I would not say it is a permanent location, though. In the history of the event, our largest attendance was always when it was held in Las Vegas. All trade shows do better there because it is easy to get to, convenient and offers lots of space.”

In addition to its location, Pyle said NACE is successful because it hits a moving target.

“The show has to reflect the concerns and priorities of the industry,” he says. “We’ve been able to match the show to the interest of the attendees fairly well. As the industry changes, the show has to reflect that. It has adapted to the industry and served it well.”

The show has changed recently to offer more opportunities for networking and education, Pyle said. This is in response to attendee surveys.

“If it was just a pure exhibition, it would not satisfy the needs of most attendees. Looking ahead, the show will focus on additional activities and networking opportunities.”

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