Reimagining Tomorrow: 2023 WIN Conference Recap

Reimagining Tomorrow: 2023 WIN Conference Recap

Three days of inspirational talks left attendees with a new perception of the future.

This year, attendees at the Women’s Industry Network (WIN) Conference in San Antonio May 1-3 were challenged to “reimagine tomorrow.” As such, those three days were packed with inspiring speakers who used their life stories to illustrate how different “tomorrow” can look from what we’re conditioned to believe about our lives “today” and industry leaders who discussed how collision repairers can strive for a better future by utilizing new tools and knowledge today.

Monday, May 1: Let the Inspiration Begin

Monday began with an update from WIN Board Chair Tanya Sweetland, who let us know with excitement that WIN membership has grown to 802 members, with half of those coming from companies that sponsored the event and 196 members being students. Also, turnout for the conference ballooned compared to last year, with around 300 in attendance.

Afterwards, we heard from Gina Schaefer, founder and CEO of a chain of ACE Hardware stores in Washington D.C.; Baltimore; and Alexandria, Va., who relayed the story of how she came to run her shops with no retail or hardware background whatsoever. The five key lessons she left us were:

  1. Be curious.
  2. Learn from everyone.
  3. Roll with change.
  4. Look above you, behind you and beside you.
  5. Practice.

Next, Patricia Walsh, a 2016 Paralympian and software engineer for Facebook, shared how she overcame the limitations of her blindness to succeed in athletics, education and the workplace, She also shared her hopes for creating a world more inclusive for the disabled.

Afterwards, WIN committee members presented the 20 recipients of this year’s WIN Scholarship award. Of particular note was how the scholarship itself has evolved in 2023. In the past, the award included $1,000 towards tuition and a free trip to the WIN Conference. Now, the scholarship includes the monetary award as well as a tool kit valuing over $500, WIN swag items and a virtual conference pass. As a result of the new award structure and expanded outreach on WIN’s part, the number of applicants more than doubled.

Tuesday, May 2: Celebrating the Collision Industry

For many of us, day two began with the Scholarship Walk along the San Antonio Riverwalk just behind the hotel. We wound our way through a half mile of downtown, enjoying the balmy, 70-degree morning air.

Participants in the WIN Scholarship Walk gather in the pre-dawn hours for a trip around the San Antonio Riverwalk.

Later, we laughed through a comedy routine from Maysoon Zayid, a comedian, actress, writer and disability advocate. Her anecdotes about growing up with cerebral palsy and overcoming obstacles built on the inspirational foundation from the previous day.

Next, we learned about Soldiers’ Angels, this year’s recipient of the WIN Gives Back program. Soldiers’ Angels creates care packages for deployed soldiers, provides food for veterans and blankets for wounded vets in hospitals. This session included a hands-on activity where we broke into groups that either wrote cards to go in care packages or made blankets. Earlier on Monday, WIN, in conjunction with the National Auto Body Council, USAA and Caliber Collision, also presented Recycled Rides cars to two families through Soldiers’ Angels.

That afternoon, we heard more from the collision repair industry itself. First, Megan Sullivan, collision program manager for General Motors (GM), gave an update on the market, noting that while total losses, shop backlog, labor shortfall and the average cost of repairs are increasing, repair counts are actually decreasing. Thus, despite there being fewer repairs, more parts are needed and companies are generating higher revenue. Furthermore, while miles driven have largely recovered to pre-pandemic levels, how and when people drive is different, helping to account for the lower repair counts. Sullivan also shared some updates and resources for shops in the GM certified repair network.

Afterwards, a panel featuring a variety of viewpoints in the industry discussed how to attract and retain a new generation of talent. The consensus? Anyone is a candidate — especially those from non-traditional backgrounds — as long as he or she has the core values your company prizes, whether that comprises being a lifelong learner, adaptable, self-motivated or something else.

The WIN Educational Conference featured a panel taking aim at how to attract and retain a new generation of talent.

Furthermore, there was much discussion around who Gen Z is and how to recruit these young adults. In sum, Gen Z is a socially conscious generation that thrives on quickly digestible information and prizes a work-life balance. They want outlined career paths and are attuned to authenticity, so it’s best to have younger workers promote your company to this generation. Of course, the panel also discussed obstacles the industry itself needs to overcome, such as compensation, marketing, issues with shop culture and different parts of the industry not rowing together in the same direction.

The 2023 Most Influential Women (left to right): Traci Calkins, April Lausch, Lakeitria Luter, Yohanna Peet, Sabrina Thring and Jaime Shewbridge.

That night, we wined and dined at the WIN Gala, where this year’s Most Influential Women were recognized:

  • Traci Calkins, regional sales manager, PPG 
  • April Lausch, collision center manager, Faulkner Collision Center of Lancaster
  • Lakeitria Luter, director of diversity, inclusion and belonging, Service King/Crash Champions 
  • Yohanna Peet, training program manager, Caliber Collision
  • Jaime Shewbridge, welding instructor, I-CAR
  • Sabrina Thring, senior vice president of operations, Driven Brands.

Wednesday, May 3: Unlimited Potential

On the final morning of the conference, we were treated first thing to a motivational speech doubling as a comedy act from Shayla Riviera, who wears many hats, including aerospace engineer, corporate trainer and keynote speaker, to name a few. She encouraged us to break free from our limiting beliefs in ourselves.

Then, Charlotte Creech, executive director of innovation for USAA, gave us a view of potential future technologies that will change — and even right now are changing — the industry, including 3-D printing, telematics and immersive learning/service with augmented and virtual reality.

The conference closed with a reveal of the next location for the WIN Conference: Newport Beach, Calif. So, if you’re looking for inspiration, female camaraderie and big thinking (as well as a trip to the beach), be sure to check out WIN for more information and mark your calendars for May 6-8, 2024.

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