A total of 9 businesses from the Automotive and Advanced Manufacturing industries joined our seventh roundtable discussion sponsored by SRP and in partnership with Mayor Brigette Peterson, team members of Gilbert’s Office of Economic Development, the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce, and JW Rayhons of Joshua Development.
Our goal was to hear from business who were impacted by the pandemic related restrictions and to learn what challenges they are currently facing to gain insight into their expectations in the year ahead. Regarding their expectations of this roundtable, business professional shared they chose to attend in order to listen to each other, learn how they can partner to better support each other, and to get new ideas from businesses experiencing similar challenges.
Businesses shared the biggest challenge their business is currently facing; attendees expressed the following concerns:
- Labor issues and concerns still pose a challenge in this industry. Businesses are noticing that more people want to start working at a higher pay with no experience in the industry. One business owner expressed a continued challenge to find qualified technicians willing to work consistently.
- Inventory, distribution, and supply chain issues are also an ongoing concern. One attendee mentioned focusing on the things they are able to control has helped them prioritize their customer service. This has had a positive effect on their business and gained them new clients.
Next, attendees discussed the trends they are seeing within their industry:
- Attendees predicted the labor shortage would continue for the automotive industry. They mentioned high schools in the area are offering less trade skill classes. In addition, of the students who do take automotive classes in high school only a small number of them continue on into that field after graduation.
- Businesses are seeing a continued shift to electric vehicles and are concerned of the impact this will have on the industry for mechanics who thrive off of vehicle repairs. These businesses will need to shift their focus in order to stay relevant.
- With the advances in technology, automotive businesses also foresee the need to hire software developers/technicians in order to service newer vehicles.
- The EU and China are a driving force in the move to electric vehicles and businesses are seeing more customers in the US buying into that philosophy.
Attendees continued by sharing how they have adapted to change or were the driving force for change in the past couple of years:
- Businesses continue to invest in infrastructure changes and updates.
- One business owner has adapted the way they service their customers by creating a drive-thru alignment service and focusing on staff training to be ready for upcoming changes in the industry.
- Listening to the consumer has helped many businesses know what changes are needed in their organization. In this case, is an increase in consumer demand for electric vehicles.
Looking to the year ahead, businesses shared how the Town of Gilbert and partners like SRP can provide additional support to the community:
- Attendees asked about infrastructure plans within the Town and if there would be a focus on charging stations for the community and how these would be paid for. Currently many charging stations are free to the public and the group wondered if consumers would be charged for their use in the future. The Town of Gilbert shared that charging stations are part of their plans for most new developments in the town.
- Businesses shared the growing concern of how to dispose of batteries and other electronic devices given the current shift to electric resources. Town representation shared there is a new company coming to Gilbert that is a lithium-ion battery recycling plant.
- One business inquired about the possibility of increasing opportunities for solar energy. SRP shared that we currently have other states paying us to take on their excess stored solar energy, so it doesn’t overpower their grid. Solar can create a back-up of stored energy that can be damaging if not managed appropriately.
In closing, attendees reflected on the past year sharing the lessons they have learned that will help them move forward:
- Businesses shared they are thankful the chose to do business in Gilbert because of the Town’s support of businesses especially through the challenges they have recently faced.
- One business owner shared that they revamped how they communicated with their customers during the pandemic. They began reaching out directly to the customer with reminders of when services were do as well as just checking in on their needs. This business mentioned that 58% of the sales brought in last year were due specifically to those communications. This helped them grow during a year when many others in the industry saw declines.
- Businesses were forced to think outside the box and create new services like mobile vehicle servicing, bringing their services directly to the customer to create a convenience factor for them. This is something the business plans to continue post-pandemic. Customer services is crucial to building relationships that lead to ongoing business. Businesses have seen customer expectations change even to the point of being accepting of subpar service because they are becoming conditioned to expect it since so many businesses are short staffed. Putting effort into customer service is a simple way to gain a lifetime client.