Interview with Craig Fry of Service Specialists Association

Craig Fry

Service Specialists Association (OTO): Can you tell us about yourself and your background in the industry?

Craig Fry: My background is in advertising and marketing. For three years running, I was the most award-winning creative director in Chicago while working for Michigan Avenue ad agencies. Then, in 1990 I started my own ad agency. I’ve advertised everything from airlines to oil companies, but for some reason I started to pick up a lot of clients in the automotive and trucking industry. Before long, whether you want it or not, you begin to get a reputation for being a specialist. Some years back, I began to lecture at trucking industry gatherings on the subject of marketing and distribution. That eventually led to my being offered the position of executive director for the Service Specialists Association (SSA).

OTO: Please let us know more about SSA and what you’re all about.

Craig Fry: The SSA is dedicated to those in the industry who service heavy-duty vehicles, the big rigs. Our members are independent service shops and the suppliers who provide them with parts and services. Some of our repair shop members have a single location. Others have multiple branches. They are located all over North America.

These folks are true entrepreneurs who have built their businesses up, often from humble beginnings. Some of them are second and third generation business owners. Go back far enough in the family tree and you may find that great-great-granddad was the town blacksmith. They’re not dealerships, tied to a truck manufacturer. They service all makes. Because they’re not limited to just one line of trucks, you’ll find more in-depth knowledge of what makes a truck run in one of these shops than anywhere else in the industry. If the visitors to your website are truckers, they’ve most likely had their truck serviced by an SSA member.

OTO: Tell us how trucking has changed since you first got started in the industry.

Craig Fry: I’m sure you hear this all the time, but the industry has changed and continues to change radically. First, there are the advances in technology. The average big rig on the highway today has a more powerful computer system, more advanced communications and more sophisticated telemetry than the first space shuttle. And the pace of new developments is speeding up. In addition to the advances in technology, there are the changes in technology. New power systems like electric, natural gas and fuel cells are coming on line. There are new drive trains, new suspension systems, new construction materials and computerized vehicle controls. Truck lighting is now based on LEDs thanks to pioneer work done by my friend Bill Grote. All of these things mean that continuing education is a must for service technicians. This will never end. Shops have to be re-outfitted to handle new technologies. For instance, if a repair shop wants to work on a natural gas vehicle it has to revamp its entire air handing and ventilation systems. And of course, there’s the change that we’ve seen in regulations from everyone from OSHA to EPA. Anyone who scoffs at the value of these regulations should spend a day in a third-world repair shop or try breathing the air in Beijing. But whether you think we’re over-regulated or not, they are a fact of life. It’s a lot for a repair shop to keep up with and the regulations keep changing.

OTO: You’ve came across several people in the industry. From your perspective, where do you see the trucking industry headed?

Craig Fry: In ten to fifteen years, we’ll hardly recognize it. Autonomous trucks will become a reality. It’s hard to know what role drivers will continue to play. We’ll have to wait and see. Over-the-highway trucking should grow somewhat, but the number of local delivery vehicles will explode. Retail stores are closing at an astonishing rate as consumers turn to online merchants. That means a huge increase in home deliveries. Shopping malls will be turned into local warehouses. Consumers won’t be driving to the store nearly as often but we’ll see a huge increase in fleets of local delivery trucks (and maybe even drones) coming to the home. Technology is changing faster than the trucks are wearing out. So while a truck is still running strong, it will become obsolete. A lot of them will be shipped overseas. But I can see a huge market emerging for repair shops who can upgrade older trucks with newer technology.

OTO: Are there any trucking industry trends that you’ve noticed, but haven’t been getting the amount of attention/consideration they deserve?

Craig Fry: Yes, artificial intelligence. Most of the attention that AI gets revolves around its use in autonomous vehicles. But it will play so many roles in the trucking industry beyond that. AI software will be making decisions about parts inventory and distribution to make sure the replacement part you need is ready and waiting for you when the old part needs to be replaced. More and more, the old part will be replaced before it breaks because a smart computer program will know when it’s going to break based on historical service records, the types of roads the truck travels over, the weather it has been subjected to and even the driving habits of the individual trucker. This will lead to fewer on-the-road equipment breakdowns. Repairs will get better because technicians will be guided by AI software that can diagnose a problem with astonishing accuracy and then walk the technician through the proper repair procedure. Artificial intelligence is going to play a prominent role in every aspect of our industry in the future, yet it’s not getting much coverage at the moment.

OTO: What do you like to do in your free time?

Craig Fry: During the summer months, you’ll find me out on Lake Michigan as a crew member on a sailing yacht during racing season.

OTO: If people want to reach out and stay connected with you, how do you suggest they do so?

Craig Fry:

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