Though I have spent some 30 years in this industry, prior to that, I worked in the public sector for more than a decade. When I came over to the auto care industry, I was repeatedly told that, when it came to sales, “people buy from people.” And when it came to the aftermarket, many of the entities in the industry – particularly at the distribution and shop level – were family businesses.
Over the years, I have found that family flavor throughout this industry, with most folks I came into contact with easy to get along with, willing to go the extra mile, reasonable usually to a fault. I have been lucky enough to make some great friends over the course of the last three decades, people I may have met through business but who became friends because they were quality people whom I admired and respected simply because of the type of people they were.
As I have noted before, my early experience in the industry came through association activities, particularly with what I would call niche trade groups that were focused on specific areas of the industry. One of those in particular was my work with the Automotive Training Managers Council (ATMC), a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of training and professional development within the transportation service industry. That experience not only laid a fundamental foundation for my understanding of how the industry worked, but some of my long-term friends in the industry came out of my participation with ATMC.
I thought about that a lot over the last few months when I heard about the retirement of Bill Sauer, the founder of Identifix, a repair hotline service for the auto care industry that provides personal service to customers across North America with over 45 OE factory-trained, ASE Master, L1 Carline Specialists. Launched in 1987 as an auto repair hotline offering live technical assistance to professional shop owners and technicians, Identifix grew into a force in an industry hungry for reliable repair information at the same time that vehicles have become electronically-controlled with more computer controls than one would have imagined at the time.
Sauer ended his career on top, with Identifix as the vehicle diagnostics leader, announcing it broke yet another record: 46,000 Direct-Hit subscribers accessed information from the online tool on over 400,000 different vehicles in July.
Sauer started his automotive career as a Mobil service station dealer in 1962, leading him into launching an equipment sales company dealing in various test equipment and the like. According to a press release noting Sauer’s retirement: “With the dawn of the 1980s and the computerized car, Sauer foresaw the increasing need for information and envisioned a technical hotline, complete with specialists and original factory service information accessible through a computerized database. Finding investors who believed in his business plan was tough, though, and it wasn’t until the fall of 1987 that Sauer partnered with Owatonna Tool Company to create Autoline Telediagnosis.” Management changed at OTC, and the new regime wasn’t happy with the numbers. Sauer and his team rallied, and he assumed majority ownership at the end of 1992 and renamed the company Identifix.
As Sauer said in the release: “This hasn’t happened without help from a lot of believers,” said Sauer. “The key to our success (has been) the quality and knowledge of our dedicated and talented employees. I started this ‘dream’ partly because I felt it was financially feasible, but more importantly, to do a little to improve the working conditions and image of an auto repair technician.”
That quote tells you almost everything you need to know about Bill Sauer.
In the more than 25 years I have know him, Bill Sauer has been a zealot when it came to automotive service training, an enthusiastic champion of the guys and gals working in the service bays across North America. He would work with anyone and do nearly anything necessary to support the work in today’s shops and to support today’s technicians.
But, even more importantly, Sauer was also one of the most positive characters I have ever known. Literally every time I saw Bill, he had a smile for me, a hug and a host of stories about his latest adventure. Those adventures included trips to the Arctic, kayaking in Alaska, and travels in Mongolia and Siberia. And he was always looking toward his next expedition. I am ensured that will be the case during retirement. Along with his bride of 55 years, Duffy, Bill not only helped this industry move forward, he always made the folks around him feel better for just being in the room.
The auto care industry has been the better for having Bill Sauer around, but I have been personally blessed to have been able to call him a friend. Thanks, Bill.
Gary A. Molinaro