Editorial: Suppliers Should Mandate MECP Training

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By Paul Pirro, VP Dealer Operations and Vendor Manager, Tint World

Suppliers should mandate that retailers must have a certified MECP (Mobile Electronics Certified Professional) in their install bay in order to receive their products in addition to the requirement that the dealers must be authorized retailers.

The mobile electronics industry is one of the few professions that doesn’t require certification and it is hurting us in the long run. An installer/technician can work on a million dollar Bugatti and not be “officially” certified.   However a nail technician must receive training and certification to service his or her clients. Does anyone else see the problem here?

We “as an industry” are never going to be credible as businesses (like other industries) until that happens. The only way this may happen is if suppliers do not sell to a store unless it has at least one MECP tech in the bay.

As many professionals post on social media and the forums, the majority of installers don’t have basic training on how to use a multi-meter or oscilloscope and the right tools for the job.  This is the kind of training achieved in the MECP certification process.

Are manufacturers likely to risk pulling the plug on stores without MECP training and losing sales?  Probably not.  But I believe we should hold a “round table” meeting of all manufacturers involved and put our heads together to think of how we could positively motivate installers to be certified.  This could take place during CES or SEMA.

The issue has become more pressing in light of a recent effort by car companies to bar consumers from working on their own cars.  We, as industry, must be able to show that we are credible and knowledgeable, with real credentials.

12 car makers are lobbying to make it illegal to work on a car by claiming that a car is a mobile computing device, so that it would be regulated under the current Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  If this occurs, working on a car could violate the copyright on the digital programming in the car’s electronics.

I recently worked on my show car and decided to use an aftermarket kit and harness thinking I’m going to do a simple swap of the head unit. When I went to take out the factory radio in the BMW, the SOS light came on. No one tells you it will do that; it’s not in the instructions for a kit or harness.  With a BMW if you take the car in for service, unless the OEM radio is installed they can’t/won’t do service “software updates.”  With the assistance of NAV-TV, we made fiber optic cables, and relocated the factory radio in the trunk in conjunction with the aftermarket deck. This allowed the vehicle to maintain a Dealership friendly situation.

I bring this up because with MECP certification and additional training an installer would have the basic knowledge, tools, and bandwidth to diagnose and fix these type of issues, which are only growing more frequent.

At Tint World we initiated a “no test light or probe” policy, as recommended in the MECP guidelines.  We did this so the installers wouldn’t pop any airbags by mistake while by probing a wire and/or kill a CPU (onboard automotive computer).

This has eliminated previous issues that were faced in the bay, and is only one example of the benefit of MECP certification.

For retailers, an MECP certificate hanging on the wall behind your sales counter tells customers that your staff is knowledgeable and well trained, and it gives them a little peace of mind while shopping in your retail location.

For suppliers, it’s time to begin taking action to promote and further MECP certification.

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  1. And this is why the Aliens won’t Visit us!

    Auto Manufacturers are improving what seemed like a waste of time in a dash 30 years ago to almost as good as 90% of the aftermarket stuff you can buy today, you might always be ably to improve what GM, Ford, Toyota Nissan, VW and so offer customers but is it necessary anymore?
    They have taken cue from the aftermarket and build upon what they provided the customer, Now its a game of who’s owns what in the automobile, I say if they like to force the aftermarket out of the car they have to supply a plug and play operation, where you can change out a module and get what your after. That means you take out the Sony made Radio component the plug in the Alpine made component. You plug in your aftermarket Amp and sub box in the trunk, and the job’s done.
    You snap in your DEI Antenna for the alarm and you can use your smart phone to do anything the factory transmitter can do.
    But here is the deal: with cars that are going to drive themselves you run into all shorts of issues, even the dealership isn’t capable to work on that stuff without direct factory support.
    You think there going to want you to take the dash apart and install a head unit and 2 speakers?
    Do you think 14 year old Johnny can open up his dash and work on what is behind it? if he did do you want to be on the same road with that car?

    The Automakers and aftermarket manufacturers need to work together they need each other to develop the next 50 years of cars. Cut us out of the loop now your cutting your own profits down the road. Until you see what consumers are willing to pay for what, you won’t know what to add to cars.
    YOu’ll end up spending money on stuff no one wants.

  2. If we look out past where we are now as an industry, and examine who wins if the OEMs get their way, that should give us a good place to start building the needed certification programs for installers. All political angles aside, the OEMs are concerned about liability, not that one might improve their offering on the request of their customers. With connected car platforms building scale, who is responsible for a data failure after some aftermarket module was installed? What if the module opened the door for consumer data to be funned away without the consumer being aware? What happens when through bypasses and other interfaces the dealer opened the door to hackers that allowed them to essentially access the car without breaking a lock or window? What then?

    Years ago MECP was seen as a badge of honor, now it has little meaning in the marketplace to the consumer. The big box dealers may have expertise, but it comes from a central location backed by “automotive blacklists” that bar installers from engaging in installs on advanced vehicles. So where does that leave us?

    First off having been on both the dealer and supplier side I can say most vendors will not walk away from profitable business and dealers in most cases will do what ever they can to stay open. There is a distinct difference between the two views. The vendors are responding to OEM development timelines (3yrs) to deliver products that advantage the aftermarket. Dealers want what is new and hot now, with no real insight into what OEMs are doing. Does certification matter?

    Yes and no. At the most basic level yes, MECP adds a layer of skills but unless the dealer is committed to intensive training as a long term strategy, then the OEMs will have a good case to shut us out of their ecosystems. What is needed is a continuing education program that prepares installers to deal with the OEM systems beyond the basics of the typical “add this module” and “upgrade stuff” approaches in play today. How should it look?

    I would suggest we indeed look at some of the programs and industries that do require licenses and begin to craft a specific career development path that can be promoted by industry, trade schools, and other third party education resources. From there we can bring vendor resources to bear on behalf of the OEMs and equip installers with the skills required to work on future technology. Envision OEMs certifying programs that says this shop is trained and equipped to work on our technology. From there shops now represent an extension of the national dealer network, allowing for expediter/dealer relationships to build strength and ultimately open the door for more business from one off custom creations to servicing the thousands of vehicles in ports around the U.S. waiting for upgrades.

    What we should not continue to do is focus so much attention on installers ability to craft beautiful designs, or transform vehicles into current sucking bass monsters that we miss the opportunity. We need to be smart about where the business is now and how it is perceived. As an example, in the local market, Best Buy dominates the consumer view on mobile, yet their stores are ill equipped to serve the customer at large. Non functional displays, increasingly lower cost goods, and almost non existent staff don’t do the industry any favors. The independents in town have shifted away from car audio to other services to offset the downturn in the business. Those that don’t fear the OEM side got a jump on their competition. Now I am not saying all markets are this way, I have traveled enough to know this is not the case everywhere.

    It’s not about letting the market consume the ill prepared, nor restricting goods to only certified dealers, because let’s face it, the consumer is going online for a large percentage of 12volt sales and some of that volume will make it’s way back to dealers where installers stand waiting. It’s about breaking down preconceived notions and building up those in our industry that serves consumers.

    So with that in mind where do we go?

    At the most basic is to update the current installer programs. Second introduce an acoustic education program that helps to define what really is going on at the OEM level and train dealers on good sound beyond looking at a curve on their latest RTA app on their phones, or streaming their favorite song to “tune” the system. Next is to lay out, by auto manufacture, a basics level and master level certification for audio, telematics, HMI, and safety systems. From there we can stack alternate modules to cover fabrication that represented by a three tier system. Lastly develop a complete electrical module to cover everything from basic 12v through digital interfaces. Then it is really up to CEA or others to put a significant effort behind it on the consumer, automotive, and career training channels to promote the program.

  3. These days my min. is first year electrical. The training they receive is more than what MECP would provide and they can work on both car and home. Also if I take them on as apprentices I have a quality employee for several years.

  4. I have been in this business all my life. Never had a MECP installer work for me, however one of my techs has been with me for 15 years and the other tech has been with us for 10 years . I can count the fiascos on one hand. A proper work ethic, experience and intelligent management are key to quality installations. If manufacturers want to regulate distribution based on MECP staus, then I think it is only fair that ALL reps and product trainers and tech support personel become MECP certified before they start critiquing shop practices. Also, the manufacturers should split the bill with the authorized dealer for the training.I believe Best Buy is obligated to hire only MECP certified installers and they also have a list of vehicles that they do not work on due to the complexity/liability so what does that truly say about this credential?

    1. The comment about Reps and Product Trainers becoming MECP certified is a great idea. Probably more accurate for Products Trainers as some reps are sales-oriented and not necessarily technically savvy when it comes to installation. Still a great idea.

      Manufacturers splitting the bill – great idea. If the retailer is a good business partner, many manufacturers would probably entertain this proposal on a case-by-case basis. Great suggestions.

      To be accurate on the last point, this post is misinformed about Best Buy and any imaginary list of forbidden cars.

      Best Buy does not have a ‘blacklist’ of cars on which they refuse to work. Read that again – BEST BUY HAS NO SUCH BLACKLIST. From a corporate technical support standpoint, they have numerous resources to assist capable technicians to work on just about any vehicle if parts and a reasonable outcome are available. They allow technicians to work on whatever comes into the bay at their discretion.

      Best Buy technicians DO have the ability to decline doing installs on vehicles with mechanical and/or electrical issues and, of course, at a store level they may simply decline because of choice or lacking availability of integration parts. It’s a fair certainty this is true for any retailer, large or small. You can refuse to work on anything you want for any reason. The message here is that the rumor of a corporate-mandated Best Buy ‘blacklist’ is a complete fabrication. It does not exist. It’s inaccurate to continue saying that. Stop it, please.

      Good ideas there on the Product Trainer and Manufacturer (split the cost) suggestions. Many Product Trainers and Tech Support personnel at manufacturers are MECP certified including AAMP of America, PAC, Directed Electronics, ADS/iDatalink, Audiovox/Code Alarm, Sony and others. Many of those companies have multiple MECP Masters and ask them about ‘fiascos’ involving technicians with no clue of MECP-recommended installation practices. There are a couple sides to that coin when on the manufacturer side, too.

      Other companies may want to follow that lead with their Product Trainers and Technical Support Staff. The question is, will that motivate retail employers to provide incentive to get their workforce MECP certified if they are already satisfied with their status quo?

  5. Our industry needs backing from manufacturers, the MECP program is a joke, because it gains you nothing but a piece of paper to hang on the wall that says you took a test and know some things. You can maybe sell that to 10% of your customers who care about it. Most consumers don’t even know what it is. I took the test when it first appeared in 1991, got Installer First Class, and not one employer ever cared about it, nor compensated better for it. I’ve been doing installs for 26 years now, and nothing has changed. Sure, there are a few shops that *require* the MECP to be hired, which semi-promotes training and learning, but if it represents almost nothing to consumers, it has no real value you can sell for. The big name manufacturers should promote at the very minimum, a doubling of their warranty, up to 5 years, if the product is installed by an MECP certified installer. That Sony/Pioneer/Kenwood/Alpine/JVC/Clarion deck just gained more value to the consumer because they had you install it, and got an extra free 1 year of warranty on a $99 radio.

  6. Paul is leaving out an important part of the certification process is all of these other industries, including the nail tech he uses as an example. Those people are required to make a significant investment in their own schooling before they can even think about getting a job. A nail tech spends anywhere from $3000 – $10,000 out of their own pocket to get their license before they ever get a job, and by the end of their programs they are fairly effective at their task. These people make an investment in an education that shows committeemen to their industry. Where is this education in 12 volt? It doesn’t exist. Oh sure we have a few “install schools” out there, that turn out a few semi-capable apprentices a year. Where would anyone propose this education come from in our industry?

  7. Good read. I agree that there should be a push from all vendors for certification. I don’t believe a mandate is the best way to get retailer participation. There is a formula there; it does need to developed and refined. It may not be a one size fits all equation. There should be a vested interest for all vendors to push this certification. We should take note CEDIA what they have done for the home category.

    As an industry must tackle this from two fronts. The first being the consumer and the second being the retailer.

    Most consumers don’t know it ask a retailer if they are certified. By default there are businesses that don’t/won’t use this service. It is a, “if the consumer is not asking for it so why have it” mentality. Its possible retailers just don’t see the value.

    Granted there are retailers that do understand the value of this certification look to maximize the programs. Not taking anything away from the program. It is an excellent education source for our industry. Dealers who are certified should proudly and boldly make the consumer aware.

    As it is technology on in aftermarket and OEM is developing faster than any other point in our lifetime. I would hedge that this rapid pace will only continue.
    Times have changed and the consumer has changed. In car connectivity and integration is the platform that will allow this industry to survive.

    As an industry we need retailers to be able to work with the latest OEM platforms in order to integrate aftermarket products in today’s and tomorrows vehicles. Yes the best installers one will works thru issues as they arise. But who is the installer that will replace them when they decide to close the tool box for the last time. How many installers can that person train over the course of a career to their own level if not better? And when that time comes where will the technology be? It is no longer just an ohms law, box calculations and the understanding of resistor color codes.

    The larger challenge we have as an industry is attracting and retaining new young talent at the retail and installer levels. I have been asked countless times if I knew of a good installer looking for work. There is an underling crisis coming if not already upon us.

    We as an industry must fight kicking clawing and if necessary take a cheap shot in order to elevate the awareness of the category we make a living in. If education thru certification is one way to do that then we should all as a community should be taking a serious look as to what resource are available.

    A retailer is in in the business consumer experience. This comes with a level of expertise, while you may not need a piece of paper to claim this; it instills a level of confidence to the consumer that is being interacted with every day. Why not have it.

  8. There is no way to monitor install shops because the techs move around so much. A shop could have three MECP certified techs one week and none the next.
    Consumers need to wise up about who they trust their vehicles to and not just look for the cheapest. I have quite a few customers that I wouldn’t even let near my car but they do business because they are the cheapest around. The same goes for a mechanic, a contractor, or an auto body shop. There’s usually a good reason that they are cheaper.

    1. You have to ask yourself, why do installers ‘move around’? If the employer is a reasonably good one, the churn (turnover) of the employees is less than an employer who is all take and no give. Low wages, working without any breaks or a lunch, late nights for poorly planned or quoted installation jobs…..sure, this burns technicians out.

      And consumers wising up, there are plenty of consumers who care enough about their vehicle to have qualified people working on it. If a shop happens to employ MECP certified technicians, that’s just another layer of qualification that compliments a great customer experience, high quality installation standards and service after the sale.

      Agreed on one point, though. If you are the cheapest in town, there’s a reason. Plenty of retailers under charge for their high quality labor. Charging a fair hourly rate means there’s an opportunity to pay the technicians what they are worth (or move them along to hire more worthwhile techs) and also ensure the standards of installation are held high. That’s what everyone is really talking about here.

      There isn’t any reason that a retailer employing MECP certified technicians can’t benefit from that if their foundation of solid business and installation practices is already in place and working. What MECP probably can’t do is make a failing business model succeed. Then again, neither could a manufacturer.

  9. Here’s the real world issue. MECP certification really doesn’t mean what it should mean. I have worked for, managed and owned 12v stores over my almost 20 year tenure and I can tell you that some of the best installation technicians I’ve worked with were not MECP certified. However, some of the worst installers I’ve worked with had their MECP certification. So, we need to fix the problem where it begins. Come up with a program that really means something. If a requirement to do business with a shop is made that you have to have one MECP certified installer on staff, what’s stopping the less scrupulous shops from hiring someone who just got theirs, or sending the floor sweeper to get certified? Another thing, it is difficult to differentiate the good shop(s) from the bad shop(s) in a given market if there are no “bad” shops. Eventually the “bad” shops will weed themselves away. I don’t know how you would police that anyway, people come and go all the time. This is a good topic but it goes a lot deeper in the real world. My shop ran its best without anyone on staff who was MECP certified and I’d put that crew up against any. I agree that something needs to be done in order to help the state of the industry.

    1. Paul great article, sadly it does not surprise me to still see these negative comments. I think it’s what you call a one tracked mind to say the things they are saying. 20 years ago this 20 years ago that. 20 + years ago a Master Installer encouraged me about MECP and is the reason I am actually in this industry, and yes I am a Master Technician with 3 master recertifications and a very successful business. I have seen the first generation tests since I have taken them all and yes they were far from perfect. I would highly recommend looking at the new content and current program and all the progress. If you have and still believe it’s a joke and worthless. Well then why don’t you pick up the phone and call Todd Ramsey, Andy Wehmeyer, Derek Schmiedl, and all the other major contributors trying to improve our industry techs and tell them you know more than they do. At the end of the day we are all in this together and need to embrace positivity and not negativity.

  10. I agree 100% with the fact that we need certification standards. The manufactures might have to be the ones to enforce it. How else would it be enforced?

    1. How do you propose manufacturers enforce this? We should walk into our customers’ businesses and demand to see accreditation paperwork, and then be prepared to remove our goods if it is not provided? Seriously?

  11. While I agree with the importance and the value of MECP certification, I’m not really sure that manufacturers ought to be the “enforcers”, requiring that retailers hire certified installers. Retailers do not work for manufacturers and are not under a franchise agreement.

    Shouldn’t mobile electronics retailers establish their own standards, via their own organizations, and shouldn’t they be the ones making sure these standards are being met?

  12. I agree with your statement that manufacturers won’t exclude stores that aren’t certified, but maybe a more realistic push would be for the “premium” portions of the manufacturer lines (Kenwood Excelon, RF Power series,) to require certification. This premium equipment requires premium service and may be an easier step for the manufacturers to take.

    1. To Support and Continue the betterment of the Mobile Electronics Industry – lead by Shop owners and Tech’s, we welcome you to join the new Facebook Group:
      Mobile Electronics Professionals

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