Maintenance and repair of import vehicles is now the main source of revenue and profit for most independents. At this year's AAPEX/SEMA trade show, parts suppliers spoke at length of how the market in the last twenty years has shifted from...
Maintenance and repair of import vehicles is now the main source of revenue and profit for most independents. At this year’s AAPEX/SEMA trade show, parts suppliers spoke at length of how the market in the last twenty years has shifted from domestic to import, with many carrying 60 per cent or more part inventory for important vehicles.
The import market presents particular challenges for independents when it comes to parts loyalty and perception amongst vehicle owners.
Tom Seaboldt, O’Reilly Auto Parts’ vice-president of merchandising, told attendees at one of the education forums during the AAPEX/SEMA show that owners of these vehicles exhibit a high-degree of parts loyalty. An owner of a German import vehicle will insist on using original OEM parts for all maintenance and repair work. It is the same with many owners of high-end Japanese vehicles.
Ken Carter, manager of national sales with Mahle Clevite, added “the European repair specialist is more discerning in where they get their parts. What they take out is what they want to put in.”
For independents, this brand loyalty is going to be crucial to staying successful; and it will also present challenges. In order to remain successful, independents will have to work closely with parts suppliers to ensure ready availability of parts and to get the needed training on new parts technologies. If an independent specializes or finds the majority of their on-going maintenance and repair work comes from foreign nameplate vehicle owner, that independent will need to invest in promoting the technical knowledge of its technicians and the use of OEM parts in all maintenance and repair work.
The challenge comes in convincing many of these same owners that the growing range of aftermarket parts for the import market are the equivalent to the OEM parts. You notice I don’t use the phrasing “just as good.” There is a reason for that, one pointed out by other participants in the education forum. That phrase has the effect of making some think the aftermarket part is just not quite good enough. Oh, it’s close . . . but just not quite there. As false as this sentiment is, using such phrases produces such an effect and has to be avoided at all costs.
Dave Miller, director of marketing for the automotive aftermarket division Gates Corp., pointed out that many foreign car makers already use his company’s products in their vehicles and his company is working to ensure that the company’s logos are visible on those parts. This is to ensure that the vehicle’s owner knows that when a belt is removed during a repair or maintenance work the Gates belt being used is the exact one that originally came with the vehicle.
Independents will need to educate vehicle owners on this fact. Too many vehicle still think aftermarket is synonymous with lower or poor quality. This is not true and it will take lots of effort to put an end this undeserved perception.
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