Auto Service World
Feature   March 1, 2006   by Bob Greenwood

Things you need to know

At the AIA Annual Forum in Toronto in December, I had the privilege of being the facilitator for a panel made up of Service Shop owners and Parts Distributors....

At the AIA Annual Forum in Toronto in December, I had the privilege of being the facilitator for a panel made up of Service Shop owners and Parts Distributors.

The panel was to discuss issues affecting the aftermarket from both sides of the industry, with questions from myself and from the audience. The panel was to last an hour, but at the last minute, I was informed I could have an additional fifteen minutes. There would be no shortage of questions, I thought.

Some fifteen minutes into the discussion, written questions from the audience started to be delivered. The questions were great and the panel addressed the questions put to them in detail. When things finally had to wrap up, there were still plenty of audience questions left unanswered. I thought it was too bad these questions never got addressed. At the same time, I was disappointed this kind of discussion did not take place more often between Service Shop owners Parts Suppliers on a regular basis.

The next time you, the service shop owner, get together with a Parts Supplier, perhaps it would be best to bring up the following questions for an open, business like discussion. These questions are not meant to upset the applecart on either side of the industry. However, the questions must be discussed within the Independent Sector of the aftermarket so the Independent Sector can move forward.

The questions here are from are Parts Distributors to Shop Owners:

* If fit, form and function are so important, as you always say, why do you sell and install white box parts?

* What do you think about Jobbers going after the retail business?

* What kind of training is the Independent Sector looking for, and how do we (Suppliers) get you out to participate in the training? What more do we have to do that we are not doing now?

* How important are manufacturer suggested dealer and list prices to you?

* As Shop Owners, what type of marketing assistance are you looking for to provide value to your business?

* Do you think all training courses should be accredited and, if so, by whom?

* If the Jobber could provide the necessary equipment to repair and diagnose a problem would that increase the Independent and Jobber market share?

* Do you buy second- or third-line parts, or do you stay with premium lines? Does age of the car determine first-, second-, or third-line parts?

* How are you going to compete with dealerships in terms of service, recall and warranty bulletins? How do you make up for the lost business?

* Dealerships strongly promote “Quality” OE parts. In doing so, dealerships are taking a lot of our market share. Why in the aftermarket do we seem to have such a problem promoting “Quality?” For example, shops selling offshore brake rotors?

* Why do Independents work as Independents? Dealerships have networks, share information, meet with suppliers and work hard to develop those business relationships. When are the WD’s, Jobbers and the shops going to come together in a similar fashion?

* Are the Shop Owners promoting the “Be Car Care Aware” campaign? What about the Wholesalers? It is an aftermarket initiative?

* Are Shop Owners having difficulty hiring qualified technicians? Do they see a problem in the future? What do they think the solution should be?

* What message does the consumer get when a repair shop sells a dealer part for more money than the dealer sells it for in the dealership?

* What is the technician’s greatest challenge in servicing a customer’s vehicle properly? What type of training is required for a Service Provider to effectively retain customer loyalty?

* Is the aftermarket service going to be a dying breed?

* What is your perspective on the general quality of aftermarket parts versus OE?

* What percentage of repairs are domestic versus foreign? What types of repairs are you doing on these vehicles?

* What are the main criteria for buying from who you do?

As you can see, there are some interesting questions that can lead to all night discussions, and maybe even some fireworks, as people struggle to understand the realities of our industry.

What do questions like these prove? I believe the questions demonstrate the lack of communications within our industry as Parts Distributors and Shop Owners are not communicating effectively about the business issues affecting everyone. Instead, Parts Distributors are trying to sell parts to Shop Owners, and Shop Owners are just trying to buy at the right price. However, a focus on price alone is not going to save this sector of the industry.

It is time for both sides to sit down and discuss business solutions. If we can not discuss real business issues in a calm and rational fashion, a discussion that covers issues affecting both sides of the table so as to determine real profitable and workable solutions, then our sector should just close all the doors and try to find other work.

My suggestion is that everyone make the effort and to listen carefully to both sides. Take the time to make a contribution to our industries future, and if fifty per cent of us do, the industry will move forward in a positive way. Open communications and long-term business relationship building are key criteria that our sector of the industry continues to ignore. Consider your position on the above issues, and raise some more issues. I think you will be enlightened for it in the end, and our industry will have a basis of common ground to move forward together into the future.

Robert (Bob) Greenwood is President & CEO of E. K. Williams & Co. (Ontario) Ltd. and Automotive Aftermarket E-Learning Centre Ltd. Bob has 29 years of industry-specific business management experience. He has developed shop business management courses for independent Service Providers recognized as being the most comprehensive courses of their kind available in Canada. Bob is the first Canadian Business Management Consultant and Trainer to be recognized for his industry contributions when he received the prestigious Northwood University Automotive Aftermarket Management Education Award in November 2003. E. K Williams & Co. (Ontario) Ltd. offices specialize in the independent sector of the automotive aftermarket industry preparing analytical operating statements for management purposes, personal and corporate tax returns and business management consultation. Visit them at and sign up for their free monthly management e-newsletter. Automotive Aftermarket E-Learning Centre Ltd. is a leading edge company devoted to developing comprehensive shop management skills through the e-learning environment. Visit and take the free overview. Bob can be reached at (613) 836-5130, 1-800-267-5497, FAX (613) 836-4637 and by E-Mail: or

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