Auto Service World
Feature   April 1, 2006   by Tom Venetis, Editor

Who’s knocking on your door?

Everyone claims to know what independent service providers want. But how many are really meeting them regularly to find out?

It is commonly heard mantra in this industry: We know what the independent service providers and installers want because we talk to them. Everyone, from car dealer parts representatives and training organizations to warehouse distributors and Jobbers make that claim. However, how often to such organizations, suppliers and service providers really get out there and meet with the independent service providers?

SSGM decided to find out and asked independent service providers across Canada how often they received in-person sales calls from across several categories of representatives. These included care dealer parts representatives, shop equipment providers, tool truck companies, Jobbers, warehouse distributors, training organizations, aftermarket parts manufactures, computer equipment suppliers, business supply providers, associations and advertising representatives.

Based on the results provided from 335 independent service providers they reported seeing tool truck company and jobber representatives at least one to three times each month, and sometimes four to six times in a month, averaging out to about once a week. However, they reported seeing less often representatives from warehouse distributors, aftermarket parts manufacturers and training organizations. In these cases, the independent service providers said they were visited less than once a month, averaging out in some cases to once every two months.

Even when the responses were broken down based on the population size of the locations the independent service providers worked in across Canada, the results remained consistent. Independent service providers residing in rural regions with less than 2,500 persons reported seeing tool truck company and Jobber representatives at least one to three times a month, with warehouse distributors, aftermarket parts manufactures and association representatives less than one a month or never. In large metro regions, with populations over one million persons, the results were largely the same with aftermarket parts manufacture representatives gaining a bit more face-to-face time with independent service providers as they reported seeing these representatives at least once a month. The same was the case for independent service providers in smaller metropolitan regions, with Jobber representative being reported as seeing the independent service providers at least four to six times a month and shop equipment providers going out at least once a month. As all the other cases, the warehouse distributors, training organizations, associations and business supplies representatives met infrequently with the independent service providers.

But not every independent service provider reported they saw warehouse distributor representatives as infrequently as the survey results have shown. Several independent service providers contacted by SSGM about this survey singled out Mississauga, Ont.-based Affinia Group Canada Inc. as truly standing out in its efforts to proactively reach out to them and meet with them regularly. Affinia Group Canada distributes such brands as Raybestos, Wix Filters and Spicer Chassis.

Jack Brooks admitted warehouse distributors concentrate many of their sales efforts at the Jobber level, but along with focusing sales efforts on the jobber level, Affinia also set criteria for its sales people to spend 60-70 per cent of their sales time meeting with installers and independent service providers.

“The reason is that we pride ourselves at being first to market with new products,” Brooks added. “The only way to get that to the people that are actually bolting the product onto the vehicles, getting that information to them, that means going out on a daily basis and calling on the installers and informing them of what we have. We are a company that supports what is sells. We are not just someone who off the back of a wagon drops off something and says, ‘See you later.'”

Brooks continued such face-to-face meeting with independent service providers has also given feedback to Affinia as to how it can improve its service and support for them. For example, when Affinia decided to distribute cabin air filters, it got feedback from the independent service providers about the difficulty of installing the filters and took the recommendations to add a clip kit and instructions with the filters to make installation easier.

“If you provide a good level of service and a good quality product, you need to see the (independent service providers) each week to convey that message to them,” said Ralph Breitkreutz, general manager for Matco Tools Canada in Mississauga, Ont. “We believe (Matco) is a solutions provider and that means we must recognize the things the (installers) need for their shops. So it is important that we are there every week so we can identify those needs.”

Breitkreutz added because much of Matco’s business is done on a credit basis with the independent service providers, his sales persons will be at the shops the next week after making a sale to begin making collections on the balances. This provides an added opportunity to speak with the independent service provider to find out what it is they need and how Matco can best fulfill that need and what payment and credit structure can be put in place for the benefit of the independent service provider.

“Things break and wear out with time and installers need that weekly call fro us so they can get what they need to carry on their operations,” Breitkreutz. “The majority of our customers also ask us to be there every week. There is an odd customer who says every other week is fine, but that is not the case with 95 per cent of our customers.

Mell Mehling, owner of Mell Mehling Ltd. in Steinbach, Man., said his Jobber business is under constant price pressure, meaning any shop can go onto the Internet and search out a part and simply search for the best price on a price. In order to compete against that and with other Jobbers in his area, he and his sales staff have to meet frequently with the independent service providers to understand what they need and to make sure his operation has the parts on hand to deliver at a moment’s notice.

“I used to have customers that once stocked over $100,000 in inventory but now only stock less than $25,000,” Mehling said. “That means they will only order what they need and you have to have that right away for them.”

Geoffrey Main, owner of Sussex Auto Supplies in Sussex, New Brunswick said he services some 20 shops in his location and has to compete with other Jobbers in the area, some of which he can see up the street from him and can fulfill an order as quickly as he can.

“So it is very important for you to go out there and see them regularly for the simple reason is that if you are there in front of them they are more likely to be thinking about you when it comes time to order something,” Main added. “So to be competitive, it is critical for you to build personal relationships with the independent service providers so you really have to be seeing them every week or more.”

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