One of the most enduring clichés in the independent aftermarket is the belief that there exists a natural enmity between independent service providers and their dealership-based counterparts. As with all clichés, there is grain of truth surrounded by a range of caveats.
It is true that dealership-based repair and maintenance operations compete for clients and dollars with independents. That competition, however, masks something more relevant, which is the growing interdependency and cooperation between independents and dealership operations which is benefiting both.
Talking with several independents, SSGM Magazine found it is quite common for them to work closely with local dealerships to source not only expertise but parts as well; and for dealerships to recommend and send business to local independents regularly.
Chris Ferris, a technician with Auto Centre Dufferin County Inc. in Shelburn, Ontario, says he and the other technicians have good working relationships with the local dealership operations in Shelburn and nearby Orangeville.
The relationships run the gamut from the traditional North American operations to the growing Japanese and foreign-nameplate dealerships, with the dealerships delivering parts several times a day in some cases to independents.
“The issue with us is always getting the person’s car in, getting it fixed and getting it back to them so they can carry on with their lives,” Ferris says. “Everyone here relies on their vehicles for their daily lives.”
Bruce Eccles, owner of Eccles Auto Service Inc. in Dundas, Ontario says like his counterpart in Shelburn, he has long-standing working relationships with many of the city’s dealership operations, sourcing not only needed parts, but also technical information as well.
“On the occasions where we cannot get the needed information we need on a vehicle from our online systems and services, we are very comfortable picking up the phone and calling the (dealership) parts department as they will put us in touch with the right people who can help us,” Eccles says.
Eccles gives one such example of the benefits of these relationships. His shop recently had a new-model Honda Civic come in for maintenance work and his service writer noticed a bulletin for the vehicle. It was in regards to a minor technical issue that required a reflashing update to a certain module.
Eccles’ technician did not hesitate to phone the local Honda dealership and its parts department provided the technician what was needed to reflash the vehicle.
What makes this example rather interesting is this Honda Civic was purchased from that same dealership. That did not stop the dealership from providing Eccles’ shop with what it needed to help the vehicle owner get back on the road.
What it takes to work with dealerships
It has to be said right at the onset the examples of Eccles Auto Service and Auto Centre Dufferin County cannot be applied to every independent. What Ferris and Eccles are quick to add is a successful relationship with a dealership operation requires the independent operation meet certain criteria. The most obvious being dealership parts departments and service desk need to see the independent is working on a regular number of their vehicles makes and models of vehicle in order to show that the technicians are familiar with their technical aspects and repair. If you only repair or maintain one or two makes or models of a manufacturer’s vehicle a year, it will be very difficult to form any kind of relationship with the dealer operations for ordering parts or getting technical expertise.
“A lot of our relationship is based on the fact that we are a good customer and we don’t send stuff back,” Eccles says. “I’ve had some very good dialogues with a friend of mine who is the parts manager at an OE dealer. He says they can tell the shops that don’t know what they are doing because they order parts and then send them back and the boxes have been opened.
“Once you have established to them that you know what you are doing, they reflect that in your relationships with their service people. So if we have an issue with a Honda and we need help from their side, it is no big deal to get the help we need.”
Ferris says independent service writers also need to approach the dealer’s parts departments and technical services with the same respect that they would with the jobbers they normally deal with.
“As a technician, I don’t like to be pressured and if you call a dealership and say you need a part ‘right now,’ you are not going to get a good response,” Ferris adds. “If you order a part a day ahead, it will be there for you. It is certainly better than having the car on the hoist and realizing you need a part right away.”
What does it offer to dealerships to have such relationships?
If independents find such relationships beneficial, what does it provide a dealership operation? Like any other auto service businesses, they are competing for driver’s maintenance and repair dollars with independents. The reality is there is no way they can service all the vehicles on the road today, both new models and older ones being driven for some years.
There is also another reason why developing working relationships with independents makes sense to dealer-based service and parts operations. The end goal is to make the owner of the vehicle happy with their purchase.
“To maintain their positive driving experience, we have to do everything possible to maintain that, regardless of whether they go to the BMW dealer directly for service or to their independent repair shop,” says Stephan Kuester, director, aftermarket sales with BMW Group Canada in Toronto. “We want to make sure they get the right quality parts and get the car fixed perfectly. It is only then they will be happy with their car and decide to buy another sometime in the future.”
Kuester adds BMW Canada has a full range of parts available for independents, from fast-moving ones to captive parts and “we have set up systems to deliver our catalogue of parts a couple of times a day to dealers so they can supply those parts faster to the independent repair shops so they can finish the work on the cars faster.”
Michael Handy, parts marketing manager, Canada, at Hyundai Canada remarks Hyundai Canada does some 10-20 per cent of its parts business with independents across Canada.
The main challenge for an OE and dealer operation like Hyundai Canada is providing parts and technical services that are price-competitive with jobbers and other parts suppliers, while at the same time being able to provide them with information quickly on an ever increasing array of parts and technologies needed to repair and maintain vehicles across the whole range of an automaker’s line of cars.
In order to get parts more quickly to independents Ford Motor Company of Canada has been developing a system whereby independents using the VIN-numbers on vehicles will be able to access dealer parts and to place orders to have them delivered the next day.
“It all comes down to making the customer happy,” says Al McCormick, vice-president, customer service with Ford Motor Company. “We’d love to have all of our customers back to the dealership, but that is unrealistic. Customers have their own relationships with independents and we want to make sure independents have the right parts and tools to make the customer happy.”
Ultimately, this kind of working relationship pays dividends to both independents and dealership parts and service operations.
“The people in the afte rmarket have a huge impact on what vehicles people buy,” Eccles says. “If I do not get along with someone, why would I recommend that company’s vehicles? If I have a terrific relationship with a dealer, I will recommend that dealer to a customer when they are looking for a new car. It is a win-win situation for everyone.”