A service provider is successful because of how he treats his business. Their jobbers remain their suppliers on the strength of their counterpeople and their management skills.
That was the message from a panel of leading shop owners appearing at the AIA forum.
“You have to ask yourself why a service provider is successful today,” says Bob Greenwood, president of E.K Williams and Company Ltd., who hosted the panel. “Success is simply the natural consequence of consistently applying basic fundamentals. They have a common denominator. They have an exceptionally positive attitude about their business and their market. They are open-minded; they don’t go around with blinkers on. They love to learn; they’re like sponges–they can’t be told enough.”
For jobbers, the challenge is to keep up to the level of these leading shops. The panelists, each with a business generating upwards of $700,000 in revenue a year, said they were attracted to their first-call jobbers by a number of factors, but price was not among the leading ones.
Reliability is a key factor for Ed Andrade, Beverly Automotive Specialists, Cambridge, Ont. He knows his jobber will deliver the parts when they say, not necessarily the most quickly, but the most reliably. If that means in two hours or four, he needs to know that.
Kevin Shaw, Georgian Bay Automotive Ltd., Thornbury, Ont., pinpointed the fact that his main jobber is willing to work with him. “One example is that OE parts that are not available in the aftermarket, they are willing to pick up at the dealership. And, if we have warranty issues, we are still able to retain our gross profit on the part.”
Beyond such issues, and placed above them, is the importance of the staff at their jobbers. Rob Brouwer, Precision Automotive, Orleans, Ont., rates this above all others, even though his banner program would be assumed to be the reason he buys where he does. “Being an Autopro, I feel obliged to buy UAP parts, but the second reason is that the staff are very knowledgeable.” Brouwer says that the quality of the counterpeople is what is currently keeping him coming back, as there are other issues with the management that he is having trouble resolving. “If not, I will be forced to look at other suppliers.”
Dennis Forbes, Forbes Service Centre, Hamilton, Ont., places the importance of the counterpeople at the same high level. “My biggest point is that all the counter staff have had the appropriate training. It would be great if the jobber could put together a course so that our service people could go on a course with the counterpeople, so that maybe our service guy can sell the jobs that our technicians can fix. I think everyone would benefit from that.”
Overall, the technicians on the panel valued the personal relationships with their jobbers, though they all had some specific issues with the jobbing community at large. Mostly these revolved around the training of management and counter staff and the need to improve the communication lines up and down the distribution chain. Issues like responses to formal requests for quarter-million-dollar purchasing proposals arriving with a driver, not being presented in person; the lack of technological means–such as on-line capabilities–at some jobbers; a lack of business ethics or at least intelligent business practices by many in the aftermarket; and the ongoing frustration of trying to raise the image of an industry and a profession that still ranks low in the eyes of the public.
“I feel like a soldier going after bin Laden,” says Andrade, “and when I look back, I don’t see the service provider there. I think we all need to pull together. We’re all playing in the same game, and if we start cleaning up our own operations, then hopefully we can change some of the statistics that we don’t agree with.”