It never ceases to amaze me how every year, despite the significantly diverse product lines and purposes of exhibitors, a common thread emerges from the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week.
In 2007, this is best described as the “one-stop shop.” With expanded offerings from so many players–it’s true of both traditional AAPEX show exhibitors as well as specialty product manufacturers at the concurrent SEMA show–it should come as no surprise that they would come around to the idea that you could rely on one, or the other, for a significant portion of your supplies.
Probably one of the most “out front” on this line of thinking has been ACDelco. Well into its all-makes strategy, the service parts wing of GM has stretched beyond talking about its worth as a parts supplier, into a strong focus on its Total Service Support program. While neither of these specific facets of the ACDelco program is new, the emphasis on the organization as a single source for much if not all of a service facility’s parts and information needs is.
ACDelco calls this its “360” program, encompassing distribution, training, e-business, marketing, relationships, and of course, product offerings.
At the jobber level, the approach has been to have a few strong distributors, but in Canada these are rarely if ever their exclusive domain. To build affinity at this level, ACDelco has also pushed e-marketing to the counter level, though according to company personnel, only a fraction of those front-line workers have so far signed on for the benefits program.
Also looking to play an expanded role in your supply chain is Hella. Known in North America mainly as a lighting supplier, in Europe it has a much broader offering of products and services. We started to see a bit more of this in 2006 with items such as tire pressure monitoring systems (with probably the best-looking display on the market), as well as many other items. Going forward, however, the company will emphasize its partnership with Behr, offering products and services in the “thermal management” market (read, air conditioning and engine cooling).
Behr Hella Service, the joint venture handling the business, includes a full spectrum of hard parts–compressors, condensers, evaporators, transmission coolers, fittings, switches, etc.–as well as a PAO compressor lubricant that was a particular focus of presentations at AAPEX.
There is much growth to be seen from Hella with the change, says marketing manager Alfredo de la Vega. The addition of thermal management will double the business, and there are more product areas to come, he says. “We want customers to experience the complete package.”
One of the key additions for everyone is training. Honeywell, which produces the Fram and Autolite brands as well as Bendix brake products, has been running extensive training for years, but has just now formalized it into a full Honeywell program.
Among the most interesting offerings for jobbers is a 16-hour sales skills course, a worthy addition to the raft of technical training. “We never really had anything for professional sales people,” says Honeywell’s head of training, Jay Buckley. “It is very in-depth.” He says it is important that training be high quality, and that it not be tightly tied to product presentations. “The reality is that my group doesn’t make any money. It is an investment. If we go out and help warehouses increase sales,” by improving communication skills, technical abilities, and shop efficiency, “then in a way we are putting money back into the company.” You simply can’t turn courses into sales pitches. “I have struggled very hard [against this pressure] and held my ground. Technicians don’t like it.”
He says that some 8,000 technicians will be in Bendix classes this year, with a strong commitment to training in the Canadian market.
The focus, he says, is simple: “figuring out what’s wrong and how to fix it right.
“Technology is not going to slow down. Continual education is critical.”
What feeds that education is, of course, sales. And when you’re in a market that is not growing, or is actually shrinking, it’s time to reposition. That is precisely what Tenneco is doing. While the exhaust market is big on dollars, it’s certainly not growing in the traditional sense.
“We are trying to make the very best of the business in the aftermarket,” says Tenneco’s Frank Murkowski. “OE systems are just made so good.
“We want to position ourselves as the leader in emissions categories,” he says. This means an increased focus on catalytic converters, direct fit systems, and import coverage. “Import coverage is growing; it’s running 47% of import registration coverage.” And the company will be adding 100 to 200 part numbers each quarter.
Of course, consolidation is also an ongoing theme, and on the ride control side, this is a focus of Tenneco’s activities. “We have two focuses,” says the company’s ride control chief, Bill Dennie. “We are adding 150 part numbers–400-plus in the last two years–but we are also simplifying the offering.”
Offerings have been streamlined. So, for example, truck shocks for half-ton and up will be Reflex, while smaller appli- cations will be Sensa-Trac, which eliminates crossover of the sub-brands. The move came after much consultation with engineers and customers.
“Tell us the best technology and we’ll put it in the box,” says Dennie of the basic directive.
The trend to consolidation of supply is not entirely new, but it has been stepped up recently. Even accessory company Lund has streamlined its many brands somewhat, to make it easier to understand and buy.
The company’s AVS (Auto Ventshade) 2008 catalogue, for example, focuses on hood deflectors and shades, as well as the brand’s namesake vent visors. There is not a single hood scoop listed. In fact, the company has trimmed its brands to Lund, Nifty, and Deflecta Shield, as well as the aforementioned AVS, and has focused efforts on making the brand distinctions more clear, addressing crossover of products among the brands (which served to confuse some buyers, according to Lund personnel). So, Lund is focused on light truck accessories; Deflecta Shield covers aluminum cargo boxes and running boards; while Nifty is the company’s cargo management and floor mat entity.
Of course, to handle changes requires capable business systems, and Activant reports that many of its customers are upgrading their computer systems.
“An overall trend that we are seeing is the push in new technology. We are seeing customers adding additional components to systems,” says Activant’s Helena Winkler. These include RFID, delivery systems, and more. Among the most popular is the delivery system module that allows for detailed delivery tracking. “As soon as you can measure something, you can manage it,” she says. Tools like this, previously considered to be the preserve of the largest distributors, have been pushed down to the jobber level.
“You can now know how long it takes to make a delivery. And you can track history on a delivery.”
Plus, in-store enhancements such as MCL, which prompts counterpeople on which options to offer first, have come to the fore. A tight integration of e-cat and system is also evident. “They’re no longer isolated. We have made enhancements to the catalogue to help make every counterperson your best counterperson,” says Winkler.
Overall, says Winkler, in a business environment dominated by tight margins and rapidly expanding part numbers, robust business systems are more critical than ever for jobbers.
“It really goes to support that the true business they are in is delivery and customer service.”
While SEMA provides the Las Vegas sizzle, the concurrent AAPEX show relies on the traditional replacement business to give visitors to Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week all the steak they can handle.