Following UAP’s decision to launch the NAPA brand in Canada and the reactions by other players which are sure to follow, I fear that there may be something getting lost in the discussions.
While it was made quite plain in the announcement that the folks at UAP and NAPA and Genuine Parts Company believe that a program needs to be more than a sign to be successful, this industry has shown itself to become fixated on just that: signs and allegiances, products and pricing, boxes and promotions.
I think it’s important to remind ourselves about what really seems to make the definitive difference in this business.
There was an awful lot of talk about “brand” at the UAP-cum-NAPA National Business Conference–about how brand is more than just a name on the box. In the pages of Jobber News Magazine you’ve read the same type of interpretation for years, but in case you’ve forgotten, the essence of brand equity is a promise to the customer. That promise is filled, or unfulfilled, by the products you sell, the service you provide, and the people who are at the root of it all.
If you were to ask your trade customers why they buy from you, I believe they would respond that it is your ability to get them the products they need when they need them. Your people make that happen. If experience bears out, you’d hear that it is the quality of your counterpeople that determines your installers’ loyalty to your business. Obviously there are a lot of behind-the-scenes issues that can determine your level of success in a marketplace–you need the right programs and pricing, the same way a technician needs his tools–but everything from competitive pricing, to inventory fill rates, from wholesale success to retail effectiveness, from training to communications technology, is about people.
A computerized inventory system is only as good as the vigilance of people to pump in the right information. Managers that put energy into training, and motivate their staff, get the benefits back. Ask a counterperson what bugs him most, and he’ll probably tell you that it’s lack of respect, from installers, from sales reps, maybe even from a manager.
It is a manager’s job to protect his people, because they are an important part of the store’s brand image. If you believe your people are professionals, then that will come naturally. A good manager knows that installers need to be reminded from time to time that there is a person on the other end of the phone and to treat him with respect.
And, on the flip side, you need to understand the personal impact of your actions on your customer. If you sell a part at a retail price which is less than your installer customer wants to charge on his invoice, you’re going to hear about it. And it’s not about money; it’s about brand. He may not say it in so many words, but when a car owner sees that the garage is charging more for a part than he can buy it for himself, he thinks the garage is gouging and that impugns the integrity of the garage. The independent garage’s livelihood is built on the promise of honesty and value. Call that into question and you’ve hurt his image with the customer. You may not lose his business, but you’re going to have to work to keep it.
For you, that lesson is an important one. Your brand promise is built on the fact that you stand behind the products you sell and the people you hire. In the long run, it’s the brand that is you which will determine the success of your business. A shiny new image can renew a business’s outlook and shake it out of the doldrums, but no sign will make your business succeed if you do not have the people standing behind it.
You are your brand. Your people are your brand. The energy you invest every day is your brand.
Ignore these pillars of business at your peril.
In the April issue of Jobber News, you’ll find the latest on marketing a variety of parts under the car and under the hood, plus our market-leading annual report on the air-conditioning market.