Auto Service World
Feature   July 1, 2004   by Auto Service World

Change a Constant Fact That Cannot Be Ignored

Typically, the automotive aftermarket can be complimented for doing a number of things very well. Being ahead of the curve in a changing marketplace is, however, not one of them.

Over the past six months I have had the privilege of travelling from coast to coast attending various industry and company functions. During these events I have had the opportunity to talk with many jobbers on a one-on-one basis. I have heard many stories of how their marketplace is developing and where their own business seems to be headed. It is not pretty. Jobbers are frustrated at their own customer base, and also with their own business.

Should anyone be surprised?

Many jobbers and service providers are procrastinators. People throughout our industry do not want to address change. They are not comfortable with it and never have been. (A quick glance through the back issues of Jobber News reveals a litany of doomsday predictions at every sign of a changing market or technological environment.–ed.)

Now change is knocking hard at the front door, and jobbers are looking for quick-fix solutions. They will listen to anyone who says what they want to hear, yet their business does not improve. It continues on a path that continues to create stress and very poor profitability.

Something new must be done at this point to turn this situation around.

Although the following ideas may not be what you want to hear, they are the product of discussions with your customers and others in the industry.

1. Acknowledge that a proper time frame is going to be required to realign the jobber business. Get your head around a time frame of two to three years. If you can’t accept this starting step, perhaps it is time to get out of the business. There is no quick fix to a jobber business today.

2. Change your mind-set as to what a shop owner is. Too many jobbers do not show enough respect for their own customer base. Apparently, for these jobbers, the shop does not measure up to the jobber’s personal expectations. This is sad, but evidently very true. I hear it as I listen to the way many jobbers speak about their customer base. I wonder, what would happen if an average jobber ran a shop maintenance and repair business for six months? I think it would be a huge eye-opener. A shop maintenance and repair business is one of the toughest businesses to run today, and it is perhaps time the jobber understood and respected what effort many good people are trying to do considering their current knowledge and current circumstances.

3. Acknowledge that the average jobber is understaffed: by one in the office, one behind the counter, and one in the field. Management and all field sales personnel must completely understand the customer’s business, yet many jobbers say they don’t have the time. That sounds like their customers talking. When a business is understaffed, no one has time for developing anything new.

4. The jobber business must be capable of offering value through providing concrete shop business solutions for growing and sustaining shop profitability. You must learn how to do this and it will take time. It is not just increasing sales in a shop’s business. It is thoroughly understanding the topic of proper shop profitability. It is about productivity based on developing the shop’s capabilities, charging the right price for them, and resulting in a fully satisfied shop client that moves a shop forward. Consider offering additional value by providing business training, solid competent technical training, or even Internet and computer software training.

5. Select your customers carefully. No sale is worth making if it can’t be collected. Jobbers today cannot sell to every shop in town. That has been proven to be a disastrous business strategy. The profitability of each account must be scrutinized carefully. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Profitability, not just activity, is the key component in a successful jobber business today. Accounts over 45 days need immediate, urgent, critical attention. If accounts are not being paid in full each month then the shop has a combination of profitability and accounts receivable issues that must be completely addressed for their shop’s survival. If shop management does not want to improve the way they run their business, then the jobber must weigh how much time the jobber’s business is going to spend with such a customer.

6. Take the time to understand your client’s specific business needs. What inventory should you be stocking for him? Find out how much import parts are affecting the shop’s sales mix. If you do not stock what the client needs and wants, then you are forcing the shop to call elsewhere. Clearly, the better shops in our industry want to be loyal to one jobber as first call, but the jobber must make the effort to earn that loyalty. The shop is in the service and quality business when it comes to maintenance and repair, and the jobber is in the right and fast business when it comes to parts and their delivery. (Please notice that price is not in the equation.)

7. Communicate clearly with all your clients more frequently, such as through a monthly or semi-monthly newsletter. What are the latest industry issues that the shop and jobber should be addressing together? Express and show jobber marketplace leadership, and that you have a handle on the future of this industry. What is the vision of the jobber business for the future, and how does it fit in with the shop’s future business? Introduce your staff to shop clients by doing a feature article on each staff member, over time, and how each one plays an important role not only in the jobber business but also in the proper servicing of the client’s business.

8. Be the leader, not the follower, in your marketplace. Too many jobbers just want to sit back and take orders. The professional jobber today has changed and leads his marketplace into the future with jobber business service depth and business confidence. He has done his homework. He maintains his market business research. Competent jobbers set the tone for how business is going to be done in their marketplace, and the best jobbers are frequently spoken of in positive terms by the best shops in town. The best shops are impressed and support this type of jobber.

All of these points require a change of mindset as well as some organizational change within the jobber business in order to execute them properly and professionally. It does not happen overnight and it is not easy. If it were, every jobber would be doing it. The fact is there are too many jobbers in the marketplace for the number of good shops available. However, it will be the best jobber owners and managers that secure the best shops as full first call, consequently producing a professional and profitable jobber business. Why? Because they accept and embrace change.

You may not agree. You may be critical of the above article by thinking that change on your part is not necessary. If so, I invite you to write to me through Andrew Ross, the Publisher and Editor, and explain, in detail, how you are going to make the math work in your business over the next five to seven years.

If you choose to take Bob Greenwood up on his offer, you can send an e-mail to or via regular mail at the address below.

Robert (Bob) Greenwood is President and CEO of E. K. Williams & Co. (Ontario) Ltd. and Automotive Aftermarket E-Learning Centre Ltd. Bob has 28 years of industry-specific business management experience. He has developed shop business management courses for independent service providers recognized as being the most comprehensive courses of their kind available in Canada. Bob is the first Canadian Business Management Consultant and Trainer to be recognized for his industry contributions when he received the prestigious Northwood University Automotive Aftermarket Management Education Award in November 2003. E. K. Williams & Co. (Ontario) Ltd. offices specialize in the independent sector of the automotive aftermarket industry preparing ana
lytical operating statements for management purposes, personal and corporate tax returns and business management consultation. Visit them at and sign up for their free monthly management e-newsletter. Automotive Aftermarket E-Learning Centre Ltd. is a leading edge company devoted to developing comprehensive shop management skills through the E-Learning environment. Visit AAEC at . Bob can be reached at (613) 836-5130, 1-800-267-5497, FAX (613) 836-4637 and by E-Mail: or

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