Auto Service World
Feature   October 1, 2004   by Andrew Ross, Editor and Publisher

Focus People, Focus

The entrepreneurial instinct has always been an interesting phenomenon to me.

While on the one hand it drives individuals to foster successful business ventures, sometimes it seems to become a barrier. In an increasingly global marketplace, this may have never been truer. Over the years I have had the privilege to have jobbers and other aftermarket personalities share their experiences and philosophies with me. They have also shared their frustrations and fears.

These days, the latter seem to be more prevalent than they have been for a while, but it strikes me as an odd paradox that at the same time that they are concerned about market share, pricing, and combating dealer competition, so many jobbers leave so many tools in the drawer.

This month, in our feature on getting the most out of your affiliation with a WD or buying group, it is clear that there are myriad tools at your disposal. And, in my recent conversations with Jobber of the Year Dick Fisher, it is also clear that you don’t need to be a part of a conventional group to have many of the same tools at hand. I only offer this as a way of pointing out that it is a poor workman who blames his tools.

And yet those who develop those tools–as often as not, the WDs and buying groups–are often left frustrated by jobbers’ unwillingness to put many of those tools to use. I find this an incredible set of circumstances.

Perhaps there is something deep in the psyche of the independent businessperson that prevents him from accepting such centrally created marketing programs, or perhaps it is just sheer bloody-mindedness. Regardless, the widespread nature of the phenomenon is troubling.

Maybe the programs being created don’t fit with the jobber’s approach to his marketplace. If this is the case, it is time for each jobber to make his concerns clear to the group creating the program. If the programs are missing the mark, I think you owe it to the people creating the program to tell them.

There are of course a few things I see out there–both inside and outside the aftermarket–that defy logic. There are some introductory “promotions” that ask the jobber to accept virtually 100% of the risk, while returning a licensing fee to the creator. These are what I refer to as the “ego-corrupted” programs, because the creator obviously feels their idea is so great, you’re willing to sign on under any circumstances.

Then there are the ideas that are made to sound like something new and different, but aren’t really that different from an existing program. While there is nothing wrong with a re-launch, if it is termed as a new and revolutionary change when it isn’t, I think your lack of enthusiasm can be excused.

Virtually every distribution group would be hard-pressed to declare honestly that every one of the tools they offer their jobber network is used to its fullest extent. It is equally hard for any jobber to honestly admit that any underutilized marketing or business tool lays fallow as a result of being thoroughly analyzed and deemed unfit for the market.

More to the point, the fault often lies in overcomplication–too many details, too many caveats, and, yes, too many ways to derive benefit for the customer. Sometimes, in our desire to increase the menu of benefits, we dilute the central message.

While this can be a complicated business, it is also a simple one. The details required to get customer service to the highest levels may be myriad, but the customer should only see the result: order the part, get the part, pay the invoice. Keep it simple, stupid.

Promotions, marketing, and programs should be this way, too. One benefit–easily understood and even easier to administer.

One benefit is easier to communicate than 20. And, if it’s the right benefit, and will motivate the customer, why bother with the other 19?

The market is too challenging to underemploy tools that might work, or to allow your group to provide tools that don’t. It is your responsibility–to yourself, your staff, and your customers–to make sure that neither situation is allowed to continue.

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