Auto Service World
Feature   May 1, 2001   by Andrew Ross, Editor


Being an employee of a large corporation–it still hasn’t quite sunk in that we sold off $3 billion of it recently–it is hard not to see Dilbert, the cynical high priest of corporate counterculture, haunting the spaces between the cubicles.

As much as Jobber News Magazine is the product of a very tightly knit group of dedicated people, it still remains a group within a much larger whole, a lifeboat of sanity in a sea of confusion. (Or is it the other way around? Sometimes it’s hard to tell.)

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, found his inspiration and fame through the machinations of such organizations, primarily through what we would call the I.T. department today. Yet, in my experience, it is not Dilbert who most accurately portrays the plight of those who have to deal with I.T. departments, it’s Archie. Poor old waffle-haired Archie and his band of comic book ne’er do wells.

While Dilbert characterizes I.T. dealings as fraught with bureaucracy, requisitions, paper and endless meetings, Archie comics dealt with the technology gap in a more pedestrian, but I think, more realistic way. Or at least it did once.

I can’t remember all the characters’ names, but in one strip Moose, the “dumb jock,” asked the brainy character how a television worked. Sensing new quarry, the bespectacled brainy one proceeded with explanations of photons, cathode ray tubes, radio wave transmissions, receiving stations and–remember these!–television antennas. All the while Moose stood blankly staring back at him waiting for him to finish, and asked “But how does it work?”

Just then another of Archie’s friends walks in, senses the problem and turns on the TV, thus showing Moose “how it works.”

I think that we’ve all been in that situation. We just want to know “how it works,” not “how it really works.”

Sometimes I think that the biblical account of the Tower of Babel–where a vengeful God did scupper their plans by making them unable to speak the same language–was more about lack of understanding than any miraculous transformation of native languages. The architect may have known what he meant, but the builders thought he meant something different, and the workers something else again. In the end, the whole thing just didn’t fit together.

That’s kind of where we are at. I have the privilege of speaking to more people at different levels of the aftermarket more regularly than most. It affords me the opportunity to hear opinions and perspectives that are both unifying and divergent. Here’s a simple example: say the word “retailer” to one person, and they think of a garage; say it to a garage, they might think of a service station, a gas bar; say it to someone else and the broad showrooms of the mass merchandiser might come to mind.

That same kind of fragmentation of understanding takes place all up and down the distribution chain. Fill rates are judged differently at different levels; e-commerce means different things; category management interpretations differ; and so on. And we haven’t even really begun to scratch the surface of the technological changes which might bind the aftermarket together or threaten to shut players out.

It is not without some irony that in an age when the Internet and e-mail make communication so widespread and easy, it is much more difficult to have meaningful discussions about these things face to face–at precisely the time when we need that type of interaction. Only by sitting down together can players from the various levels of the aftermarket understand each other’s rapidly changing roles and challenges and how they fit together.

Technology will not bind us together. Common purpose will.


Next month, we get down and dirty with Exhaust Tips, Smoothing Ride Control Sales, and Revving Your Tune-Up Business, plus more news and information.

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