Auto Service World
Feature   October 1, 2004   by John G. Smith

Making It Work – How to Get the Most of Your Affiliation

Today's warehouses and buying groups offer programs with much more than parts and prices, but are you taking advantage of every tool in the box?

Jobber programs mean more than buying right.

Brian Wyatt is quick to promote the value of being a member of Uni-Select. It comes down to buying power and the availability of parts, says the controller of Wyatt Auto Parts in Kelowna, B.C. A local warehouse helps him control inventory levels, and the pricing is particularly crucial, since he’s competing against the buying power of Lordco Auto Parts and its 80 retail/wholesale stores.

“We have to be able to buy the best we can to compete,” he says. “I don’t think an independent can go it alone now.”

But that’s where his involvement in the program ends. He doesn’t take advantage of the marketing material or the rewards programs, and suggests the other tools might not work in his specific market.

Wyatt is hardly the exception to the rule.

When Base Automotive Warehousing general manager Bob Bobert looks at the suite of tools that his Auto Value program offers, he admits that a mere one in four jobbers takes advantage of everything at their disposal. “It’s very disappointing,” he says. “There’s thousands of dollars spent, thousands of man hours spent to come up with these programs.”

After all, they can be the tools for business success.


“Obviously pricing, rebate structures and all those are important, but you also have to have some programs behind that to help jobbers to grow their business,” says Marc Alary, marketing and product manager for Bestbuy Distributors Limited. And marketing initiatives are among the tools that can have the biggest impact.

Dale Devlin of Ontario-based Halton Automotive, a Bestbuy shareholder, not only takes advantage of national flyers every two months, but distributes material specific to his operation on alternating months. “With the diversity of our customer base, we’re fortunate enough to have a good response to all of the flyers,” he says.

The support offered by an associate program can allow a business owner to “focus on his business rather than in his business,” suggests Brian Taylor, sales manager for Carquest’s Toronto distribution centre. Marketing services, for example, can free jobbers from mundane tasks such as cutting and pasting flyers.

Bestbuy, for example, offers marketing materials that can be customized to meet the needs of individual jobbers in their local areas. “It’s not a template. It’s not pre-done stuff,” Alary says. “In their own marketplace, they have their own rules, they have their own pricing, they have their own competitors. They are probably the best ones to know where they should be and know what they have been selling.”

NAPA, meanwhile, offers its jobbers the opportunity to add local “tags” to ad mats and radio commercials developed at a national level. More than 60% of the businesses take advantage of that service, says marketing director Linda Donnini, and they also enjoy the value of national advertising initiatives designed to build awareness of the brand.

Pooling resources is viewed as important when it comes to buying power, but it also has benefits on the selling side.

“When we joined the Auto Value program, the marketing side of it was what got me going,” Bobert says of his program’s various offerings. “They have professional people in the marketing department that put out these programs, and it’s done so professionally. We wouldn’t have the funds to do it on our own.”


Rewards offered through various sales promotions have also become a staple of associate programs. So many sales will get you a T-shirt; a few extra earn a jacket or TV. Closets are stuffed with the all-important logo wear that often accounts for the majority of clothing that a jobber might own.

But the programs have also evolved to offer a wider array of rewards than ever. Uni-Select, for example, has partnered with Air Miles to offer the points that can be added to those collected with consumer purchases.

The related loyalty programs can play a key role in securing customers, Alary adds. “I would say they’re underutilized.”

“There’s a cost to it, but there’s a benefit to loyalty,” adds Erik Ferland, Uni-Select’s marketing coordinator, sales programs. “Installers don’t buy from just one source.” Every offering can help ensure that a customer reaches for your phone number rather than calling a competitor, he says.

Mark Brunelle, president of Regional Automotive Warehous-ing, adds that it’s also important not to become discouraged by individual requirements attached to some initiatives. “It might take 1,000 end tabs to get some sort of decent rewards,” he says. “But a thousand really doesn’t take that long to collect for a barbecue or whatever.”

An end tab is usually worth about 25 cents, although private brand versions can be worth more than a dollar, he adds.


While a banner program’s training initiatives are often thought of in terms of technicians learning about the skills of their trade, a growing number of jobbers are taking advantage of available business training, Bobert adds.

“Part of the reason is that everybody’s margins are suffering, so it forces them to look at different ways of increasing their bottom line.”

Without question, the training offerings are growing. Consider the 2006 national convention for Auto Value and Bumper to Bumper in San Antonio. Seminars focus on such themes as “coaching that motivates”, “moving from technical professional to manager” and “time management.” There isn’t a class on better brakes in sight. Topics range from relationship selling, to financial basics and communication strategies.

Bobert saw the shift in jobbers looking to business training after a 2003 Alliance convention, in which members could choose to attend five related courses. “Before that convention, when you mentioned training, everybody assumed it was going to be a sales training course. In the back of their mind they’re thinking, it’s put on by a manufacturer trying to sell us a product,” he says. Today’s offerings deal with much more than that.

He suggests the training that relates to business skills is particularly important when considering the backgrounds of the newest entrants into the jobber world. “A lot of these guys who opened jobbing stores in the last couple of years, they were counter guys who got this idea in their head that they should run their own business–but working on the counter, you’re not worried about the bottom line, and making ends meet, and paying salaries.”

“We do correspondence training, face-to-face meeting training [for managers], video training, we even have CD training,” Taylor says of Carquest’s array of offerings. Almost 70% of the jobbers and countermen take advantage of the programs, he adds. (“You’re always going to have people who don’t use them.”)

The training support can also come in the form of tools to train your customers. Brunelle, for example, says some customers use his training facilities to deliver their own programs.

Associate programs also offer regular opportunities to interact with other jobbers and vendors, Devlin adds, referring to another method of collecting information. “We have two national shows through the year that are excellent for interacting with our vendors. The other opportunity with shows is interacting with fellow shareholders.”


Sometimes the lack of an Internet connection is the only thing that keeps a jobber from taking advantage of a program’s growing selection of information. Much of the new material is being delivered by e-mail, and up-to-date product information can now be accessed with the click of a mouse.

“I think in general, jobbers are still lagging behind the other levels of distribution in terms of being computerized and having access to the Internet,” Bobert says. “Our communications between the Auto Value head office and warehouses are strictly electronic.” In comparison, fewer than half of the jobbers that he serves are online. Perhaps they’re worried that counterpeople will waste their time surfing the Net, he says.

But jobbers need the ability to place orders online, Brunelle suggests, noti
ng that 50% of his Ottawa-area jobbers have logged on to the Internet. Traditionally, a jobber who didn’t have a particular part in stock would have to scramble about to discover whether a part could be sourced in the first place.

Undeniably, the Internet has become a key tool for delivering associate program tools to jobbers. NAPA’s Donnini, for example, refers to the Prolink program that allows shops to order their parts from jobbers in an online environment. “And since it’s a Web-based system, they don’t need to install special hardware or software to use it,” she says.

“The garage tends to say, ‘I’ll call you back’ and never does,” says Bobert. But with a computer terminal at the ready, a counterperson can search the goods in a central warehouse and ensure a product is available, ordering a product before a customer is even off the phone.

“It’s transparent to the garage that the jobber didn’t really have it. He doesn’t have to pick up the phone to do it,” he says.

Electronic catalogues can be updated more quickly than their paper counterparts, Brunelle adds of another important online feature. His program will soon allow customers to download price lists with a simple $1,000 upgrade to existing shop software, rather than requiring them to subscribe to a service that could cost $150 per month.

“That’s the last time you’ll pay for a price list,” he says. “The savings will come in the first year.”

It is just one of the many newer tools that technology is placing at a jobber’s disposal.


Marketing initiatives don’t have to be limited to jobbers and their direct customers, either. Uni-Select, for example, has launched its Advantage and Scan programs to reach out to consumers themselves. Advantage brochures trumpet the value of preventive maintenance. Scan offers shops the related inspection checklists for specific vehicles.

“We have a tendency in our industry to always think about programs that go to the installer, but we have to push the programs all the way down to the consumer,” Ferland says. “With the AIA, the Be Car Care Aware program, that’s what it’s all about.” (The Automotive Industries Association of Canada initiative, building on the work of its American counterparts, promotes regular vehicle care, maintenance and repair.)

Granted, it’s a long-term investment when compared to a traditional promotion that offers discounts based on sales volumes, but when technicians promote regular maintenance they are going to make sales, and jobbers are going to be the ones making the sale for the fluids and the timing belts and all those products.

Jobbers tend to focus on immediate results, he admits. “We’re human. We all do, but you have to think in the long term and you have to start modifying the installer’s mindset.”

On the whole, however, many programs offered to jobbers are not used to their fullest extent. There are a number of reasons for this, but one is simple awareness.

Several program officials who didn’t want to be quoted in this article repeated a common refrain off the record. Jobbers will often complain about the lack of promotions involving specific products, they said, only to learn that it was featured in the latest mailing–the one still sitting on the desk in a sealed envelope, under the array of other literature that accumulates during the business day.

The easiest way to get the most out of an associate program is to learn about the different offerings, they added.

That involves opening your mail.

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