As we kick off the new year, it has come to my attention from a number of people I respect that “the race to the bottom” is still going full tilt.
This isn’t new, but what is relatively new is just how low that bottom has become. Many years ago, when a brake industry professional I respected suggested the need for an aftermarket product certification body in this country – along the lines of the TUV of Germany – to ensure that the products available on the market at least met OE specifications, I disagreed because the cheapest product I had seen on the market, if lacking in certain spit and polish and other features such as lifetime warranties and cataloguing, were still of reasonable quality.
My, how things have changed: from ball joints that won’t even support the weight of the car when a tech is letting it down from the hoist, to brake friction that has questionable stopping power, rotors that warp on contact, spark plugs that are clearly used and cleaned and resold, and – particularly salient nowadays – wheel bearings that last just long enough to be dangerous.
I should be clear here that I’m not talking about any brand that you might be aware of, but this makes it no less troubling. Brand isn’t even an issue for these truly deficient products,
I used to think that the lowest of the low product – the kind that doesn’t even deserve to be installed on a car – would be weeded out quickly and permanently by the market. Who, I asked myself, would even take this kind of risk?
What I didn’t count on was how the combination of a new class of price consciousness would combine with a cynicism that I can only call delusional: that every claim by a supplier was only fuelled by greed and the need to support “fancy packaging and marketing campaigns.” I’ve read some of the blogs and comments over the years, and if this and other magazines were commanding the kind of advertising pricing that some otherwise intelligent folks think we are, we would be having a very different conversation right now.
But what is also troubling is how so few of you – in the back office and on the counter – have been able to effectively overcome the price pressure that these downright dangerous products have caused.
It’s not all black and white, and yes I do know that the best among you know that the best approach to combating this sort of price competition is to simply dismiss these subpar products. But having the skill to effectively communicate the real benefits of legitimate quality products in the face of such competition does not come naturally to everybody, a situation further complicated by the constant internal pressures every jobber feels to reduce his cost of acquisition.
I do think that the topic of quality standards certification deserves to be revisited, but I’m also patently aware of the resistance to increased costs that may accompany it. And if you’re thinking about a legislative approach, I’ll just say that even if it were in place, enforcement of existing legislation by both the provincial and federal governments has already been spotty.
So my challenge to you for the coming year is to work to become more than just a buying organization, but to become a selling organization.
Work with suppliers and trainers to get your communication skills to top-of-class performance. Know how to defend the price you need on the products you stand behind. Know how to do the same for the value your organization brings to its customers.
Nobody really wants to install failure-prone products. Customers buy them because they think they are better than they are; they believe they will do the job, and because a car owner might never return to the garage that installed that part even when it fails, might not even be aware of when they do not.
Adopt a supportive approach that shows your customers you are working with them to navigate the increasingly murky waters that characterize today’s globally sourced market.
It may well be the most important commitment you make for you, your business, and your customers.—Andrew Ross, Publisher and Editor email@example.com
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