Auto Service World
Feature   November 1, 2013   by Steve Pawlett


Using Data to Have What Customers Need Before They Need It

Recent advances in technology have made automotive parts sales more challenging than ever before. Today, competition among retailers and e-tailers has never been tougher. Superstores are battling each other on every corner, while Internet marketers are stealing customers from bricks-and-mortar stores. With the landscape changing so rapidly, jobbers need an edge in order to maintain their competitive position in the marketplace.

Fortunately, the sophistication of today’s database management systems offers jobbers the ability to gain valuable insight into customer buying patterns, sales trends, seasonal factors, and stocking needs that are vital to their survival.

“Jobbers need to understand that the landscape is changing at a rapid pace, and technology is playing a big role in that. Being able to serve customers through multiple channels is key to their success, so it’s important to have the right parts, at the right time, at the right price,” explains Parrish Wood of MAM Software Inc.

Database management allows jobbers to gain an edge on their competition by providing customer and business insights that help them make better decisions faster.

“For example, with the comprehensive forecasting and pricing tools available in our Autopart software, jobbers can identify sales trends that are happening within the organization so they can stock or market the business accordingly. Having the right tools to service those customers is important. The ability to utilize other selling sites, or even having a mobile app or mobile optimized website, can be crucial to success,” adds Wood.

“If you already carry an item in inventory, your in-house computer system and database should be able to suggest stocking levels that are realistic given factors such as sales volume, seasonality trends, lead time, safety stock, and turns,” explains Rinax Computer Systems president Jerry Fugina. “Your proximity to a source of supply is another key factor in determining stocking levels.”

“The longer it takes to source product and the more the cost of freight, the more important it is to factor in lead time and safety stock. Assuming this information is established, your computer system should be able to suggest stocking levels for each part that meet the challenges of having the right inventory,” adds Fugina.

In addition, if you don’t carry an item, your computer system should help you track non-stocked parts and lost sales and use this information to recommend whether or not to stock an item, and if so, how much of it.

“We have a warehouse with a store in front of it so we have the challenge of moving large amounts of parts through our warehouse to our other locations, [while] still being able to get parts picked for a speedy delivery for our parts store here in Fredericton,” explains David Vaughan, vice-president of Eastern Automotive Warehousing.

Eastern Automotive went live with the MAM software system in July of 2012. “Basically, they had everything we were looking for in one all-inclusive package, and they have been very flexible in working with us to tailor the system to our needs,” says Vaughan.

“Before we went to this system, we could look at the sales numbers of our counter staff to see how they were doing, but we really couldn’t see the productivity of our other staff. Now with the MAM system, we can track every employee as well as monitor all aspects of our stocking needs. Our end goal is customer service, so now we can use the data to get the parts faster, have them picked faster and delivered faster,” he adds.

Jobbers can enhance efficiencies and increase sales targets with tools that rank their inventory in multiple ways and compare those results to buyer data (i.e., sales). Those comparisons are a huge advantage because they give jobbers information about what is selling and what isn’t selling. They can then return lower-ranked inventory that isn’t selling and purchase inventory with high turnover rates, thus increasing sales and margins.

Epicor Software recently unveiled version 6 of Epicor Vista for the automotive aftermarket. Its Web-based market and category intelligence services solution enables jobbers to create location-specific inventory models based on actual parts demand by vehicle, brand, and other criteria. The solution also offers an array of new data visualization applets designed for use on distributor sales representatives’ mobile devices.

“Vista 6 delivers advanced, aftermarket-specific analytics that can enhance inventory efficiency and sales performance at the distribution centre, store, and installer levels,” explains Steve Bieszczat, senior vice-president, automotive and marketing, retail distribution solutions for Epicor.

The Epicor solution includes new data visualization technology in the form of easy-to-use applets that present key information in clear presentations designed for mobile devices. “As one example, the solution’s new ‘Installer Insight’ applet summarizes account-specific vehicle repair and parts consumption patterns for the shop owner, manager, or service writer, as a means to increase customer loyalty and sales volume,” says Bieszczat.

“We find the applets are a great feature for inventory files. It allows you to sort things by columns and provides lots of options,” says Doug Borland, president of Western Bearing and Auto Parts in Parts in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba. Borland has been using various editions of Epicor software for more than 25 years. “We’re also able to email invoices and statements and the Windows-based software is much more intuitive and easier to use.”

“The way I view it, your software is really your partner, because you really live inside your software on a day-to-day basis. It such a critical component now,” explains Borland. “For instance, we can actually delay re-ordering parts for a period of time, like 72 hours, that we set. This way, if a customer comes back a couple days later with parts that weren’t needed, we can re-stock them and not run the risk of having already re-ordered and be faced with extra parts on our shelves.”

“A database management tool that is widely used in our Rinax system is something we call the Min/Max Wizard,” explains Fugina. “It is an interactive screen that allows a jobber to look at inventory levels on a ‘what if’ basis. In other words, without affecting live inventory levels, the screen can report on suggested stocking levels based on criteria such as the number of weeks’ supply and a percentage of the established maximum, among others. The suggested stocking levels can be fine-tuned by additional criteria such as compensating for low sales volume and omitting changes to items recently added to inventory. When the system has completed its calculations, you can view the results on the screen, which displays changes in min/max by highlighting them and showing what your new stocking levels would be compared to your current inventory values.”

After making any desired edits to individual items, users can cause the changes to go into effect on their live inventory with a touch of a button. If the results are not to their liking, they can re-calculate with different criteria, or simply cancel the whole process and start again.

Richard Doiron, owner of Auto Concept Inc. in Bathurst, New Brunswick, has been using the Rinax computer system since 2004 and he has found the recently introduced Min/Max Wizard a very useful addition to the system. With four locations, three under the Max Pieces name, the wizard helps him to track sales and adjust stocking needs more accurately.

“With the Min/Max Wizard you can see what is moving from store to store and adjust stocking according to demand in a particular location. We can also identify both positive and negative trends and make adjustments in inventory more quickly. The ability see a lost sale is just as important as seeing existing sales levels,” adds Doiron. “By identifying our lost sales we can adjust our inventory and eliminate those missed opportunities.

“MAM’s customers often use EMI+ to store buyer data for quick trend identification, resulting in improved business performance and less time scrutinizing numbers. EMI+ is our business intelligence application that analyzes a company’s performance across a range of criteria. It integrates with Autopart to collate data from the system and present accurate, up-to-date information about business performance, helping jobbers identify trends, highlight areas of improvement, and make informed decisions about future business strategies,” says Wood.

With so much competition these days, jobbers need to have the right parts at the right time. Being able to monitor buying patterns and emerging trends is essential. If you don’t have what your customer needs, that customer will just go to a competitor, creating a lost sale and lost opportunity to serve that customer.

With use of database management software like the programs mentioned above, jobbers can gain valuable insight into what customers are buying, and more importantly, what they are not buying. Having this information at your fingertips is key when making purchasing and pricing decisions so you can maximize your investment in the correct inventory mix. This software also puts you in a position to take corrective measures right away, instead of waiting until a month-end report and reactively making up for lost sales from the previous month.

Another emerging trend that is gaining speed rapidly is the use of mobile apps to purchase products.

“Many people have a smartphone, a tablet, or both, and OEMs are now building these mobile capabilities into their vehicles (see sidebar), so customers have instant access to information. This means jobbers can now service their customers through yet another avenue. With the DIY market, jobbers can use mobile apps to access a new stream of customers that they didn’t have before,” explains Parrish. “But it’s not just a way of gaining new customers; mobile apps also help manage customers you already have. For example, our SalesRep product gives field-based representatives a way to manage their customer base without being physically connected to their home.”

Rinax offers Lenovo tablets with Windows 8, which allows outside sales staff to connect remotely with the store. Sales staff can go into a repair shop with their tablet and restock the shelves while they are there.

“These tablets also have Bluetooth scanners, so you can scan items to build an order remotely then print a ticket right there in the shop,” explains Fugina. “They can create an invoice for the repair shop and email it directly to the shop, and the repair shop has it in their system and can print out a hard copy if needed. So you don’t have to physically show up with an invoice with the parts; it’s already in their system. With the tablet, sales staff can use their smartphone to get a Wifi connection and interface with the store to complete the order.”

Some of the latest tools from MAM Software include MAM SalesRep, a tablet app that empowers field sales staff to strengthen customer relationships and improve productivity. It provides a real-time connection to your Autopart system, enabling your staff to access account information, customer notes, and transactional history. They can check pricing, view stock availability, and raise orders directly from the app. It also allows your staff to conduct stock checks and create replenishment orders. It provides details of visits, and calls can be logged on the app and synced with Autopart’s Call Management system.

Autopart Online is now available as a remotely hosted, fully managed service. Offering the complete functionality of Autopart, this application utilizes virtual servers located in a state-of-the-art data centre, eliminating the need for users to invest in costly server hardware and maintenance.

Rinax offers solid-state hard drives that have no moving parts, so they have no mechanical failure; they are more reliable and much faster than conventional hard drives. “With regards to changes in software, we’ve made a lot of enhancements to our program to handle special orders more efficiently, because that has been an area that jobbers have always had difficulty with, and it goes directly to the productivity of the staff and to customer service. The bonus, of course, is that if handled correctly, it allows the store to carry less inventory on the same or higher volumes of sales,” adds Fugina. “Another area we concentrated on was improving accuracy in picking and shipping parts to reduce errors, reduce returns, and improve customer service. We’ve done this with a scan-and-ship capability, allowing jobbers to re-scan items on an order before they leave the building. Discrepancies are brought to the attention of the picker/shipper with a visual and audible alert.”

“Today the depth of the software that is available is so massive that it really comes down to how much time you want to spend on the various features for your particular business. The sky is really the limit,” concludes Borland.

Advances in technology and the level of sophistication now available in database management systems provide a seamless connection to sales data that jobbers can use to gain valuable insight into customer buying patterns that are key to helping them maintain their competitive edge.


How Mobile Communication Is Changing The Automotive Retail Landscape

Mobile communication is changing how business is done, from retail to health to automotive to finance to education and beyond – and this change is happening at an astonishing scale and speed.

It is expected that the next 10 years will dwarf the last 10 in terms of new mobile services. One driver of change will be the shift to 4G; another, the millions more consumers who will get connected; and another, the rapid spread of machine-to-machine communication.

Already mobile communication is moving well beyond its role as a phone and even as a communication device, becoming an enabler for a wide range of experiences from TV viewing to shopping to banking. In this respect, mobile is evolving into a primary screen for consumers. It is expected that mobile will soon become the starting point for brands, not an add-on.

With the advent of in-car 4G, built-in Wifi and ever more partnerships between apps and automakers, the automobile is becoming a speedy smartphone. Intel forecasts that by 2014, cars will be one of the three fastest-growing market segments for connected devices and Internet content.

GM recently announced it will start embedding 4G LTE connectivity and touchscreens into its vehicles. Ford is promoting connected cars, and Audi has been advertising its A3 Sportback as “The world’s biggest smartphone.”

Connectivity can be achieved by embedding a wireless modem into the car, or through the vehicle interfacing with drivers’ smartphones. However it’s executed, the potential that advanced connectivity brings to cars, for improved car safety, myriad entertainment options, geo-local advertising, etc., is enormous.

Ford, AppLink: Ford lets drivers control in-car apps with voice commands, instructing the car to share its location with contacts or social networks (using the Glympse app), for instance, or requesting songs on Spotify (Ford announced a partnership with the streaming music service). Ford’s SYNC technology wirelessly syncs with drivers’ smartphones, allowing them to use Ford-approved apps including iHeartAuto, MOG and Slacker Personal Radio.

GM, 4G LTE: GM plans to start outfitting cars with 4G LTE, introducing in-vehicle Wifi hot spots, streaming entertainment and apps designed for its proprietary browser. It’s the first mass-market automaker to do so (Audi was the first to introduce 4G LTE, in its A3 model). 4G LTE will be included in most Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac vehicles in North America starting in 2014 (via a partnership with AT&T), and GM said it will subsequently expand to brands including Opel and Vauxhall in Europe. GM also recently demonstrated a prototype vehicle with embedded cameras that will enable owners to remotely monitor their car.

Volvo, Connected Vehicle Cloud: Starting with its 2014 models, Volvo drivers will be able to link in to Ericsson’s Connected Vehicle Cloud – accessing streaming radio, navigation apps, etc. – using an Android-powered touchscreen on the dashboard. The system will also automatically schedule an appointment with a local repair shop if the car’s computer detects a problem. And the Parrot SmartLink app will let users “mirror” their smartphone on the larger touchscreen.

Toyota, Friend: Launched in Japan in 2012, Friend is a social network of sorts that connects customers with their cars, dealerships, and Toyota HQ. Owners can “friend” their vehicle, getting information such as battery charge and fuel level. The car can also alert owners to issues such as low battery power or tire misalignment with tweet-like notifications. Consumers are coming to expect constant connection, and the car will be the next means to achieve this.

Already 37% of people want to stay as connected as possible in their vehicle, according to a 2012 report from Deloitte. Expect to see a lot more collaborations among automakers, tech companies, app developers, network operators and all kinds of brands, working together to add enhancements and functionality for drivers.

As screens proliferate in cars, vehicles will become a platform for delivering targeted, tailored value to drivers in multiple ways:

With cars able to stream video, brands will have opportunities to deliver specialized content for passengers.

By combining data points like location, time, and user profiles, the car will deliver personalized recommendations and time-sensitive promotions.

Drivers will get ever smarter, using apps and other resources to find parking spaces or the nearest auto parts store.

The car will be an e-commerce platform, enabling purchases via the dashboard. Toyota’s Entune, for example, lets drivers make restaurant reservations or buy movie tickets using in-car apps.

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