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

Retail Tales

Despite the fact that the jobber has been around for decades, nearly a century really, there is still no such thing as a “standard” jobber. Jobber businesses are as individual as the people running them, even the corporately owned ones–no doubt to the varying frustrations, and sometimes pleasant surprise, of the executives who must oversee these operations.

One of the continuing battles is for the appropriate retail/wholesale split. The Canadian aftermarket is populated by jobbers looking to build their retail business while others look to retract further into the less brightly-lit world of wholesale sales. The reality is that it is an uncomfortable partnering at best.

Many garages still don’t like the idea that the business they are buying from is also selling directly to their customers, asking how you would feel if your suppliers did the same. Of course, it’s not the same. If a long-time traditional supplier took to cutting you out of the loop and selling directly to the garage, they would be selling to your customer. But if you sell a battery to some fellow off the street, this person was never going to be a garage’s customer. Another store’s maybe, but not a garage’s. What are you supposed to do, turn him away to the competition?

Still, it can be uncomfortable to have the discussion and many jobbers, while happy to serve the walk-in customer, seem less than anxious to embrace retail for this reason. Considering the uneven quality of jobber showrooms across the country, this is probably a good thing.

Few jobbers do retail very well and those who do, you will find upon closer inspection, have some kind of internal division of responsibility that allows the best retail program to be created with the company’s given resources, while the best wholesale program can also be created and executed.

Some years ago, a well-respected counterperson and store manager remarked that he didn’t do much retail business, but wasn’t sure why. To me, the question came as a bit of a surprise because it seemed patently obvious to me. It wasn’t a question of minutiae, showroom traffic flow or lack of market research. Let me describe the scene, which remains unchanged to this day, a decade later. Though located practically on top of a busy main street, it lacks a good sign. The store has perhaps 15 feet of frontage, a smallish window too high to look into comfortably from the street, and a gloomy recessed entranceway three steps up whereupon an impenetrable steel door greets the customer, thoughtfully decorated by the neighborhood spray bomb technicians. Oh, and no obvious parking lot either. Uninviting to say the least.

Still, strong retail sales are not a prerequisite for survival. The aforementioned example is still in existence and doing decently well. Another successful jobber/retailer recently backed off on his retail component and gained business from trade customers who appreciated his improved focus on their business. On the flip side, a third business owner once alluded to me that he’d stop selling retail as soon as his trade customers were willing to pay 14 cents more on each dollar of purchases, because that’s what it was worth to make a sale at retail prices, without delivery costs or terms.

The fact is that many jobbers are realizing, again, that the retail dollar has a certain appeal, especially in a wholesale market that is under increasing price pressures. The first step is realizing that you don’t have to be big to be successful at retail sales.

Retail isn’t for everybody, but if you’ve got a good location, you might consider whether a coat of paint, a new sign, and a little bit of attention to the pegboard hell that may be your showroom might help you build both retail sales volume and profits.

I’m not suggesting that every jobber attack the retail market in full force. You won’t drive off major retailers armed with a coat of paint. But the extra tidbit of profit gained at retail may be a good way to help you grow. And if your trade customers express concerns, tell them you need the retail dollars to help you invest in the services you’re providing them.

It is a convincing story that has the added benefit of being the truth.


Making The Grade: Your Oil & Lubricants Business, Wheel Service, and Training are all on deck for November.

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