Auto Service World
Feature   March 1, 2006   by Auto Service World

Taking the Business Back

Planning for the Next Aftermarket Era

Look into the eyes of many parts distributors or independent shop owners who have been in this industry for 10 years or more and you can see a look that asks, “Where are we going in the aftermarket?”

Consider the effect of these current issues:

The consumer’s right to repair is the most serious issue the Canadian aftermarket has ever faced. It will affect the very possibility of the aftermarket’s survival against the dealerships, yet many within the aftermarket make little if any effort to educate each other or the general consumer about the issue.

Equipment and tools have changed dramatically in their complexity and capabilities, but must be available to and understood by every aftermarket shop owner.

Access to knowledge and understanding of these new capabilities–coupled with modern-day worldwide business management complexities–have left many businesses within the aftermarket struggling for current and future direction.

The introduction of technologies like vehicle immobilizer systems telematics sends shivers down many spines, as the lack of available information knocks the self-confidence out of excellent independent shop owners.

There is no doubt that access to information must be resolved.

It is an issue that many North American aftermarket organizations have agreed to take to task, as it could affect many aftermarket businesses’ future existence. We all must be involved in participating and supporting such efforts, without hesitation.

And what is around the corner? A technology with explosive possibilities: telematics.

These systems enable a manufacturer to communicate directly with its customer base and advise it of various services required for safe and reliable driving. This is a powerful relationship and business tool.

As computer storage space within vehicles increases, there is no doubt that more service solutions will be provided in the same format as software companies. (When you effect software fixes remotely, there is no need to return to a service facility to reflash an ECM and solve a driveability program.–ed.)

This technology will change how consumer automotive service is planned, and has the potential to increase and retain maintenance vehicle servicing at the dealerships.

Aftermarket jobbers and parts distributors over the past five years have started to realize that in order to grow a business and increase each company’s capabilities and efficiencies, business alliances–relationships to secure aftermarket parts volume–will play an increasingly important role.

That being said, considering the lack of information in the aftermarket and technological advancements entering the market, it is time for the aftermarket to embrace an even higher plateau of understanding than just forming business alliances.

Now we must learn to work together to bring the consumer back to the aftermarket.

We must embark on true interactivity. Interactivity is the next generation of what we have come to know as shop/jobber/distributor alliances.

Rapid advances in automotive technology, coupled with today’s customer focus in the car dealerships, is occurring at the expense of the shops within the aftermarket.

In this environment, the shop owner, jobber, and parts distributor must cooperate even more. We must all learn to deliver services and products that hit the consumer sweet spot before the dealerships have reeled them in. To achieve this, shop owners, jobbers, and parts distributors are going to have to reach beyond themselves.

They will have to form key partnerships with each other to combine their individual business strengths and marketplace vision. This in turn creates a stronger consumer focus, with services and products at the shop level that combine the expertise that each has developed. This is true interactivity.

Here’s how it works.

The WD and jobber collaborate in understanding each jobber’s individual marketplace circumstances to maximize parts volume and the market penetration of each shop client.

Jobber and parts distributors form small, focus group type sessions with local shops to regularly discuss professional marketplace approaches that will secure consumer loyalty at the shop level.

Shops and jobbers should work at determining shop issues, such as specific shop equipment needs and personnel requirements, in open one-on-one discussions. These discussions can cover the training required for each shop in order for that shop to maximize its professional performance, thereby enabling it to provide all the consumers’ maintenance and repair business. Today, a shop must exceed the consumer’s wildest dreams to retain his business, so what the shop must do to accomplish this objective must be discussed.

These are only a few examples, but executing interactivity properly will require companies within the aftermarket to have more open, active, trustworthy business relationships than they do now. Aftermarket businesses must be sharply focused on retaining the consumer.

This is not just a business alliance. It operates at a higher level of understanding and execution.

It is a relationship focused on understanding what the issues are within our sector, and working closely together to research, understand, and support executing professional solutions is going to be required by all parties to win back the consumer from the dealership.

It is a commitment, a strong bond to one another, with a drive to achieve measurable local market success.

For those sceptical jobbers and WDs in Canada who don’t see this as a possibility, consider that the jobber-shop business alliances that exist today were unthinkable only five years ago.

The stronger shop owners, jobbers, and parts distributors must now consider that the alliance concept has served them very well.

Now it is time to seriously explore moving quickly to interactivity. It is the next step in the path to the next era of the aftermarket.

It requires trust, planning, and a clear vision of how the aftermarket shop and supplier are going to grow and retain a marketplace from the dealership. It will require much open discussion at all levels as to what each party can contribute to this mission, but it will also require a proper time frame to put it together.

If the alliance is already in place, it is reasonable to work with a time frame of one year. If an business alliance is not in place, think three to five years.

Is interactivity possible in today’s aftermarket? Absolutely; however, it will only work for those aftermarket players who are prepared to support the efforts of the professional independent shop owners to grow and serve their client base.

Do you think you can be on board with that?

Robert (Bob) Greenwood is President and CEO of E. K. Williams & Co. (Ontario) Ltd. and Automotive Aftermarket E-Learning Centre Ltd. Bob has 28 years of industry-specific business management experience. He has developed shop business management courses for independent service providers recognized as being the most comprehensive courses of their kind available in Canada. Bob is the first Canadian Business Management Consultant and Trainer to be recognized for his industry contributions when he received the prestigious Northwood University Automotive Aftermarket Management Education Award in November 2003. E. K. Williams & Co. (Ontario) Ltd. offices specialize in the independent sector of the automotive aftermarket industry preparing analytical operating statements for management purposes, personal and corporate tax returns and business management consultation. Visit them at and sign up for their free monthly management e-newsletter. Automotive Aftermarket E-Learning Centre Ltd. is a leading edge company devoted to developing comprehensive shop management skills through the E-Learning environment. Visit AAEC at . Bob can be reached at (613) 836-5130, 1-800-267-5497, FAX (613) 836-4637 and by E-Mail: or