Auto Service World
Feature   August 1, 2010   by Auto Service World

The Import Question

It is no news to relate that import nameplates have become a tremendously important part of the service parts business.

It is an inescapable fact, too, that they continue to post big sales numbers, record numbers in some cases, while the Detroit Three are content to simply post big increases year over year–admirable, yes, but when you start at a base so low, you will have to forgive me if my congratulations are somewhat muted. Still, many of you who have made so much of your trade in the realm of Ford, Chrysler, and GM still struggle to fully realize the potential from the two dozen other vehicle brands available to the Canadian consumer.

The big question for me regarding the import business is not how to handle the service business for those makes like Toyota, VW, Nissan, Audi, etc., but frankly why we still think of them as somehow separate and distinct at all.

If I think back a couple of decades, there were at least a couple of major “import” initiatives by major suppliers who, in the intervening years, folded them into their traditional aftermarket offering, for what I suspect seemed like good reasons at the time but in retrospect might have put them on the leading edge of a trend that now seems all too important to ignore.

Of course, there are some justifiable reasons why the import market (I also wonder why we call it “import,” considering that Honda, Toyota, BMW, Subaru, and Mercedes-Benz, to name just five, have had plants on this continent for a long time) entails some real differences in parts and supply chains, as well as brand preferences.

It seems to me the prevailing reason for this has been the inability of the big players in the aftermarket to justify the investment in building the knowledge and supply chain to serve this part of the market well enough. Without that in place, you haven’t been able to build the confidence of the import speciality service centre and the generalist alike in what you have to offer on the import front.

And, while the aftermarket has made huge strides of late with the virtual integration of specialty distributors into the more traditional aftermarket networks–lauds to those who recognized that if they couldn’t build it, they should buy it–there continues to be a barrier to fully realizing this market for those who consider themselves “traditional aftermarket players.”

This barrier today is, I am forced to admit, less about parts and the supply than it is about the mindset of your own people, and your customers. Not to dismiss brand as an important indicator of quality, but it is important for everyone on the traditional side of the business to stop thinking about separate markets, and start thinking about it as one market made up of more than two dozen brands.

With that as your starting point, you can start to work out what your local demand is. The big challenge will be trying to start from a clean sheet of paper, eliminating assumptions of who is, and who is not, your customer.

Once you’ve gone through the exercise, compare the result to what you have in place today. Then, if you think it makes sense, begin your transition to your new all-market strategy. At the very least, you should find some gaps that are worth trying to fill.

And, if you want a reason, ask yourself if you can afford to cater to a shrinking slice of the pie. I think you already know the answer.

Andrew Ross, Publisher and Editor



Selling Strategies for key product categories, plus a review of Tooland Equipment Opportunities.

Print this page


Have your say:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *