Auto Service World
Feature   March 1, 2013   by Andrew Ross


Second Annual Shop Survey Results

There is a decades-old adage that says you can’t sell from an empty shelf. Even today, as the capabilities of modern inventory management systems run headlong into exploding part proliferation, that sentiment rings truer than ever.

And, we might add, you need to keep the delivery vehicles rolling too.

And so, in this way Jobber News’ second annual Shop Survey should not surprise. However, the acuteness of the need, or the generous benefit to you for meeting the challenge (depending on how you look at it), and how quickly the wrong moves can put you out of favour, might be greater than you think.

First, the overall results. We asked shop owners what they were looking for in their first-call jobber, what was most important to them, and added for this year, how much they were buying from the car dealer and why.

What the respondents told us – 290 in all, over a one-week period – was that the availability of parts was the most important factor in their decision on whom they called first. While this might not be a shocking revelation, the fact that Price/Discount was the fifth most important factor is worth noting. It isn’t that price isn’t important; it was mentioned as a key point of friction when a relationship went south. But price alone is not what will keep you in the game, according to shop owners. The reasoning isn’t too hard to fathom.

“To reach our goals as shop owners, we need to be productive and efficient,” said one commenter. “We have to get the parts in ASAP to keep the techs busy and prevent cars from being stuck in the bay,” added another.

Naturally, availability and delivery go hand in hand, and there are regional factors that can affect what is considered “good service.” And a number of comments were logged about the need to improve delivery times: “Need fast delivery; 1-2 day best. Jobbers we have now are taking up to a week. Not acceptable,” reported one Saskatchewan-based respondent.

New to our survey of factors this year was the “Relationship,” added at the suggestion of a participant last year. And a good thing too, as it handily came in as the second most important factor to shops in choosing a first-call jobber.

“Build the relationship and watch your business grow,” one shop put it succinctly.

“I am looking for the jobber to take care of my shop by: 1) backing the warranty on their parts and labour without having to join ‘A Program’; 2) paying a fair rate for replacing their defective parts.”

And, more positively, “Sometimes it is worth paying a little more for a part and having the extra support when needed.”

This year, we also decided to probe the dealer competition. This yielded some very interesting insights.

For one, almost two-thirds of the respondents said they are buying no more from dealers than they had traditionally done, but the remainder have ramped up purchases.

More than half of the respondents (54%) said they are buying less than 10% of their purchases from the car dealer, with the vast majority of purchases coming from the first-call jobber, and the remainder sprinkled amongst multiple sources: more than 40% said they typically buy from four or more jobbers in a given month.

Of course, on the flipside, nearly 30% said they buy from 15% to 25% of their parts from car dealers, so there is quite a spread in the practices of individual shops.

But the reasons the shops are doing what they are brings us right back to the core value they are looking for: parts availability. When their preferred jobber, or the aftermarket at large, cannot supply a part – yes, there were also issues of price and quality mentioned – they would go elsewhere.

The wake-up call on this front has to be that while most respondents reported improved aftermarket availability, some shops are starting to talk about how it is getting tougher and tougher to get late-model applications, and they’re concerned about the capability of the aftermarket to supply electronics going forward.

“We have not seen a big change in having to buy more parts from the dealer. Yet!! But I can see with the newer car that this will change with all the new technology that is in the new cars, like VIN-specific parts and modules.”

The aftermarket industry should watch this issue closely going forward, and ensure that confidence in aftermarket supply remains high. It has become an increasingly competitive marketplace, and not just among jobbers.

“Jobbers need to realize that on most bread-and-butter type jobs (e.g., brakes), the dealers are becoming very aggressive with pricing (example: BMW package price on brakes). Also, it is very important to compare list price with the dealers on first-line product; jobber stores are way behind on their retail pricing now.”

“More parts seem to be dealer-only. I have also been surprised to find some OEM parts considerably less expensive than jobber in some cases. Can you sell an aftermarket part for more than dealer list?”

In reviewing the diversity of comments and the wide spread in statistical averages, it is very clear that there is no one magic formula; different customers value some issues more highly than others.

Still, this doesn’t change the fact that taking care of the basics is what will get you to the top of the list and keep you there.

Shop owners overwhelmingly indicated that you need to provide parts, support, pricing, and professionalism. These comments were pretty typical:

“Always push quality before second-line components. We do not have time to deal with warranty because of inferior parts. If my customer starts to balk at prices, I tell him that I have access to another line and give a estimate that way and let the customer make the choice, with them fully understanding the difference in warranty coverage.”

“Sell quality parts, timely delivery service, and trained counter people. Pricing is important but only comes into play after the other criteria have been met.”

To close, Rick Martin of Fast Forward Auto, Neebing, Ont. (near Thunder Bay), offers sage advice for jobbers and their counter staff alike:

“I find that the quality of the counter people has been compromised in the last 10-15 years, [with] too many part-timers that don’t care or realize how many people get affected negatively when wrong parts are delivered. The parts trade traditionally has a poor pay grade, and the effects of that have started to surface. I would be willing to pay slightly more than I do for a more knowledgeable staff to service my needs, instead of having to ask for that select one or two parts men who know their stuff.”