From left, Zara Wishloff, Debbie McCarthy and Costa Haitas take part in a panel discussion moderated by J.J Champagne at the 2022 AIA AGM
Volatility is top of mind for Canadian automotive aftermarket leaders from the jobber, auto repair and collision sectors.
Speaking during a panel discussion at the Automotive Industries Association of Canada’s Annual General Meeting, the executives spoke about how supply chain, pricing and talent issues are presenting challenges to their respective areas.
Take something simple like product packaging. It’s affecting every business in every industry, including the automotive aftermarket. Zara Wishloff, president and CEO of Automotive Parts Distributors, referenced a trip to Tim Hortons where he saw a sign posted apologizing for not having boxes for Timbits.
“We’re just trying to get through this kind of together,” he said.
When looking at the aftermarket distribution side of the industry, it’s a challenging time because companies need to stay on top of their numbers. Using average costs, for example, could cause trouble because you could be selling below acquisition costs, he warned.
“It’s really rocky, it’s really volatile and it’s causing us some issues,” Wishloff said on the panel.
On the repair and maintenance side, Costa Haitas, president of The Mufflerman, noted the impact of price increases.
“So we need to implement strategies — that margin protection — to make sure that, as price increases come through, our business can be healthy,” he said.
Meanwhile, there has been “a massive increase in demand” for aftermarket services, Haitas told the panel. He noted daily talks with customers who are opting to invest in vehicle repair instead of buying something new.
Haitas also used the phrase “volatile” when looking at recruitment, retention and remuneration. As the cost of living goes up, so too do challenges in those areas.
“We’re consistently pivoting because we’re riding this wave — it’s fairly volatile — but we’re doing the best that we can to adjust with it and make sure that we got a great place for our people to work in and an even better place for our customers to service their cars,” he said.
It was a perfect segue to Debbie McCarthy, global vice president of human resources at Fix Network. She noted that compensation is coming front and centre in discussions these days but it’s not always the dollar amount that is most important — it’s the entire compensation package, such as perks and other offerings. And these extras are crucial these days because, like Canada, other countries are seeing low unemployment rates and foreign employers are looking to poach candidates from others’ backyards.
“So what we’re seeing is other countries recruiting from different countries. Now that we’ve shifted to somewhat remote hybrid work, the doors have opened,” McCarthy explained. “So we have the U.S. companies coming to Canada and … trying to grab our talent [by] offering these great compensation packages. So that’s also presented a challenge.
Talent is also an issue on the skilled labour side of things as well, as has been well documented. With so many expected to leave the workforce soon, the talent pool needs to be filled but it’s hard to when other industries are offering high wages, McCarthy said.