Article > Opinion

Sometimes, It’s Good To Poke The Bear

By Mark Phillips

Most of you have probably heard the expression, “Don’t poke the bear.” I think it’s pretty much similar to “let a sleeping dog lie” but it’s regarding a larger and potentially more deadly animal. The sentiment, I believe, is to leave a situation alone because the consequences are otherwise grim and nasty if you wake that dog or poke that bear. In this instance the bear, I believe, is paper catalogs but could also be aftermarket parts professionals who rely on and want nothing to do with abolishing them. If we consider that the bear is the paper catalog, it might just be time to at least nudge him and let him know he’s on his way out.
Mark Phillips

In this instance the bear, I believe, is paper catalogs but could also be aftermarket parts professionals who rely on and want nothing to do with abolishing them. If we consider that the bear is the paper catalog, it might just be time to at least nudge him and let him know he’s on his way out.

I’ve gotten countless letters to the editor regarding this issue since Jon Owens, the former publisher of this magazine, brought it to the forefront in a December 2007 column. His challenge was that manufacturers should print all the paper catalogs they want throughout 2008, but cease to do so at the start of 2009. This would leave counter professionals to rely on, for the most part, e-catalogs for future parts information. But they would still have all those old, beautiful paper versions to hold onto.

As you might guess, the idea of abolishing paper catalogs not been a popular goal or aspiration. In the numerous letters to the editor I’ve gotten, counter professionals have a real beef with e-cats and find that paper catalogs give them information they can’t find anywhere else. Some countermen and women have resorted to placing their paper catalogs on high shelves in conspicuous areas of their businesses in order to keep a watchful eye on their precious paper catalogs and ensure that no one walks off with them.

Most who write me can’t imagine a life without paper. But in reading and listening to all the opinions about the issue, the crux of the matter isn’t that there’s something inherently great about paper itself, but the information derived from it. The common argument is that photographs and diagrams that accompany paper catalogs can’t be found in e-cats. Some wonder about what happens when the electricity’s out. How are they going to be able to sell auto parts? (One counter professional’s answer is that is the beauty of paper – it’s a better technology than, well, technology.)

I’m sure there’s a level of comfort in paper because that’s just what’s been used for the last numerous decades. But overwhelmingly, the argument by most counter professionals centers around the fact that paper trumps electronic simply for the information it provides. It just so happens that the Web is trumping paper in many areas simply because it’s a better and more effective means of delivering the latest information. But it wasn’t always that way. There’s been a learning curve that has brought the Web to where it is now, for example.

In many respects, an e-cat can be better than paper. Take for example a misprint. Once it’s in a catalog, how do you come to find out there’s an error regarding a part you’re trying to sell?

Most likely, it’s through a sale that doesn’t turn out correctly because the information was bad. With an e-cat, the information can be updated or corrected, most likely before you’d even know it was wrong. That’s the beauty (or potential, at least) of e-cats. Perhaps the information now isn’t as voluminous as a paper catalog. Maybe an e-cat you’ve used doesn’t have the diagrams or photos you’ve grown accustomed to. But it likely won’t be that way for long.

  Previous Comments
avatar   john   star   2/2/2010   1:26 PM

I am a youngster compared to some of these guys on here ive only worked in the auto parts buissness for five years for two different companies i first learned the paper cats then the e cats yes we have the technology to work a fast paced buissness but when you have a e cat system that has no infornation or very little to offer help to the customer where do u turn thats y i think we still should use the paper cats and e cats also

avatar   ronnie   star   2/1/2010   3:49 PM

Are we poking this bear in the arse? or the mouth? E-cats are better, and can have all of the same information, and new and improved images and even interactive diagrams. The possibilities are endless. And what if the power goes out???? Really? That has to be an old timer. I bet you still use a t.v. guide instead of the guide on your cable or satellite.

avatar   GREEN MONSTER   star   1/8/2010   2:38 PM

I like cats better. They are friendly. Paper is not friendly. It can cut you. But so can cats. So I guess both are no good. Yay parts!

avatar   Jimmy George   star   12/18/2009   9:19 PM

I have been in this buisness for 20+ years I started on paper and I will always go to paper because like it has been said that when the power goes out who's there for the customer the guy who can look up the parts in the catalog paper always is and always will be there for you.

avatar   Matthew Vaughn   star   12/16/2009   7:12 PM

Looks like a lot of folks are going both ways on this subject, as is expected. Here's my take: I have been doing this for 27 years and I like both. I at least have the ability many others have in this business to not need either on many occasions and just rely on memory. When e-cat came to be, I was reluctant at first. Mainly because I wasn't that savy on a computer. But I gave it a shot. Here is what I found... That e-cat is only as good as the person who is putting the info into it. The programs are good, the programmers can't read plain english. I don't know how many times I have been told that they enter the info straight from the paper catalog. I wish I had a dime for every time I proved them wrong. Yes, errors do occur in the paper catalogs, but it is seldom. The people putting them together really spend a lot of time getting it right. That is why they are trusted so much. I have a serious collection at home of old catalogs that I will never part with. But until companies hire programmers who have been

avatar   don   star   12/9/2009   2:45 PM

some of you say put paper cats on disk, they tried that remember "micorfiche", it was more confusing than e-cats or paper cats. I say leave things alone. we have to change with the times. paper cats are easier for me but the younger generation is computer smart.

avatar   Ford   star   9/10/2009   10:18 PM

I use to work for the Zone and now work for the guys in green. at the Zone we had one row of paper cats and we used them every so often. but, now that I am in the green we use the paper cats way more then the zone did and we turn a lot more walk ins into paying customers then I ever did before the green guys got it right use the e- cat for the newer cars and leave the older stuff in paper cats.

avatar   Gabe   star   8/30/2009   5:36 PM

For speed purposes E-cats are good. The programmers not so good. For instance when you look up an A/C compressor and the computer asks if the car has A/C Sometimes you get a part listed in the computer as a ford f150 heritage rotor. But no listing for a standard F-150 SO your left to guess if the heritage one fits the standard F-150 unless you go to paper. I think the programmers who punch some of this info in, are a little off.

avatar   jessie   star   8/16/2009   6:32 PM

Paper cats are like smallblock 350's...reliable, dependable, easy to work with, and in the right hands can be the best in the business...but like the motor, time and technology prevail. No matter how many people swear by the paper, e-cats are more efficient and practical for the fast paced environment we have all become accustomed to. E-cats will evolve to contain all the info and diagrams currently possessed solely by paper and outside internet sites. Time, well sought out information, and commitment to customer service will have to suffice until that day comes.

avatar   RICK   star   8/8/2009   1:18 AM

Every one of your suppliers has the paper catalog in a PDF file somewhere...just have it available on the web or on disc as a read only! All OEM manufacturers should do the same!!

avatar   Randy Flory   star   7/30/2009   1:15 PM

E-cats are great & getting better all the time... BUT in our area of cars that are 30 plus tears old , modified , ranch trucks , hot rods, racers etc... The paper cats make us the ones to see as we can flip through them with pics much easier than e-cats . We say keep, train & use both. Thats what real parts people use. Thanks!

avatar   Wolfe   star   7/25/2009   4:06 PM

I have a really crazy idea, so I know for a fact that it will never work. But, humor me and listen up. Why not publish the paper catalogs on disk? I am not talking about make a new system for each store/garage/company. I mean quite literally take the paper catalogs and toss them into Adobe Acrobat Reader. I have seen it done with instruction manuals for my old televisions and other appliances, so i know it can be done. This way the old guys can keep their books, but you can save space AND get those easy updates too. Go to Advance, O'Reilly, or Auto Zone and take a peek at their computer screen. They have their own program that shows what part you are looking for. That may be nice and quick, but as many people have already stated, good luck with that custom job. If you make the books available on disk, Intranet, what-have-you, you can still have the reliable access that every craves, and get the space saving that e-cat provides. And as a side note: Yes, what happens when the power goes out? The sam

avatar   George Upham   star   6/22/2009   7:46 PM

Try the electric catalog for a modified vehicle. Say a 55 Chevy w/ a 427, TH400, and a Ford 9" rear end. Or any other modified vehicle. Oh yea, have fun with trailer bearings, seals, and drive belts too.

avatar   Paul   star   6/22/2009   5:22 PM

Tell you what, Mike. You send that 10-15% of the customers that you could have helped with the paper catalogs over to my store. I'll take care of them for you.

avatar   Dave Elliott   star   5/14/2009   12:33 PM

E Cats are where I go first. The paper catalog used to be my second choice, but now most of the vendors are going to web based catalogs. Borg Warner's is especially helpful. At O'Reilly, we have intranet capabilities, or limited access internet, just certain pre determined sites. As more and more manufacturers go to the web based catalog, the need will diminish for paper catalogs. If you need diagrams, you need to upgrade your computer to include a graphics card. We can pull up exhaust diagrams and many other things with our system. we also have some access to repair guide procedures on the catalog, with printable diagrams. I am well pleased with O'Reilly's efforts to move into the next phase of the e cat. Many manufacturers make their entire catalog available on a CD also, complete with all those charts and schematics that are in the paper catalog. I'm about as traditional as they get, and I've been resistant to getting rid of the paper catalog, but I can see the day when technology will replace th

avatar   michael   star   4/6/2009   7:57 PM

e-cats well never take over paper we have to have paper there has been to many times i have had to go to paper to find a part for the guys who think paper is a waste of counter space ask the custmer to wait a few minutes and if he cant get his info and call him about it later

avatar   mike   star   3/27/2009   4:54 PM

throw them away because when you have a store full of customers the e-cat doesnt take up any space on the counter.

avatar   Sean   star   2/7/2009   1:30 PM

E-cats are good,but their usefulness is limited. They tend to be too tunnel-vision oriented,and put together by people who do not have an understanding of automobiles,and parts. Where as in books you get info for years before and after what you are looking for on the same page. Try and do that with an E-cat. Also E-cats are often times slower I find. But they do have more corresponding parts listed once you get to the part you want vs. paper. Both are needed in this business,and will be for years to come I'd have to say.

avatar   Zach    star   1/24/2009   8:15 PM

The paper cat shouldn't be replaced, at least not in the short term. They have to many valuable diagrams, information, interchanges, and explanations that cant be done away with. However, the e-cat is the quickest way to serve the customer, and those who refuse to use it will be left in the dust by their competition. I truly think that both paper and e-cats need to coexist, but the e-cat has more potential then most realize. I also think that the e-cats would truly show their best colors if they were standardized, making it easier for manufacturers to directly add their information eliminating the middle guy.

avatar   Paul   star   1/23/2009   8:27 PM

The E-catalog is a huge help with looking up parts, but I use the paper catalogs constantly to look up information that is just not in the e-catalog.

avatar   jared   star   1/22/2009   7:57 PM

i like using the e-catalog. but there are times when there are power outages and when the computer just doesn't work so it is best to keep the paper catalogs around!

avatar   John   star   1/22/2009   5:50 PM

I'm sorry but there have been numerous times when the electronic catalog has been wrong and when turning to paper there is a completely different number listed. I am from the new age with computers but will always rely on paper for back-up.

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