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The View from 37,000 Feet


5/30/2008
By Mitch Schneider

It doesn’t seem to matter which side of the parts counter you are on. As an industry, we tend to focus on the “immediate” — the problems we face day-to-day, minute by minute. We lose track of the critically important role we play ensuring the free movement of people, goods and services across our nation’s roads and highways or the contribution each of us makes to an industry that has steadily grown every year for the past six years.
 
Mitch Schneider

I had just settled into my seat in what I thought was the “back” of the plane on my way to my second industry event in less than two months. They were boarding by groups from the back of the plane forward and my group was called early, so I thought being in the back was a pretty safe assumption. After all, I passed 29 rows to get to my seat. How many more rows and seats could there be?

And, yet a constant stream of people — children and adults, moms, dads, businessmen and businesswomen, vacationers, military personnel and even a couple of off-duty flight attendants kept trudging down the aisle single-file, arms filled, eyes focused straight ahead on an invisible horizon.

As this endless processional continued, I began to wonder if there was another jet-bridge at the back of the plane that was allowing everyone to get off and then circle back for a second lap!

As it turns out, there was another whole section of the plane behind me — I just hadn’t noticed. I couldn’t see it because I wasn’t looking.

I think our industry is a lot like that, with most of us focusing on what’s right in front of us, never realizing or recognizing just how big the vehicle that carries all of us really is. In fact, I’m sure of it, so I’ve decided to share a little of what I learned at the two industry events I attended with you.

If this Industry – with a capital “I” – were an airplane, it would be a very BIG plane!

How about $295 billion a year in sales? And that’s just our Aftermarket. We employ more than 4.5 million people, almost as many as the federal government. That’s more than the total employment of both the insurance and real estate industries combined!

How big is that really? As Kathleen Schmatz, CEO of the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association likes to remind us, we’re bigger than Beer, whose sales are a paltry $190 billion, providing only 1.7 million of the nation’s jobs; Wine, with sales of $162 billion, supporting 1.1 million jobs, and Hard Liquor with sales of $100 billion, supporting 1.2 million jobs.

All things taken into consideration, those of us involved in the Aftermarket – Big “A” – represent a very respectable percentage of our Gross Domestic Product as well. And, why not: with more than 245 million vehicles currently in operation, the vehicle population actually exceeds the number of individuals licensed to drive those vehicles for the first time.

It doesn’t seem to matter which side of the parts counter you are on. As an industry, we tend to focus on the “immediate” — the problems we face day-to-day, minute by minute. We lose track of the critically important role we play ensuring the free movement of people, goods and services across our nation’s roads and highways or the contribution each of us makes to an industry that has steadily grown every year for the past six years.

We forget about the opportunities we have as well. Sure, vehicles may last longer because they are built better, and that means fewer repairs: but, because they are built better, they are in service longer – and, that means you and I get to take care of more of them for a longer vehicle life than we’ve ever experienced before.

Our industry may not be as “sexy” as some other industries. But, how many of those other industries could survive without your parts or my labor? How long do you think it would take before “they” – all of them – found themselves stuck on the side of the road wondering where we’ve gone or when we’ll be back?

Sometimes things look different depending upon your perspective — different at 37,000 feet than they do when you’re answering the phone or on the counter. Sometimes we are too involved to consider whether or not we are part of a greater “whole.” Sometimes the role we play is obscured by the work we do and it takes backing away to really get a sense of how big this industry really is, how it all fits together, and perhaps most important, how and where we fit in.

But, it’s still the same industry: the same incredible industry with the same incredibly rich opportunities. You’ve just got to see them before you can seize them!















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