Article > Opinion

Making the Case for “Unreasonable” Ideas

By Jon S. Owens

Since penning the column “Let’s Make a Deal” in the December issue, which attempted to set a course for the abolition of paper catalogs in our market, some interesting twists and turns have occurred and I want to update you. It’s important to note that I didn’t really expect the industry to meet the suggested deadline of Jan. 1, 2009 for never having to print another paper catalog. But, I did expect to cause an eruption of productive dialogue with regard to this subject; a dialogue that I hoped would lead to an actual plan for phasing out the printing of catalogs over time.

The concept isn’t new of course, and the hurdles are many. But, I felt it was time to seriously begin moving down a path that would enable us to greatly reduce, if not eliminate paper catalogs altogether. The challenge was to get the dialogue going again, and get it going on many levels and in many circles. Influencers need to be involved and decision makers need to see what a wasteful and costly practice this is. It is time they ALL take it seriously, and become committed to the cause. I am here to report that these very things are happening right now.

Many Counterman readers were angry with me for writing the column, and felt I was off-base for suggesting it. However, if I didn’t feel strongly that this was in the best interests of all of our readers, and our industry in general, I wouldn’t be campaigning for this at all. Even beyond the practical reasons for why I feel we need to abolish paper catalogs, there’s a very compelling philosophical reason. It’s called being outdated, out of touch, averse to change and unwilling to venture beyond our comfort zone.

It is said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results. One statistic shows that 90% of the data printed in catalogs each year is the same as the prior version. How insane is that?

Two significant events have taken place since I wrote that column in December. First was the inaugural Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA) Vision Conference, during which AASA dedicated an entire “breakout” session to the subject of eliminating paper catalogs. I am not authorized to report to you any details of that session, but I can tell you that the association is gearing up to attack the issue and set an agenda for it. Next, the National Catalog Managers Association (NCMA) recently held its annual meeting at which I was asked to host a panel discussion featuring your fellow store managers and counter personnel, speaking on this very subject. That discussion revealed that catalogs are, at best, a cumbersome and very expensive security blanket and, at worst, a necessary cash cow that helps counter people nationwide complete a look-up or accurate part identification only 10 to 15 percent of the time.

Also at the NCMA meeting, as if on cue, another significant development took place with the announcement of FreeCat. What is FreeCat? Well, it’s basically an attempt to produce the most robust, complete, accurate and timely electronic catalog and product database ever — all free of charge to you. We’ll tell you more about FreeCat in future articles in upcoming issues of Counterman, but until then, just know that the proverbial ball has been set in motion. An end to printed catalog waste is out there for us to achieve, perhaps sooner than even I envisioned.

As for my own persistence in this matter, where some have characterized me as being unreasonable, I offer the following from George Bernard Shaw, who said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

  Previous Comments
avatar   Paul   star   5/29/2009   6:50 PM

I want to start out saying that there will always be a need for Paper, even if it is for older lookups. I agree though that reprinting the same information over and over is insane, but even if manufacturers agree to stop printing new catalogs they had better expect to supply all the new stores that open each year with their last printed version. Why? Even though they only are used for 10 or 15% of lookups, how long will any store last if they have to send away 10 or 15 percent of their customers? I don't see any E-cat ever having near the information that the paper catalogs have with regard to older vehicles. Simply because the paper catalogs are already out there. After a year, I still don't see any info on FreeCat, so maybe it hit some RL snags? Paper Catalogs won't be needed at the same time as the paperless office dream comes true.

avatar   Jerry   star   3/1/2009   12:09 PM

This seems like a gray issue to me. You're right that it seems wasteful to print an entire new catalog every year. Printing a catalog for just that year would seem to fix that problem. A lot of the problems I have with electronic catalogs have to do with layout. Just as an example: water pumps on the traid system is great, because you have all available water pumps on on screen. Try to look up u-joints on the same system. The way most manufactures lay it out in the paper catalogs is a lot less confusing. The question is, how do you fix this? Also, how do you put specs and measurements on the computer system? I've had to pull the caliper and measure several seals and bearings this week. How would you do this on the computer? I know WIX sends a cd out every year, although I haven't had time to play with it. Maybe two catalog systems, one by an aftermarket company like triad, and one by the manufactures like WIX and precision? No idea haow to fix this...

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