SAN ANTONIO Parts professionals can no longer ignore lost sales, attendees at Automotive Parts Associates’ (APA) annual conference in San Antonio heard March 6-8.
The confluence of reduced consumer spending, a lagging economy and automotive industry doldrums mean aftermarket professionals must capitalize on every customer interaction to make the sale, said Jeff Levine, chairman of the APA board, and owner of Levine Auto & Truck Parts in Danbury, Conn. “Lost sales are lost opportunities. Lost sales mean loss of a customer,” Levine said during the APA’s general session held at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in downtown San Antonio. “We are all throwing business away whether we like it or not. We need every sale we can make.”
Levine stressed the need for members to train frontline people or risk further eroding their customer base. “It really all starts with you. If you preach it and live it, your employees will, too,” Levine said. “Customer service is disappearing in all industries.”
APA’s decision to have the conference in Texas was a fitting one. The state is an economic powerhouse the second-largest economy in the United States and the largest exporter of goods in the country. As an economic engine, it provided fertile ground for members to discuss and work through the challenges of their businesses.
Dan Freeman, APA president and CEO, reflecting on this year’s event after the conference, said, “I think the one thing we can do for our members, by having these meetings, is to let them know they’re not on an island by themselves. Sometimes, they feel surrounded by the big guys and believe their business is being taken away from them bit by bit.”
By interacting with other members, they realize they’re all in the same boat, Freeman said. “For example, they get information about how salespeople are incentivized,” he said. “You can’t ask your competition in your area these questions. A member in California has no problem sharing this sort of information with someone in Ohio because they know they’re not in competition.”
“The biggest issue is the inflation spiral we’re in right now with fuel, which impacts their delivery costs,” Freeman said. “The margins are impacted and it’s difficult to make a profit.” Freeman said he felt the mood of the conference was upbeat, despite the obvious industry challenges. “I know when I come back from these conferences, I’m really energized. And I know they [attendees] inject that energy back in their businesses,” he said. “Hopefully, they go away with some tools to better their business. We think the best tool they get is the interaction with other members.”
This year’s attendees were treated to several Texas-sized activities. They participated in a golf tournament at La Cantera Golf Club in San Antonio and members witnessed a traditional Texas rodeo at Pedrotti’s North Wind Ranch in nearby Helotes. They were then treated to an indoor barbecue.
This year’s conference location was quickly moved to the Marriott Riverwalk, after the original location, a hotel under construction, wasn’t completed by conference time. Caprice Caster, APA’s marketing and promotions director, flew to San Antonio and in two weeks’ time, successfully transferred the entire conference to the Marriott Riverwalk.
APA awarded plaques during the general session. Branded Vendor of the Year went to Federal-Mogul for constantly adding new part numbers to the product offering, APA said. Three members were given awards for being in business 50 years or more. Recognition for 70 years went to Stempf Automotive Industries and John Ryshavy, Minnetonka, Minn.; 56 years in business went to Automotive Inventory Management Systems and Robert Duxler, Simi Valley, Calif.; and 53 years in business went to Shewmaker Auto Parts and Rex Shewmaker, Buffalo, Mo.