Article > Opinion

And Now for Some Good News

By Brian Cruickshank

New stats from NADA show that the aftermarket just might be making progress in its attempt to regain ground on dealership parts and service.

I remember it as vividly as if it had happened yesterday.

I was attending a Town Hall meeting with 800 or so other industry professionals during Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week in Las Vegas several years ago. Several shop owners were on stage, discussing how they sourced parts. One shop owner mentioned that he sourced half of his parts from local new-car dealers. Half. As it turned out, he wasn’t alone.

This was (and remains) one of the major topics of conversation around the industry: How to stop the bleeding. How to convince technicians that the aftermarket is the best source for parts. How to make the process of cataloging parts better and quicker so technicians can get the aftermarket parts they need. How to include fit, form and function in an industry that is seeing the number of SKUs spiraling out of control. How to market aftermarket parts “as good as” or better than OE without making OE parts look like the standard of quality. It’s been tough.

Based on new numbers from the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), it looks like the tide may be turning the aftermarket’s way — albeit slowly. The latest data shows an encouraging trend for the aftermarket: Collective wholesale parts purchases from new car dealers is on the decline from a high of $13.9 (billion) in 2003, to $13.44 in 2004, to $13.14 in 2005, to $12.22 in 2006. At the same time, dealership bays appear to be a little quieter these days too: New car dealers’ mechanical service business has gone from a total of $30.05 (billion) in 2003, to $29.92 in 2004, to $30.19 in 2005 and down to $28.73 in 2006.

Perhaps the aftermarket’s efforts are starting to reap some rewards. Perhaps all the talk about fit, form, function and quality of aftermarket parts has netted real quality improvements that can be tangibly demonstrated in the field. Or maybe dealerships aren’t doing a very good job selling parts and service. Likely, it’s a combination.

The real battle of the bays starts with you, at the parts counter. When you’re a believer, you can bet your technicians customers will soon follow. The point of sale — that’s you — is at the crux of this fight. In the end, if you, the counter professional, can’t find it, the technician isn’t installing it. Period. Make them believe in what you stock. Do everything in your power to promote the aftermarket as the channel of choice. At its essence, this is a battle for brands — aftermarket brands, and it’s a battle none of us can afford to lose. The future of the aftermarket is in your hands, every time you pick up the phone, every time you tell your customer, “Yes, I can get that.”

Last month, we began our annual search for the 2007 Counter Professional of the Year, presented by Affinia. This is the 21st year we’ve honored the profession with this award, and I encourage every store, program group or warehouse in the industry to nominate a senior-level distribution professional.

There are several ways to make a nomination: via email, through regular mail or at our Web site, Click the “Call for Entries” box at the lower right. The deadline is August 31.

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