Article > Opinion

"As Good As" it Gets?

By Jon S. Owens

Are aftermarket products “as good as” OE? If you listen carefully, you might be surprised by what your customers are saying.

The topic of “OE parts” just doesn’t seem to go away, and consequently, I’ve had many discussions about it. In my opinion, the more dialogue, the better. But in this case, the issue just gets more and more clouded.

While attending a recent program-group meeting, Counterman Editor Brian Cruickshank heard several independent repair shop owners report that many new car dealers are telling their customers that “aftermarket” parts are essentially “factory seconds,” as if to imply that aftermarket parts are somehow substandard parts that don’t make the OE grade.

As if on cue, but entirely coincidentally, I was at an aftermarket conference at the very same time, when I heard three elite shop owners explain that they buy parts from OE dealers because those parts aren’t yet available from their aftermarket distribution partners. Do you catch the irony in this?
First, for clarification purposes, shame on us for not being able to make application identification information available in a timely manner throughout our distribution channels. This, of course, gets at the core of our problems, and is what drives independent shops to OE dealers for parts in the first place. That’s a conversation for another time. The irony that I’m referring to is that independent shops buy parts from the OE dealer to replace the very same parts (in most cases) that failed in the first place. Because this activity is so popular among newer vehicles, the irony is compounded by the fact that some of these OE parts failed so quickly. Yet, off they run to replace “what broke with what broke.”

The aftermarket has always been a “solution” industry, one that’s been able to engineer “better than OE” products. That lofty image, I’m afraid, has begun to fade. Clearly, our own customers don’t see us as the solution when it comes to fixing vehicles that are less than five years old. Why? First of all, we are ineffective at helping them identify the part, and secondly, we are failing to convince them that we have a solution, or at least a part that will perform more effectively than the OE part in the same application. That’s just one aspect of what’s wrong with our industry image.

Instead of offering a better product, we are scurrying to offer the same product. Worse yet, in many instances, I’ve seen our industry offer parts that are “as good as” OE. What? This perplexing state of affairs continues to water down the overall aftermarket brand and positions us as “me too” suppliers to independent repair facilities, who are drinking more and more OE dealer Kool-Aid. It’s one thing for a product to fit properly, and have the necessary shape, identifiable markings and ID/OD dimensions. If you want to talk about raw materials content, we can — but when was the last time an independent shop asked about that? The fact is, they trust us, and we can never compromise that.

I spent many years working for a manufacturer that sold to both the OE and the aftermarket, and I continue to be amazed at the misinformation I hear throughout the market. I’m disappointed in our attempts to cozy up to independent shops by claiming we’re “as good as” OE. When OE dealers have the nerve to tell independent shops that our aftermarket products are mere factory seconds, we should have the nerve to properly educate independent shops and assert our part manufacturing superiority and our superior, solution-providing services at a price that’s worthy of doing so. It’s far past time to take a stand, and re-assert our superior aftermarket image.

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