Article > Opinion

Lost Opportunities

By Jon S. Owens

AAPEX is the biggest industry event of the year. So why don’t more store personnel bother to attend?

Having just returned from this year’s AAPEX show, my head is still spinning, the mountain of paperwork looming large over my desk. Attending the show has a way of overwhelming you, even setting you back a few days. But, in the long run, the value gained from attending AAPEX easily is worth any minor setbacks it may cause in your day-to-day duties.

That’s why it’s always surprising and disappointing not to see more store-level personnel at the show. AAPEX sorely lacks representation from the store level, and I believe that’s one of the fundamental reasons why our industry struggles to attract, train and retain high-quality people to fulfill the vital parts professional role.

There are more than 30,000 parts stores across the U.S. Industry statistics show there’s about five employees per store. In a perfect world, we’d see more than 140,000 store-level attendees at AAPEX. Ah, but it’s not a perfect world. Instead, I hear 140,000 excuses as to why store level personnel should not attend: It’s too expensive to send non-decision makers, they have no buying authority, the information they need can be sent to them or obtained via the Internet, etc.). What a narrow-minded market we’ve become.

If I were an exhibiting manufacturer, and I supplied Advance, AutoZone or O’Reilly, I would relish the thought of each of their store managers stopping by my booth so I could educate them — one-on-one — about the features and benefits of my products. If I were a supplier to the Alliance or the CARQUEST or the NAPA systems, I would again be overcome with joy at the prospect of getting those store owners and managers to be better informed on my products — or even to carry my products in lieu of a value line. I wouldn’t be able to contain my excitement at the thought of being able to train and educate an entire distribution system about my products.

Unfortunately, it seems store personnel stay away (or are encouraged to stay away) from AAPEX. The almighty dollar and other not-so-convincing justifications get in the way of real communication, training, relationship-building and education. If ever there were a place for store personnel to interact with the entire industry, to gather information in an unbiased, open forum, to seek education and training on a more worldly platform and generally be made to feel like an important part of a very vibrant industry, AAPEX is it.

Unfortunately, many in the industry feel it’s just not worth it. I mean, why bother empowering store personnel? Why expose them to all of the great things about our industry? Why let them roam around the AAPEX floor, interacting with suppliers and non-suppliers? Why allow them to ask questions, seek knowledge, learn and experience the industry in such a forum? Why let them “in” on upcoming trends, new technologies, new products and new services? Why help them to visualize their vitally important role in a bigger, more complex industry than they’ve ever known before? After all, they’ll just be flipping hamburgers at the local fast food joint next week, so why involve them in all of this?

I guess all of you who don’t see any value in having store personnel attend AAPEX were right in the first place. My apologies. Let’s keep store personnel away from AAPEX. Of course, by doing so, we risk losing our investment to a well-made Big Mac.

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