Article > Opinion

Redefining Parts Stores

By Brian Cruickshank



Technology, training and merchandising are all rapidly changing, redefining what a parts store is now and will be in the future.

What is the essence of a parts store? What should it look like? What kind of products should it carry? How should its employees act and appear?

How you answer these questions says a lot about you, your age and probably a lot about the store in which you work.

Today’s parts store has been undergoing a transformation of sorts over the years — many are neither completely wholesale-focused nor are they completely retail-focused. Most fall somewhere in between. And that means everyone has had to redefine and retool how we think about how parts go to market and into whose hands the final product eventually falls.

Training, too, has been forced to change, to look outside the boundaries of what has been traditionally used. Advance Auto Parts, for example, is redefining training with some pretty ‘advanced’ training methods, leveraging new technologies. The specifics of the program had its origins in its Advance TV, an in-store TV-based training program. That lead to newer technologies. In June the company announced that it would offer free downloads of its video training clinics through Apple’s video iPod. More than 20 of Advance’s “how-to” video clinics are now available. The video clinics show DIYers how to perform a variety of maintenance procedures, from replacing brake pads, to changing oil or installing shocks and struts.

This industry struggles with how to get young people involved in auto repair and maintenance. This, in my opinion, is exactly how you do it.

This parts store redefinition is really a parts store renaissance of sort, a real rebirth of the auto parts distribution business, as it leaves behind old notions of merchandising, embraces new customers and rethinks how everyone — technicians and consumers alike — perceive it.

This month, Contributing Editor Gary Naples wraps up his great multipart series on customer service by writing about perception — how the world sees your business, and by extension, the entire distribution marketplace. In this month’s article, Looking Good, which starts on page 62, Gary discusses something pretty simple: how stores appear. Store appearance has shifted from the dark, wood-floored store of yesterday to the high-tech, well-lit, well-merchandised store of today. Those that haven’t changed, as Gary suggests, are sending the wrong messages to customers. They are sending the message that they don’t care, that they aren’t adapting to change.

The stores that survive are the ones that adapt, modernize, leverage technology and exhibit modern retailing concepts to an increasingly sophisticated and technical consumer. As Gary writes in his article, “Make no mistake: If the customer can see it, smell it, touch it and taste it, then it is part of the service experience.” That’s sound advice. Make it count every time they walk in the door, dial your number, get parts from your driver or talk to your outside sales rep. It all matters.

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