Article > Opinion

Where is Everybody?

By Jon S. Owens

I'm all for industry collaboration, but are the invitations going out to everyone?

A lot of talk around the aftermarket these days centers on the idea of collaboration. Collaboration, in simple terms, involves the sharing of best practices — even among competitors — for the betterment of the entire industry. It strives to enhance and build information sharing relationships among trading partners, information suppliers, customers and competitors. It means disclosure of closely guarded information and data. It means brisk, accurate and efficient communication among multiple entities. And, perhaps most importantly, it means trust. It’s a noble endeavor and the right thing to do.

Who participates in this collaborative process? Lately, a lot of aftermarket companies have, such as aftermarket manufacturers, aftermarket distributors and aftermarket service dealers. It seems like everyone has the opportunity to get in on the process. Or do they? Did you notice anything about that list? They’re all aftermarket companies!

I think it’s safe to assume that the concept of collaboration in the automotive aftermarket is exclusionary, relegated to only those in our smallish aftermarket fraternity. In other words, our collaboration purposely shuts the door on certain essential facets of the parts and service market, namely the OE dealers.

Most OE dealers are independent, private businesses, just like most WDs, jobbers and service providers. They are just as devoted to the service of vehicles as the aftermarket. And, I should mention, OE dealers are customers for many aftermarket companies.

“Oh, but they’re our competition,” you say. Yes, they certainly are. But there are collaborative efforts all around the industry that involve competitors. AAIA’s own Category Management initiative, for example, involves collaboration among fierce competitors such as CARQUEST, O’Reilly, AutoZone, Advance and Pep Boys. They all share sales data for the overall benefit of the industry. Are they competitors? You bet. Do they each gain something through their participation? Absolutely.

So why does the market view OE dealers as a different sort of competitor? Perhaps it’s because of their close ties to the vehicle manufacturers, which, as original vehicle designers, have the potential to stifle our ability to competitively provide repair and maintenance services to the motoring public. And therein lies the rub.

Still, if we’re going to go down this path, I’d like to suggest that we include everyone — and I mean everyone, including OE dealers. By doing so, we just might learn something. And isn’t that the point of collaboration in the first place? This, of course, requires a little more than a kernel of trust. It requires setting insecurities aside and doing things for everyone’s mutual benefit. I’d bet that the OE dealers have something to teach us; I know we have things to teach them.

At the same time, I am not naive to the threat they pose to certain parts of the aftermarket. If you view them as a threat, than that’s an even bigger incentive for you to get to know them. To borrow an idea from the 6th century Chinese military general Sun Tzu: Know your competitor!

The concept of collaboration is visionary and even somewhat risky. As we tiptoe down this virtuous path, why not extend an invitation to OE dealers? They represent only one aspect of “the competition.” If we’re including all players in the collaborative process, including our own aftermarket competitors, then shame on us for not extending an invitation to those about which we feel the most uncomfortable.

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