At the end of each one of my articles, you'll see a short bio that indicates I have the pleasure of coordinating the activities and communication for a group of import specialists from across the country called S.I.P.S., the Society of Import Parts Specialists. This group of select import parts specialist owners started more than five years ago.
Initially, the group was formed to explore the opportunities of directly importing parts from different off-shore manufacturers around the world. Likely areas included China, Germany, Italy, Japan, South America and Taiwan. By pooling the buying power, energies and resources of multiple import specialists, we hoped to gain more favorable acquisition costs from the manufacturers and save on all of the related costs.
Our domestic counterparts might wonder what is so special about this concept. Domestic parts suppliers have depended on programmed buying groups to accomplish this for years now. IWD/Auto Pride, Auto Value/Bumper to Bumper, CARQUEST, NAPA, ASA/ Professional's Choice, Pronto, Tru-Star and many others have all helped domestic-oriented parts operations. These organizations have accomplished improved acquisition costs, collaborated in minimizing advertising expenditures using common branding and uniting its members through improved communication and the exchange of ideas.
It sounds so simple, but the truth is, this had never been done before for import specialists. The traditional program groups had no reason to address the specific needs of import specialists because they did not really understand what those needs were. They had no more interest in a container full of air-cooled Volkswagen motors from Brazil, than they would have had for a line of womens' apparel.
Besides, the primary manufacturers that supply products to the traditional automotive aftermarket warehouses do an excellent job of providing all of the requirements of its many domestic installers. This function is done so well, there would be no reason for any member of one of these groups to strike out on its own in search of missing products or services.
The problem that faced import specialists was when there was no programmed group that focused on the products and needs that were specific to their market. It wasn't so long ago that the large program groups couldn't generate enough volume on import-related product lines to interest major import manufacturers. Without important product lines like these, there was very little for an import specialist to get excited about.
Most import specialists have become their own warehouse distributors by necessity, rather than by choice. They were forced to purchase in large quantities from major import suppliers whose products were not available from traditional WDs. Instead of depending on a single warehouse distributor to supply the majority of their requirements, import specialists became masters of creativity in finding many sources to supply their needs.
Since most of the vendors of replacement parts for imports were very small compared to other mega-manufacturers, import specialists had to discover multiple sources for the same parts. This was important, because in times of high demand, those smaller manufacturers just couldn't keep up, so they ran out. By having several sources for each product they handled, import specialists were able to keep their shelves full more consistently.
S.I.P.S was born when a single import specialist determined that there were probably other import specialists around the country facing the same set of concerns and issues that he was. By making inquiries about those concerns and issues to other import specialists, common interest was discovered. Then, it just became a matter of getting the people together to get the ball rolling.
Perhaps one day, as the lines between domestic and import vehicles become less defined, domestic parts suppliers will become more like import parts specialists.
Or, will it be the other way around? We'll see.
Gary is the vice president of import specialist Meyer's Auto Parts in Las Vegas, NV. He also coordinates the activities and communications for a group of 30 import specialists from across the country called S.I.P.S., Society of Import Parts Specialists.
The First S.I.P.S Meeting
The first S.I.P.S. meeting took place in November of 2000 during Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week in Las Vegas. Sixteen import specialists from around the country were invited to attend. Twelve showed up and eight decided to make it happen by becoming the charter members.
Today, the S.I.P.S. group has more than thirty members and the members cover the country from New Jersey to California, Oregon to Florida, Minnesota to Texas, and everywhere in between. This group has survived and grown because the circumstances of being an import specialist are unique from more traditional auto parts operations.
The importance of this group and of the objectives and goals they have achieved and continue to strive for, are now respected nationally. The Auto International Association, (AIA) division of the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) has officially recognized the accomplishments and contributions of this group. More importantly, major manufacturers from all over the country are seeking advice from, and supporting the actions of, the S.I.P.S. membership. Great strides to recognize the unique importance of import specialists have been made in just a few short years.