To say today's wholesale parts market has become extremely competitive is, at best, an extreme understatement. Although each jobber is properly proud of his brand-name product lines, he may discover that many of his competitors are wholesaling many of the same brand names at higher discounts. Or, in the case of his traditional house brands, he may also find that he's being challenged by more price-competitive house brands. So how does today's average jobber meet or beat intense competition in the wholesale parts market? He can start by delivering knock-out services!
LOST IN THE RUSH
All too often in the daily rush, many jobbers begin treating their customers like - well, just like ordinary customers. To illustrate, the counterperson takes the part order, has the product pulled off the shelf and sends it to what we might call his "forgotten" customer. We consider the customer to be "forgotten" because he's just like the person waiting in line at a fast-food restaurant for a mass-produced hamburger. Forget about whether he or she wants mayonnaise or mustard, or whether it's onions or tomato, or even whether it's medium or well done. What he's going to get is the standard house issue of somewhere between rare and well done topped off by the house dressing, which is somewhere between mayonnaise, mustard and pickle relish!
KNOCK OUT SERVICES
The worst part of this scenario is the local jobber beginning to completely blend in with his faceless competition because there's little to distinguish his store from the many other parts outlets in his marketing area. So, how does a jobber differentiate himself from his "faceless" competitors?
With all things equal, he can differentiate himself by delivering what I call "knock out" service. Of course, the services he delivers and how he delivers them depends upon who he is and what the needs of his customers might be. Strategies that work in a metro area, for example, might flop in a rural setting. Conversely, attempting to come across as "homefolks" in a bustling big-city market might cause our customers to accuse us as "not being with the program." What practices are universally applicable to all marketing climates? To answer that, let's look at ten different ways to deliver knock-out services.
1. HIRE GOOD PEOPLE
Take away the good employees and an auto parts store becomes just another building stocked full of auto parts! From receiving the initial order to billing and delivering the parts, our success depends upon the quality of the interaction between our employees and our customers. A good employee has an infectious positive outlook and a set of productive work habits that are the foundation for delivering knock out services. Without a positive outlook and productive work habits, an employee can quickly turn your loyal customer into just "another" customer waiting for his hamburger to be shoved through the drive-through window.
2. ASK QUESTIONS
Nobody likes to be treated like "just another customer." Indeed, most shop owners like suppliers who understand the individuality of their business needs. Today's automotive service market has broken down into core services or specialties such as import, domestic, brand specialty, commercial, truck, tractor, undercar, engine, transmission, diagnostic-based, maintenance-based and repair-based shops. All need attention to their specialized needs. Do your employees understand the differences in needs of these shops and do they understand how to best accommodate them? The only way employees can deliver knock out service is to be encouraged to ask their customers what their specialized needs may be.
3. KEEP UP WITH THE TIMES
If you want to become a knock out in the wholesale parts market, then don't ignore the fundamental changes now taking place in the automotive service market. To illustrate, the modern vehicle requires much less maintenance and is becoming much more mechanically and electronically reliable than ever before. Consequently, many shops are experiencing noticeable declines in car counts and smaller than average repair orders.
The service market is also becoming much more polarized in the skill levels needed to maintain modern vehicles. At the low end, average to moderate skill levels are needed to perform scheduled maintenances such as fluid and filter changes, spark plug replacements, and brake service.
At the other end of the skill spectrum, an ASE Certified Master Technician with an ASE L-1 certification in vehicle electronics is needed to diagnose and repair the complicated electronics that control every vehicle operation from conventional ignition and fuel management to collision avoidance systems.
The average new vehicle may have at least six on-board computers communicating with each other via bussed communications systems. A body control computer, for example, may operate everyday functions such as door window and lock operation via multiplexed electrical controls. Specialized scan tool equipment is usually needed to diagnose formerly simple operations such as window regulator operation. Overall, a master technician must understand how each system interacts with the other and how to devise an effective diagnostic strategy when a system fails.
In response to modern technology, the service market (and therefore the replacement parts market) is becoming much more specialized and learning-intensive. Armed with a basic understanding of the technology now driving today's service market, a wholesale jobber can deliver knock out services in the form of more up-to-date inventories, more highly targeted training and better response time in delivering technology-driven parts and services.
4. BE CONSISTENT
Excellence can't be achieved without consistency. The key to consistently delivering knock-out service is to accomplish a little more each day. For example, fine-tune your delivery times to fit the workflow in your local shops. If you install a filter inventory, take pains to keep it up to date. When you're dealing with questionable part identifications, take the extra time to consult an illustrated guide or OE-to-aftermarket part number changeover guide. It'll pay off in the end in more knock-out results for your wholesale customers.
5. REDEFINE OUTSIDE SALES
Too often, a jobber expects his outside salesperson to return at the end each day with an armload of parts, tool and equipment orders. In most cases, this is an unrealistic expectation because, with the advent of electronic cataloguing and ordering systems, most shops have already placed and received their orders for the day.
So, what should be the primary job of the outside salesperson? I'll submit that it should be one of putting a face on the jobber's business. The outside salesperson has the unique advantage of being able to expedite and resolve parts supply issues on-site, which counts for a lot in the heart of the shop's management. The outside salesperson also has the unique advantage of being able to maintain a personal contact with the shop's service writers and technicians. More often than you would think, the very presence of an outside salesperson is the knock-out punch needed to sway any shop's purchasing decisions.
6. ESTABLISHING IDENTITY
As I mentioned at the outset, all of us want to be known as unique individuals. Operating a jobber store along the lines of a Hamburger Heaven denies us the chance to establish our identity with that of our wholesale customers.
It isn't that hard to know our customers. To illustrate, pull your customer's credit application out of the drawer and see if you can find his or her birthday. Send one of your accounts something like a screwdriver set for his birthday. As "screwy" as it may seem, this simple act will loom large in the heart of any purchaser.
Or celebrate a shop's anniversary of its founding. Or send a couple of pizzas over for lunch. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to learn how to connect with any of your wholesale accounts. The key objective, after all, is always to be remembered as the first-call supplier of automotive replacement parts.