Article > Operations

Special Report: Data Warehouse

By Brian Cruickshank

Running a business requires more than just an Excel spreadsheet. Aftermarket Auto Parts Alliance has discovered a way to bring the power of the group to the business of benchmarking.

It's a high-tech answer to an age-old problem: answering the question, "How is my business doing compared to everybody else?" The concept of "data warehousing" answers that question in a variety of important ways. It's a digital thermometer of sorts, but the ups and downs are gauged in percentage points, trend lines and dollar signs, rather than degrees of mercury.

Membership in a program group is becoming an increasingly inescapable reality among the majority of distributors in the market. Not only do program groups provide the power of group buying, marketing, unified branding and in some instances, private label product, one group, Aftermarket Auto Parts Alliance, is offering data management and analysis capabilities that allow members to benchmark their businesses against others within the same group.

In 1997 - even before the merger of AllPro/ Bumper to Bumper and Auto Value that ultimately formed Aftermarket Auto Parts Alliance - the group launched such a program, called "Data Warehouse." It's objective, as the name indicates, is to warehouse, or store, sales and inventory data, which is fed into the system by individual Alliance members. The real power in that data is that it allows participating members the ability to retrieve all or part of the data for analysis and benchmarking. This 'warehoused' data can be sorted, manipulated and analyzed so member distributors can gauge how their business is doing compared to other Alliance members. For supplying manufacturers, it's also critical business tool. Manufactures are better able to see what's being sold to the end user, have a common set of data points for comparison among individual customers and, most importantly, a better understanding of how to better manage specific categories.

For distributors, Data Warehouse numbers aren't just raw figures; they are important, tailored, specific sales and inventory numbers such as inventory movement by product group, sales by product line and warranty return rates by product line. Benchmarking is easy, since members can see their own performance for these (and many other) parameters for the last 3 or 12 months, then compare those numbers to the overall Alliance data.

The project was first embraced by Alliance members Parts Depot and Parts Warehouse. As you might imagine, participation today among Alliance members is strong, with the majority of the members (representing 92 percent of Alliance volume) currently sending data to the Data Warehouse system, which is managed by Activant (formerly CCI/Triad). These participating members represent 134 distribution center locations, with more than 1,800 store locations. The Alliance estimates that before the summer, nearly all Alliance members will be participating.

Of course, getting the project underway was not easy for a group as large and diverse as the Alliance, and there were many hurdles to overcome. The Alliance, as one of the market's largest program groups, has members with different needs, expectations and technology issues.

But through a group of dedicated professionals, the challenges were overcome. Today, Data Warehouse is still a work in progress, with tweaks - both major and minor - being made to the system regularly. For example, previously data analysis and benchmarking were only available at the headquarter and manufacturing level. Last year, Data Warehouse began to offer the ability for individual members to analyze the data, even down at the store level.

By seeing these numbers, knowing where your business is and where it's going is now a more concrete exercise. Projects such as Data Warehouse are critical keys to smart sales, efficient stocking and accurate sales forecasting.

About the Alliance: Aftermarket Auto Parts Alliance is one of the largest auto parts distribution and marketing organizations in the world, marketing the Auto Value and Bumper to Bumper brands. With store and service center locations throughout North America and Europe, the Alliance is a source for quality parts and service for over 4,000 parts stores and 2,000 certified service centers.

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