No more countermen?
That was the headline of an article that appeared in the January, 1987 issue of this magazine.
The article chronicled the advent of electronic cataloging and how the idea of connectivity might eventually do away with the parts profession altogether.
"As you're reading this," the article read, "a mechanic in a tire and front end shop is pushing buttons on a computer terminal. The first few keystrokes cause a modem, attached to his terminal, to dial up the computer system at his jobber's store. When the telephone link is established, the mechanic has complete access to the electronic cataloging program. Without the assistance of a counterman, he can look up parts, check stock, get price quotes and even create an invoice. When he's finished selecting the parts he wants, a push of a button spits his invoice out of the jobber's printer, to be filled and delivered by a driver."
Even back in 1987, people were ringing the death knell for the counter professional. After all, computers would do the job nicely, right? No more tied up phone lines, right? No more waiting on the phone, right? The computer would do it all, right?
Not quite. Even in the age of the Internet, which makes this whole parts-ordering process a lot more streamlined, the parts professional's job is still a vital link in repair process. And despite all the technological advances, I would argue that a parts professional's job today is even more essential than it was back in '87.
There are just too many issues - both logistical and technological - that need to be addressed before the industry's parts pros collectively hang up their hats. Even something as "simple" as electronic cataloging is not yet to the point where it's foolproof. A good counter professional knows where the errors are and he knows when to use the printed books - and when not to.
Technology will always continue to evolve. Today, Internet-based parts ordering is a viable way to connect to your customers. But even in these environments, the job a counter pro performs cannot be replaced by a computer and modem.
The Counterman team has recently completed its 2005 editorial plan, which includes more coverage devoted to technology - advances like Internet parts ordering, e-catalogs and inventory control methods. We hope this coverage will help you do your jobs better. After all, you're going to be around for a long time.
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On a personal note, I want to publicly congratulate Al Duebber, a friend who I met at the very start of my career in this business. Al owns and operates Duebber's Automotive Service in Cincinnati, OH, and was recently named the 2004 CARQUEST Excellence Award winner. Congrats, Al!
Travelin' Notes: A Counterman hello to our friends at the Northwood University Automotive Management Program in Midland, MI. They put on a first-class auto show in early October, which I was fortunate to attend.