At a large industry event last year, a shop owner announced to a crowd of surprised industry executives that at least half of his parts purchases were from new-car dealers.
As editor Brian Cruickshank clearly uncovers in this month's market feature, Dealership Parts & Service Takes Aim at the Aftermarket, which starts on page 29, this shop owner was no anomaly. New-car dealers are definitely a parts supply force to be reckoned with.
What we're seeing from new-car dealer parts departments is a new level of service that has not been seen before. Technicians and parts stores we've talked with all agree that dealers are being more attentive to the needs of independent repair shops, offering hot-shot delivery, terms and even inventory changeovers. The growth of the dealers' wholesale parts business is part of an overall strategy to improve the revenue and profit of their "fixed operations."
However, it's important that the aftermarket keep everything in perspective. The dealer is limited in what it will be able to offer your repair customers. As new-car dealers dive into the turbulent aftermarket waters, they will soon realize that independent installers are a different breed of customer. How will dealers handle returns? How efficient is a "hot-shot" delivery when the only thing they can deliver is an OE part? How much are they willing to invest in their own parts inventories, knowing that the parts may sit on their shelves for 6, 8 or 12 months? Cataloging, availability and "counter knowledge" are also issues that many dealers will have to wrestle with.
All is not lost, but a significant challenge is now in front of us. Dealers have access to the newest "genuine" OE parts, thereby having instant credibility to supply your best repair customers. It wasn't that long ago, when "OE" meant "not so good." To be certain, aftermarket companies hit the streets with sales people, catered to the technical needs of all technicians and produced and supplied a "better-than- OE" product. Not long ago, you couldn't sell an aftermarket technician an "OE" chassis part. Now, "OE" is all the rage. But how can performance be the issue, when in many cases the aftermarket part is the exact same part that the dealer is supplying? With fewer feet on the street, real (or perceived) lapses in coverage and a communication gap, the aftermarket has dug itself a real hole.
It's time for the aftermarket to assert itself once again, and communicate more effectively and more often with more people throughout the parts supply channel.
Technicians need to be convinced again that the aftermarket has the best products. They need to be convinced that these products are of the highest quality, and that they look like, smell like, fit like, perform like and feel like the "OE" product. Those that manufacture aftermarket parts must focus their efforts on availability and communicating aftermarket quality throughout the channel. Your job as the distributor is to build on this communication and earn back the technician's trust.
We've done it before. It's time we do it again.