Article > Business Operations

The Choice is Yours. Or is it?

By Mitch Schneider

One of the greatest fears most writers share, especially “serious” writers, is relevancy: Is what we have to say going to be meaningful to the people with whom we are trying so hard to communicate?
Mitch Schneider
One of the greatest fears most writers share, especially “serious” writers, is relevancy: Is what we have to say going to be meaningful to the people with whom we are trying so hard to communicate?

Obviously, we think what we have to say is important, otherwise we wouldn’t try. Or, at least you hope that’s the way things work at this end of the keyboard. But, there is an inescapable insecurity that every writer knows the minute the “send” button is pushed and your document is no longer yours.

If you are serious about what you have to say, you know that a part of your soul, a piece of your very essence, travels with every manuscript that is sent. And that is enough to make you contemplate every word just to make sure the margin for misunderstanding or misinterpretation has been minimized, if not eliminated altogether. As a writer, you have to because you never quite know what’s going on at the other end of that manuscript. You never quite know what is going on in the mind of the reader.

A great example of this would be branding and the importance of creating, supporting and maintaining strong brand identities. I think it’s important. And because I think it’s important I’ve been writing to manufacturers and members of the distribution community about it for the better part of 25 years. But it’s not always that easy trying to figure out how that message is being received.

If the quality of that message or its effectiveness is to be measured by what we’ve witnessed over those 25 years, I’m not sure I would be willing to judge, our efforts or my efforts, as being successful. We’ve watched, helplessly, as many of the brands we’ve all grown up with, have become corrupted, minimalized.

We’ve watched their strengths erode, and confidence, both theirs and ours, evaporate.

We’ve been told that branded products are too expensive, that the difference isn’t always justified because too much of that difference is spent delivering and reinforcing a strong brand presence and top-of-mind awareness, and not on the products themselves.

And yet, a recently released AASA field study exploring the preferences of service professionals like me, taken from three different regions of the country and involving both technicians and owners, clearly demonstrates that no one who is serious about their profession or their customers was willing to take a chance on products that didn’t have a strong brand identity.

Why isn’t that demonstrated as clearly in the field as it is on the pages of the study? I think I may have an answer and the answer is choice. There are times the opportunity to exercise that preference, a strong brand preference, is taken out of my hands.

There are times my choices are limited, if or when they exist at all. There are times when all I can purchase is that which my suppliers are willing to offer. There are times when my insistence on quality as defined by a branded part is ignored.
There are times when my definition of quality, a definition based upon brand experience and performance, is discarded — and, the words “just as good as” are suddenly used to describe a part or a particular company with no history and no lineage.

There are times, like yesterday, as I was desperately trying to find a new radiator for a customer’s vehicle, that no one had a radiator I would install. So, I went online only to find that each call took me right back to the same 800 number, the same Web page, the same unknown company and the same unfamiliar brand.

This may be the greatest of all times in an industry filled with more choices than we’ve ever known before. But more choices don’t always translate to better choices any more than more words equal a better manuscript. Sometimes, the best choice is a familiar choice — an old friend you’ve known and who knows you. Someone or something that doesn’t need a lot of rhetoric to let you know who they are or what they are all about. Someone with whom you share a common history, a history that speaks for itself, clearly and without misunderstanding or the fear of misinterpretation.

Without old friends like these, shop owners like me may find themselves crippled by what seems like too many choices, so many, it feels like there aren’t any choices at all. At least, not the right ones.

If you allow your brand to become corrupted, your message to become vague, ambiguous, misunderstood or misinterpreted, the people with whom you are trying so hard to communicate may not understand what you mean or have to say until it’s too late and no one really cares but you.

If you fail to recognize the importance of what your brand is, has accomplished, or can become, you just may find yourself dealing with the consequence of another kind of choice. One you may not appreciate at all.
Mitch Schneider co-owns and operates Schneider’s Automotive Service in Simi Valley, CA. Readers can contact him at
  Previous Comments
avatar   Tom Callahan Sr.   star   12/9/2009   6:47 PM

"I can take a crap in a box, slap a guarantee on the side, but all your going to get is a guaranteed piece of crap". Thomas Callahan Jr. Callahan Auto Parts, Sandusky, Ohio.

avatar   Kenny   star   11/30/2009   4:22 PM

fat guy in a little coat....

avatar   howard gregory   star   11/25/2009   2:33 PM

Tommy Boy summed it up best " I can take a crap in a box and stamp garantee on it I got time" its still a box of crap. White box or not if it has issues it needs to go back to where it came from. Being in an economically challenged region doesn't afford me the luxury of selling the name brand. Which means the returns department is never slow.

avatar   DAVE ELLIOTT   star   11/19/2009   10:50 AM

Ed, I do agree that the country of origin is not the be all end all, the East Penn Lynx batteries are in all likeleyhood outsourced from Thialand. If it's a good battery, I really don't care. Also I get the feeling that the white box part is a distinct advantage to the retailer (read Ozark) as they can source different manufacturers for the generic whenever the need for more white box parts arises, and get a better price.

avatar   Ed   star   11/18/2009   4:00 PM

Dave, don't get so caught up in the "country of origin" on the box or sticker. My motorcycle batteries' box says Made in Thailand, but the battery comes from East Penn in PA. Since the box came from a cardboard printing factory in Thailand, does it mean an inferior product is inside? If we move one of our out of date batteries to the reconditioned line, suddenly the sticker says it was made in Mexico. Dig deep and find out where your parts REALLY come from.

avatar   Jason   star   11/16/2009   3:53 PM

I've been selling autoparts for 15+ years and I think that everyone here is right...kinda. What I mean is that over the years not all generic brands I've sold have been junk, Some, in fact, I've opted and put on my own vehicle with no problems what so ever. So in conclusion, in my opinion it depends on the generic brands your company may be carrying.

avatar   DAVE ELLIOTT   star   11/16/2009   10:37 AM

Ed, my second line bearing does not have a sticker covering my National number, so I believe it is a different source. They also all state "Made in China" where my National/BCA has various counrty of origin labels, such as Korea or even USA. I am basing my statement on actual customer complaints, paper trails etc not that the box is a different color. If our bearings were to change over to BCA non branded, I would give them a chance, since they have proven themself to me over the years to be a reliable part. I will agree with you about the plain white box being the same part sometimes. It just cost the manufacturer less money to make only one part and repackage it with a different warranty standard. If I only warranty the part ninety days, how many failures am I going to have in that period? not many, especially if it's the branded part in the plain white box.

avatar   Dan Bigelow   star   11/11/2009   7:14 PM

Ed, true most generic brands have much lower overhead than the premium brands. Most do have a research dept. though, because they purchase a premium product and take it apart not just to figure out how to make it themselves, but, usually to figure out how to make it cheaper. Case in point: look at the Ford ignition control modules of the 70's & 80's. Ford built a warmup circuit into them that most generics did away with. Result: about 10 times the warranty rate. You get what you pay for!

avatar   Ed   star   11/11/2009   3:39 PM

Did neither of you actually read what I wrote? What you guys are talking about is materials and labor contracted out, what I am talking about is a white box product, two COMPLETELY DIFFERENT things. Yes I wouldn't trust a tie rod manufactured in a country where the main form of transportation still has fur. Dave, we do have a second hub assembly line and on most it is apparent where we have covered up National's sticker with our own. That line is all my commercial accounts use, zero problems.

avatar   DAVE ELLIOTT   star   11/11/2009   12:46 PM

Mitch I believe I'm going to have to side with you...and Kim on this one. Ed, are you fortunate enough to carry a "second line" wheel hub assembly? I do, and I don't like to sell it to my commercial accounts. I have had several problems with them, anywhere to not machined properly to go over a shaft or mounting surface, to the ever popular "abs sensor inoperative" found on the cheap line of bearing. Although there are some that are "just as good as" most of the time there is a reason, beyond the package that the price is different.

avatar   Mike   star   11/11/2009   9:52 AM

Ed, Have you ever taken the time to look at the part in brand X's box versus the part in the "branded" box? Are you really saying that a tie rod end in brand X's box is better than the Moog Chasis part? There is a reason brand X only offers a 90 day warranty, and why Federal Mogul chasis parts offer a lifetime, QUALITY. It has nothing to do with "overhead" or "advertising". It has to do with QUALITY. If you had a new Camaro, would you put a WIX filter on your Camaro or brand X's supertec filter that you got because it was "cheap". I don't think enough thought is given to the consumer who actually CARES about the quality of the part that is put on their vehicle. I know that in this business, more often than not, counter pros take the easy way out and give the customer the cheapest option because they don't want to "upsell" them to a quality product. Just my opinion and I have been in the business on all sides 20+ years.

avatar   kim   star   11/10/2009   3:58 PM

Ed, I've been around the auto parts world 20+ years. There is a difference!

avatar   Ed   star   11/9/2009   7:29 PM

Kim, it has nothing to do with the cost of product studies. It is about buying a product in a white box. That white box has no marketing department, no advertising department, no technical support department, basically no overhead. THAT is how it is cheaper and there IS NO difference between Brand X's product in Brand X's box and the same product in a white box.

avatar   Kim   star   11/5/2009   12:41 PM

Mitch, I get what your saying! Just like the store brand says "compare to" can the store brand be cheaper and "compare to"? Because they haven't done the research, or product studies that Branded companies have. So do you really know what you're getting? Doubt it! Does it matter?Maybe not with toilet paper, but with auto parts it does....

avatar   Corey   star   11/5/2009   10:39 AM

My name is Partsguy and I approve this message.

avatar   Ed   star   11/4/2009   4:50 PM

And another thing.. concerning choice. After 9 years, I have yet to see people change and this affects all regardless of age, gender or ethnicity. You offer your choices of product and your customer chooses which? The cheapest, because if it was utter crap, they assume you wouldn't offer it or sell it or have it in stock. They trust your brand for being around for XX years. After running a shop in the past, I have been on the opposite end of this, when it comes down to selling the job, we find the cheapest, it betters our chances of securing that sale.

avatar   Nick   star   10/31/2009   10:49 AM

Wow, great job at beating an old horse. Maybe you could talk a little more about that radiator that you had to call 3 different 800 numbers. I don't think I heard enough about that in your last article.

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