Article > Mitch’s World

Is This As Good As the Automotive Aftermarket Gets?

By Mitch Schneider

A great deal of technology has found its way into the everyday operations of most businesses within the automotive aftermarket. But has that meant innovation?
Mitch Schneider
I’m not sure if there has ever been an industry more poised or ready for great change than the automotive aftermarket as it currently exists. While a great deal of technology has found its way into the everyday operations of most businesses within the aftermarket, you would be hard pressed to call any of them innovative in terms of “ground breaking” or “game-changing” actions. The model is, if nothing else, traditional in both its construction; and, ultimately, its execution.
Business is being done largely as business has always been done for the past hundred years.

Certainly, there have been changes. Instead of looking up parts applications in a physical catalog and then writing an order by hand … Or accepting a motorist’s vehicle for service; writing and entering customer information on the work order by hand; looking up both labor and parts on paper and then finishing the process manually, you can accomplish virtually every operational step by computer and online. But, exactly what has changed?

We are doing the same kinds of things the same kinds of ways, perhaps a little faster; perhaps, more accurately; perhaps, more clearly; perhaps, accompanied by easier look-up, documentation and retrieval; perhaps, with the aid of digital image here and there, or a bar code scanner. But, exactly what has changed?

There is no argument — the computer has made all of our lives easier and faster. But many of the same tasks are still being accomplished much the same way they have always been accomplished.

The question isn’t whether or not automation is a major contributor to gains in productivity. It is.

The question is or at least should be, are things any better? Is what we are doing, or the way we are doing it the most effective, most efficient way to serve the needs of our customers? Or perhaps more to the point, is there another way, a different approach altogether?

After 34 years in the business, all these enhancements look like variations on a central theme. These variations can be beautiful, but I can’t help but think it may be time for a new “musical score,” or a new piece of music altogether.

The problem, as I see it, is one of imagination. We can’t conceive of something new and different while continuing to embrace what is old, comfortable and familiar. Most of all, it may not be reasonable to ask the industry to reinvent itself while still invested in the current paradigm.

Manufacturers make decisions and offer solutions based upon information made available through their distribution partners for the most part. Their distribution partners make decisions based upon information received primarily through the service centers aligned with their groups. Service dealers are continually trying to adjust to the perceived wants, needs and expectations of their customers. But you have to ask yourself whether or not anyone currently is trying to discern if there is a better model regardless of whom or what might be displaced in the process.
We keep asking ourselves, will this work? Is it acceptable? Is it adequate? When the question should really be — what is optimal?

Realistically, this is a rhetorical question because I believe that somewhere out there, someone is working diligently to find a better, different, more efficient and perhaps, previously unimagined answer, an answer that would shatter the current paradigm.

Before possibility becomes reality and the answer comes from someone else, somewhere else, I’d like to present a question: What is optimal? What would it take to move product and service more effectively, more intelligently, more efficiently from where you sit – wherever that may be – to where I sit – and, then on to the motorist?

Should we read the VIN with a scanner at drop-off and have that VIN number automatically decoded and available to the parts house through the warehouse and back to the manufacturer? Should we be practicing on-demand, on-time inventory control with the same scan technology? You tell me.

Are things “good” just the way they are? Is this as good as it gets? Or, could things be better? Better for you… Better for me… Better for our clients?

Mitch Schneider co-owns and operates Schneider’s Automotive Service in Simi Valley, CA. Readers can contact him at [email protected]
  Previous Comments
avatar   Gabe   star   4/10/2010   2:18 PM

Ed I was never a store manager but I was an assistant manager for CSk in 3 months. I am not saying what he did was right. I am just saying it was hilarious sometimes. All other times he was fine, and nice to people. I think he just singled out the complete and utter morons. Which isn't right, but oh well he was funny.

I had one service manager out there in Maryland. We had this customer that was just annoying the **** out of us. We had checked out his vehicle fixed the problem. But he kept calling us back all day. Asking if we checked this and that, even though his vehicle was fixed and waiting for him to pick up. We pulled it in a couple times, and rechecked stuff. But eventually my service manager was talking to him saying, "Yep we did that, yes we did check that. We even got down there, and you know that purple wire under there. Yep up under there you've seen it. We got down there and wiggled the purple wire that switch down there! Yep that seemed to make it run a little better."

So know I joke with customers I know when they have problems by saying, "Did you wiggle the purple wire?"

avatar   BC   star   4/10/2010   10:33 AM

I have the perfect answer to the age long joke of "I need a radiator for a 69 beetle", Quote them out a price of a custom welded chassis and a 350 engine and trans with a radiator to fit it. I either get laughs out of it or hung up on, haha it's great.

avatar   howardg   star   4/7/2010   2:03 PM

Gabe I would have loved to seen that guy in action. Pair him up with the idiot manager that I had at AAP, this man was a manager that told everyone he had just put an engine in his 72 chevy f100.

avatar   ziggy   star   4/6/2010   8:09 PM

Ya'll know what you be good? If the editors gave a page just for us to tell these types of stories on.

I've only been in a year & I've got some good ones too.

avatar   Ed   star   4/6/2010   3:32 PM

Gabe, if you have ever made manager before, you would realize that someone like him is invicible and a discrimination lawsuit waiting to happen. If some 19 or 20 year old counterman threw an alternator through a plate glass window AT a customer, what would happen? First and final, termination on the spot.

That vet will never acrue a complaint and if he does, the same level of accountability will not be applied to him as it would you. He will get every kind of punishment there is, EXCEPT for termination. He will get demoted, talked to, sent home for the day, even transferred to another store, but he won't get fired. If he does, for any reason, he has the right, under the great American judicial system, to file a lawsuit against the company claiming PTSD, or any other mental condition you can "get" while in the military, caused his actions and he was wrongly terminated because the company didn't offer him treatment.

avatar   Gabe   star   4/6/2010   1:53 PM

Ed this story reminded me of an old school, vietnam vet, grumpy old counter guy I worked with in Glen Burnie, MD. He new alot and he knew his job well. Most people didn't like him, but somehow him and I became friends, because it was just an exterior facade. Stories went around about him, and how he was a store manager, but when he threw an alternator through the glass window of the store at a customer he was busted down to a counter man.

He was funny to watch though. I don't know how many times I saw the look of disguist (spelling?) cross his face while on the phone. Then the next thing out of his mouth was, "NO! NO! Chevy did not make a Taurus! Why don't you go figure out what car you drive, and then call me back! Instead of wasting my time trying to figure out what you drive!!!" The next thing was the phone slamming down. I was at the other end of the counter usually laughing my a** off at him! Then he would look at me, and crack a smile and go, "What!? I get tired of people telling me they drive a 1972 Chevy Taurus and it's green!"

What was funny is there was never a complaint against him. His attitude just kind of went right along with most peoples attitudes out there.

avatar   Ed   star   4/3/2010   11:37 AM

We lament about how great the parts counter of yesteryear was, but what is reality and fantasy? Recently attended a training class in which the trainer, an older gentleman, rehashed the days of having to go to a parts store when he was just old enough to drive. He had a 75 Chevy Vega, his father owned a shop and the alternator died in the Vega. So he removed it and took it to a large automotive parts store. The counterman was sitting on his stool (I believe they still have stools 30 years later in this chain), eating a sandwich and reading the newspaper. The counterman, obviously annoyed, sets both down, wipes his mouth and asks, "Whaddya need, boy?". He presents his alternator, in hand, to the counterman and says, "I need an alternator for my 75 Vega." The counterman flips through his books and grumbles, "Which engine does it have?". Being only 16 years old, he says he doesn't know exactly which one (Only two options that year and even at that, it was whether it had power steering or not, not which engine it had, that determined which of the two alternators). The counterman picks his newspaper back up and says, "Boy, go home and send your father up here."

It is not that our customers have gotten stupider or less car-savvy, we, as countermen, have just gotten less ruder and learned the art of customer service over the years.

avatar   Tim   star   4/3/2010   8:47 AM

Kim you are good she wanted wires

avatar   Morton   star   4/2/2010   7:19 PM

Excuse me, I believe you have my stapler. It was red, made by Swingline. It doesn't bind like the Bostons.

avatar   Jay   star   4/2/2010   6:27 PM

Did you sell her tailgate cables?

avatar   fordguy503   star   4/1/2010   6:12 PM

Hey Tim I'll guess, tire cables.

avatar   Kim   star   3/31/2010   4:32 PM

Spark Plug Wires? I give up!

avatar   Tim   star   3/31/2010   4:18 PM

So you mean that when I had a lady ask me for cable cords and I sold her what she wanted makes me a skilled counterman? ASE P2 cert and everything. Only I don't remember in the test the portion about mind reading and interpeting ancient latin text. As a Baptist I never took Latin. lol

BTW anyone know what she needed?

avatar   Kim   star   3/31/2010   3:36 PM

Doc-I know that having the VIN is not the "be all, end all" I have worked w/the Reynolds Systems at GM. But it does help narrow down choices that customers don't always have the answers for. Ed-the system doesn't have to give ALL that info-Big Brother-it can be programed to give only build specific info. Open your mind to changes. Isn't that what this article is about?

avatar   Doc Brown   star   3/31/2010   10:42 AM

Can you plug it in "The Machine" and tell me what's wrong with my car? THERE IS NO MAGIC MACHINE!! It takes a skilled technician to properly diagnose today's vehicle. It also takes a skilled parts guy to look up the correct part, not someone able only to push the button when prompted and ask the pop up questions that may or may not be relevant. The idiots I work with should be asking if you want fries with that, not working in what used to be a skilled career. Don't kid yourself that VIN access is the answer. Having worked many years in a dealership, I can assure you, It is not. Knowing the questions to ask, knowing what brands you have available, being able to read your customers mind and stop the mindless conversation that slows everything down. I've been at the dealer shop counter, VIN in hand, car in front of me, old part with part number, on the phone with tech support and was told that part was never on that car. The car had less than 3500 miles on it and was in for free oil change!

avatar   Jay   star   3/30/2010   6:46 PM

12...17... still ran out of fingers to count sorry!!!

avatar   Kim   star   3/30/2010   3:04 PM

12 digits? last time I looked all VINs after 1980 are 17 digits..guess you are right...if parts men can't get it do we expect our customers to?

avatar   Jay   star   3/29/2010   7:54 PM

Or what it is like a customer came to me the other day and ask for a belt for their Stable. Or a battery for a Aluminum. Not likely to get 12 random characters together is not easy.

avatar   Ed   star   3/29/2010   2:22 PM

Another thought occurred to me surrounding VIN scanning. When someone comes in looking for a part to repair their vehicle, what percentage would you say actually bring their vehicle with them? 20%? 40%? 60%?

Customers can barely remember who made their vehicle, let alone a long string of random characters.

avatar   Ed   star   3/27/2010   2:24 PM

Kim, there is more to a VIN number than just build date, country of origin, engine designation and build sequence. It is like your social security number, there is private information associated with that VIN number. Seeing what all you get from a CarFax of a VIN number is just the tip of the iceberg, you can also add to that warranty repair information and whether or not a warranty was voided or investigated.

So think twice before asking for dealer-level VIN information, unless you want to find yourself one day at a parts store and someone scans your VIN number and finds out you are the sole owner of the vehicle with three at fault collisions, two speeding tickets and your warranty was voided by the dealership you purchased the vehicle from. See how the person behind the counter reacts to you then.

Also beware of the black helicopter following you.

avatar   Chris   star   3/26/2010   5:40 PM

I agree with Buzz that we do have a tendency to rehash the same old problems. It is monotonous, but this is probably our best outlet. Even the damned deserve to give voice to their torment. :)

avatar   Kim   star   3/26/2010   12:46 PM

One of the best things that could happen to the aftermarket would be to get the rights to all the info the VIN code can offer to each vehicle. I've said it before and will say it again,until we can punch in the VIN and have the same build info as the dealers, we are at a disadvantage when it comes to getting the correct part first, time every time.

avatar   Ed   star   3/25/2010   3:22 PM

Back on topic, it is as I have always said, you have the shop owner on one end, completely engaged in his business, willing to do whatever it takes to make ends meet and please customers. His major concern today is that truck that is tieing up his rack and the customer it belongs to pacing in the waiting room.

Then on the other end, you have the corporate parts store. The local employees get the call from the shop, inform the owner the parts are not in stock, can be ordered, hang up, record the lost sale and move on with their day. Corporate's major issue today is not that lost sale that was just recorded, but rather renegotiating with a vendor on an LED brake light bar, because the profit margin had shrunk.

It is not that they don't care about that shop, it is just the nature of the beast that runs the business. On top of that, we have no scale of measure for performance. We just look to our peers, see what X quarter earnings they just posted and see how we fit in that picture. As long as we are steady with our competition, there is no call for drastic changes. It is business as usual within our vicious cycle.

avatar   kaptain Amerika   star   3/25/2010   3:15 PM

Mitch time to right about something people want to speak about...... This mindless auto shops vs. the mindreader parts counterman. That should let you keep your job and publication counts up for a while.

avatar   tim   star   3/25/2010   3:02 PM

Just for the record the Tim that called Buzz a moran was not the Tim that made the off the subject comment. Buzz I was just opining not complaining

avatar   Paul   star   3/25/2010   2:12 PM

Tim, if you think this is off topic, check out "The only thing that matters is the perception of the customer". That got off topic, hilarious, but definately off topic

avatar   Tim   star   3/25/2010   10:35 AM

Now weer really off topic. Cant you people stick to on subject? Now quit screwig around and talk about changes in the aftermarket.

Buzz is a moran.

avatar   Paul   star   3/22/2010   4:22 PM

Actually, Gabe, several people commented on it, but you can only see 10 posts. In addition to the forum for us to babble on about stuff, they should have an option to see earlier posts. When Mitch responded to them, I didn't have a clue what he was talking about because I couldn't see what he was responding to.

avatar   Gabe   star   3/22/2010   3:59 PM

Thank you Ed for seeing my vision! It is a multi billion dollar industry. But it doens't just include muscle car, or import parts. It can be nerf bars, lift kits, even the ventvisors we already carry. Don't just focus on the performance engine mods, because it encompasses anything to modify a vehicle in any way.

avatar   Ed   star   3/22/2010   2:08 PM

Tim, just how big is the performance aftermarket? I can't remember SEMA's exact figure (And even that is from a few years ago), but it is impressive and you would be a fool to say you don't want a piece of that money. Who do you think could negotiate a better price on performance parts, a single performance shop or a 3,500 store corporation? Then you can position yourself to supply these parts to shops, performance shops, and the DIY public.

Performance is as much aftermarket as OE parts.

avatar   Gabe   star   3/20/2010   2:46 PM

You haven't noticed all the discussion get off the point on here? Counterman needs a forum just for our babble. I don't think the article was interesting enough for us to comment on.

avatar   Tim   star   3/19/2010   4:06 PM

How did we get into a decussion about performance parts? I don't think that this is on the subject. :)

avatar   Will   star   3/18/2010   1:54 PM

Keystone is like some dealerships we have in TN. They say you get a "special price", but you're just getting screwed. I call P&E Distributors a lot. I have been known to call Summitt and Jegs and order parts on the company card with a markup. Like most of you said; most people have no clue what cam/carb they need, they just listen to their buddies and order parts that have no place in a daily driver. The guys with the pizza-pan wheels are the best: tie rods, ball joints, brakes... Gotta love it! My theory is: Let the guys that sell performance parts answer the questions and make recommendations. Your customer can do whatever they want from there. NO RETURN/NO WARRANTY will make them think before they buy that 950 Demon or Lunati roller cam for their car/truck.

avatar   Ed   star   3/17/2010   1:32 PM

Gabe, I agree with you a ton on Keystone's pricing. We are on a "special" pricing structure because Keystone does not have to deliver any product to the stores. However I found that we are not, I did some internal pricing comparisons with Advance, I was only able to get a few part numbers and prices before they figured out was I was doing, but I found their internal cost was the same as our "special pricing", and they get Keystone's truck dropping to them 3 times a week. I called them out on it, they told me I had "false information", I told corporate about it and they wanted more than the few examples I managed to get before they would say or do anything.

avatar   Ed   star   3/16/2010   3:17 PM

An entire team to talk to vendors? I don't think so, one to two people tops.

Back when I was with Advance, in Sumter, SC, where we sold a great deal of performance parts. It struck us that it would be a great promotion to have an Advance Auto Parts car as apart of the Popular Hot Rodding Power Tour. We worked up a proposal and contacted our marketing and motorsports departments, as well as our local district manager. Every one at corp was on board. My commercial parts pro, in his spare time, called Right Choice/LKQ and secured a Dodge Viper engine and transmission as a donation to the project, called a local wrecking yard and had been guaranteed an early 80s Jaguar XJ6 Series II, Borla and Flowmaster both agreed to donate parts, Holley agreed to help, as well as both Keystone and Arrowspeed. Bay banners, hats, jackets, t-shirts, all flooded our stores from these manufacturer's in anticipation and at the last second, corp told us to stop wasting their time and resources. A month later, they unveiled the Advance Auto Parts Bassmaster Toyota pickup with all kinds of modifications.

It only took one person, with the drive to do it and the personality to charm, to negotiate several competing vendors to come together on one project.

avatar   Gabe   star   3/16/2010   2:28 PM

Good points Tad. You know maybe if they could just negotiate with Keystone for better pricing might work. Until then I will do like you say and just do a factory order request, because that has to be better pricing than Keystone.

avatar   howardg   star   3/15/2010   4:17 PM

Neverdrive is something we dont want to talk about.

avatar   Greg   star   3/15/2010   3:53 PM

The problem with performance parts is that most people don't have a clue what they want out of the engine. So they don't know what kind of cam they want. Lift, Duration,lobe seperation. How many people have heard,"I wants a full race cam" of they want to put a "750 Double pumper" on a stock 350. So when you try to help them all you hear is,"My mechanic said"

avatar   Ed   star   3/15/2010   3:10 PM

Chris, yes AAP and Pep Boys both started out selling appliances and during that time frame it was considered normal for auto parts stores to sell bicycles and washing machines and represented a good portion of their profit.

You can't look out your store window and see that Chevy Caprice rolling down the road on 26" rims, jacked up 4 feet in the air, with a sound system rattling windows two miles away and only see a potential for selling brake pads.

avatar   Tad   star   3/15/2010   12:22 PM

Gabe, just because your servicing DC doesn't have a part doesn't mean you can't get it. The computer allows you to send requests for factory orders. If you can get it direct from the factory, that's how you should do it. Next option is an outside supplier. Keystone should be a last resort. If you want a good performance supplier, give me a call @ 2579. It'll be CA-based, but they'll still ship to you. I call them whenever I get a performance part request.

avatar   Chris   star   3/14/2010   3:27 PM

Ed, you are absolutely correct. I got my .22 peashooter at Western Auto. :D

If I remember correctly, Advance Auto Parts started off exclusively selling appliances.

avatar   Ed   star   3/14/2010   3:09 PM

Tim, ALOT! In small town and rural settings, the demographic is more used to doing things for themselves, including car repairs and upgrades, they don't have the luxury of 14 shops within a 3 mile radius like you have, all competing for their business. I bet you even have a few custom wheel shops. Here, we have none of that. They rely on us to help them find the right offset for their 18x9 wheel, sourcing that Jackson Racing supercharger kit for a Honda, and that god awful candy blue paint for a Cadillac. Hell in Sumter, SC, a town that only still exists due to Shaw AFB, my entire commercial program was selling nothing but performance parts.

At one time, auto parts stores sold washing machines and bicycles, at another point in time, scooters, yet another point in time, cell phone chargers and GPS. We DON'T sell JUST replacement parts, we have to evolve and keep current with trends. If we don't evolve, we die, as made apparent by some auto parts chains that are no longer with us.

avatar   Tim   star   3/14/2010   9:59 AM

Gabe yes we have 3000 + stores but I work in the hub store in a large city and I doubt that I get asked about performance parts more than once a month. If I at a large volume store doesn't get much inquirey how much does the 1000 + plus stores in little towns that have 5 employees get.

avatar   Gabe   star   3/13/2010   2:44 PM

Tad- Most of the parts I price comparisoned for corporate were not available through my warehouse. Unless your talking about sending the special order E-mail out to the vendor.

My point about Summit was this. Aftermarket accessories is a multi billion dollar business. Forget performance parts for a second, and think of the guy who wants nerf bars, or a brush guard. My only real option if not at the warehouse. Is our dedicated performance supplier of Keystone. (who probably buys their stuff from Summit, marks it up, and then O'Reilly marks it up again.)

My point about the price comparisons was this. I got a crap load of MSRA (Minnesota street rod association) members coming in using the MSRA discount. The MSRA put on the largest 3 day car show in the country here in Minnesota called back to the 50's pushing 12,000 cars at this show from around the country. Guess who has a huge booth, and sponsors the event, and has all our products, and performance products out there for the hot rodders, street rodders to see!? Give ya one guess!?

So all these hot rodders, street rodders, and MSRA members are coming in to get these parts they see at the show. Guess what I have to tell them! Go to summit because O'Reilly and Keystone are on dope! How does that make us look!?

You say Summit deals in massive volume, you think with over 3000 stores we can't deal with massive volume!? You think we don't have buying power? You think we aren't missing out on alot of aftermarket performance sales? All my life no auto parts store has ever stepped up to the plate on this issue.

Someone needs to! Because there are still alot of people who don't know about Summit or Jegs! I have ran into them, and maybe we should be the first ones to get that sale. That's all I am saying!

avatar   Tad H.   star   3/13/2010   1:24 AM

There's a difference between sticking your fingers in your ears and being able to focus on the parts of the industry your company is oriented towards. I have sold carbs to customers despite the existance of Summit, but I won't ever expect to beat Summit's pricing. It's just not possible for most performance engine products. Summit sells parts for the same price the stores get charged parts, simply because Summit buys and sells performance parts in MASSIVE quantities. That's what they do, and they do it well. Retail parts houses are focused on repair parts, not performance engine products. Sure, you can make money if you can sell a performance carburetor and intake (and believe me, I have no qualms selling them), but that's not why you're there. If you're good at that end of it, great, you'll probably be able to sell more, but your main job is to sell replacement parts.

If you do want to compete in the performance business, you need to have reliable outside performance suppliers that will give you good pricing and service. I have one that I utilize often, and a couple backups for performance cylinder heads. I can't quite compete with Summit's pricing, but I can come close, and between that, my knowledge of performance parts, and corporate return/warranty policy, I do ok.

As far as Napa internal costs go, what internal costs? Napa has several. There's cost to the DC, jobber (store) cost from the DC, and cost for the store for bulk direct ship orders. It's pretty hard for Napa to compete with O'reilly's pricing. I know, I used to work for a Napa store.

I completely agree about Everdrive, though. I've been skeptical from day 1, and today proved me right. We sold a transfer case in June which failed last month. Everdrive sent a replacement last week. The replacement turned out to be both the wrong unit, and damaged. Why am I going to bother trying to sell 'guaranteed' used parts if they keep showing up damaged and/or wrong? I don't care if there's a 3 year warranty on the part, it better show up as the right part, let alone working.

And last month I called them about a gauge cluster for a Quest. They quoted $1000. My (commercial) customer said that a new unit from the dealer was $800. How does that work? Needless to say, I won't be calling them unless I really have to.

avatar   Ed   star   3/12/2010   7:42 PM

Tad, so we should just stick our fingers in our ears and close our eyes to the growing market share that Summit, Jegs, RockAuto and even Amazon have in the automotive retail industry? Being deaf, dumb and blind to a growing problem only breeds more problems and is the quickest way to find your business in the toilet.

Pricing structure is a huge issue and none of the Big 3 are employing the right people to take care of it. Case in point, I found out today that internal cost at NAPA on particular Bosch oxygen sensor was half that of our internal cost. The reply from the people in purchasing? They wanted more part numbers than one. I am sorry but I don't have all day to sit on the phone while I steal confidential information from NAPA for more examples.

Gabe, don't get me started on Everdrive. After a recent debacle in which we had a customer pay in excess of $1,000 for a used transmission, it arrived missing parts and damaged. The "Care Center" could care less. I recently purchased an engine, from Ebay, Everdrive wanted $900+ and was going to strip the intake manifold off of it. I paid $300 and got a complete engine including wiring harness and it wasn't "damaged in shipping" either.

avatar   Tad   star   3/12/2010   5:51 PM

Gabe, comparing prices of performance parts to Summit is not equal comparison. A retail store is going to be able to get parts at...retail price! There are costs associated with getting a part to a customer at a retail store, staffing the store, and offering a return policy in the store. Returning/warrantying items at Summit isn't impossible, but it does require shipping the parts back at the expense of the customer.

That said, $700 is not right. You shouldn't be defaulting to Keystone to order things, especially things that we can get straight from the manufacturer, and definitely not performance parts. Keystone is going to charge your store a lot more than the mfg will. That 750CFM Holley 4150 is $480 (retail) if ordered through O'reilly from the factory. If that price still isn't good enough, you should be looking at outside performance vendors.

Morals of the story: 1)don't price compare against Summit, and 2) don't rely on Keystone unless you absolutely have to, especially for performance parts.

avatar   tiny   star   3/12/2010   3:33 PM

someone mentioned in the comments a certain word that i find to be the cornerstone of this entire industry, yet it often fails to play a significant enough role in anything we do. that word is communication.

In our industry, communication is key. Proper communication would solve 75% of the problems we all have getting jobs completed on time. But, it also goes a little deeper than that. Education, dear friends, is important.

Allow me to give you a scenario in order to explain.

I have no shame in saying I work for O'Reilly (ok, maybe a little speck of shame). I've often gotten customers who ask me for a water pump to fit a 350. It sounds simple, but I am fairly certain not all 350s are alike. Oh, I am sure they all are similar, but carbon copy enough that you can interchange parts through a span of 30+ years? Not so sure about that one, yet my customers swear they're "all the same."

what about that customer who drives a 90s model Honda accord with a 4 cylinder? "Which 4 cylinder is it?" resp: "All I know is it's a 4 cylinder."

My point here, friends, is that our customers know very little about their cars. When they drop our cars off to us, they assume we know everything there is to know about their cars because we're the "service guys." I've met a whole lot of service guys, and not one of them knows everything about everything.

So, I make this meager suggestion. Though we can never convince the general public to educate themselves on their own vehicles, perhaps we can lead by example and educate ourselves.

What if we, as individuals, take a short amount of time to learn some vital information about each car we service? Look, I've seen oil changes go horribly awry because the lube tech didn't take enough time to see what the car was before dumping oil in it. That store bought a new engine for that customer.

Even the simplest of jobs can be nightmares that can be avoided simply by knowing what it is in the bay.

Take a notepad with you into the bay. Note whether the vehicle is 4 wheel disc, ABS, 4, 6, or 8 cylinder, what specific size motor, those things.

That way when you as a service tech calls, we as a parts guy send you the right part the first time.

I only say this, because here in the rural south, the techs have gone to thinking, "they're all the same," too.

That way, the communication between the sides of the counter would vastly improve, making things... better?

avatar   Kim   star   3/12/2010   10:30 AM

Doesn't this fall under the "Right to Repair" the OEM's are going to have to give up ALL the info that the VIN's provide before it will do any good to scan the VIN in before doing the job. Theory is great! Reality is another story.

avatar   Tim   star   3/12/2010   9:00 AM

You wrote: "Are things “good” just the way they are? Is this as good as it gets? Or, could things be better? Better for you… Better for me… Better for our clients?" I guess the answer is yes to all. Whether it is a totally new innovation like the "Triad Lazer Cat" was or just updated the way we currently do things, it will change and evolve.

Twenty years ago when I first got into this business the idea of scanning the VIN and transmitting the information to the parts store would have been an impossible thought to the smartest minds to our industry that had just reciently evolved out of the card system. Today that idea has a lot of merit and is probably about ready to take over the industry.

Our problem is we have seen the change take place and have forgotten where we came from. If you took a person from the paper catalog, inventory card system, stocking one line of each group and everything that is not in stock taking a week to get to totaly computer driven cataloging and inventory control, the three step warehousing system with the shops having to be mini autopart store by stocking many lines themself to today having Advance, AutoZone, Napa or O'Reilly on every corner so the shop can get their part within the hour so they don't stock much or nothing, that person would be overwhelmed.

So yes this industry will change a "minor" innovation at a time and in 20 years it won't look alot like it does now and we wil sit there and ask if the industry will ever change.

avatar   Mitch Schneider   star   3/11/2010   7:01 PM

Honey, I'm home...

Ed: You are pretty much on track with your comments. However, the Berlin Wall IS down and we're both old enough to remember thinking just how impossible that is...

Fordguy: I agree and hope I live to see that day. However... another However,... that won't happen until we demand it: us on the service side, you on the parts side.

HowardD: We need standards on both sides of the service counter: standards, and accountability.

Chris: I love the analogy! But, the corporate guys may not have anything to say about it when the changes begin to occur any more than the railroads, the Post Office or IBM. The shift will come and when it does... Well, we all know that Shift Happens!


avatar   Chris   star   3/11/2010   4:56 PM

Ideas are only as good as the people that are or are not willing to listen to them. Talking to corporate guys about this can be like explaining nuclear fusion to a chimpanzee.

avatar   HOWARDG   star   3/11/2010   4:02 PM

Ed I think Mitch may have touched on part of the solution with the idea of standards. Having a set of standards that determines what is stocked and what is available in the store. As in pontiac sells a car and our buyers scour the aftermarket and find every conceivable part for this car. Then the warehouse gets a full line and the store gets the "high wear items" for instance it really would be no need for the store to keep a steering column shaft bearing but it may wear out in time so let the warehouse keep this item. Yeah I know sounds like what we have now. Maybe the after market isn't really broken just in need of a comprehensive tune up. A set of standards would be good for our business if everyone in the aftermarket could agree on them and look at this as an approach to better serve our customers rather than a limit on capitalism. One standard I would liek to see is the demise of the 9 dollar brake pads. The aftermarket can sell x and the dealer can sell y could work but it would have to be an overhaul from ground zero. Most important thing is communication. Better trained employees on the counter would help a great deal with that. Knowing where to look in our catalogs and our suppliers will ultimatly better our business relations and help keep us "first call". Could these already preached idea really be the be all solve all answer ?

avatar   fordguy503   star   3/11/2010   3:41 PM

Technolgical innovation is always great. The problem in our business is people. Fortunately the solution also lay in people. As a counterman I rely on information from one person (the tech)to find parts made and cataloged by other people. That and my own acquired knowledge are how we get parts out the door.

There is a lot of room for error. I just wish parts people would finally be recognised for what we are and that is skilled individuals in our field. Not just trained button pushers. The rate of turnover is just to high.

avatar   Ed   star   3/11/2010   2:30 PM

There will always be frustration and conflict between the jobber and the shop, because they are two completely opposite industries that just share a commonality of automotive parts.

On the shop end, you have a local owner/operator, highly knowledgeable and skilled in the trade of automotive. They know trends, they know what common problems plague certain vehicles.

Then you have the orange to compare to the apple, your parts supplier. Usually corporately owned and therein lies your problem and your solution. Each parts supplier has some rich history that makes you smile and makes you think they know automotive, but that is all it is, history. Present day fact is they are owned and operated by someone who managed the electronics department of Best Buy or owns the H.E. Butts Grocery chain and underneath them are bean counters who have no knowledge, let alone interest, in automotive.

Prime example, the GM 90-degree V6, 3100/3400/3800, it's plastic intake manifold was prone to cracking, a problem that first rose up strong around 1997 to 1998 when the engines got some mileage on them. The aftermarket had a solution for that in under a year, but I didn't see a single parts supplier stock this part until at least 2003. Hell I remember while I was with AAP, I requested that part and the Ford 4.6L's intake manifold both be stocked in my store and I got back the answer of "No, we don't see a reason why you should stock this, it's not a popular item" and I about did a spit take with that line. May not have stocked parts for two engines that were 80% of Ford and GM's vehicle fleet, but I stocked a distributor cap for a Mercruiser, with the closest lake being 83 miles away.

Mitch, essentially you are asking for the Berlin Wall to be torn down.

avatar   Mitch Schneider   star   3/11/2010   11:00 AM

First, thanks your responses... Always great to know someone is really "out there!"

Now, with regard to those comments: Last night I left the shop a few minutes early, picked up my wife where she works and then drove the seventy plus miles it takes to get to Santa Barbara to hear Malcolm Gladwell speak.

Gladwell is the author of Tipping Point, Blink, Outlier and What The Dog Saw: three great and thought provoking books that have all been on the New York Times Best Seller List since their respective release dates. If the books have anything in common, the one thing that all three books share is the fact that they look at things from a different perspective. Last night's lecture reaffirmed my belief that this is a critical skill in the world we live in today.

So, Tim: I think you're right - that's the way most people feel. But, it isn't the way everybody feels and that can result in profound change depending upon what that person comes up with. Someone once said that there was no need for more than 5,000 personal computers IN THE WORLD! Not!

If you were in the pay phone business and didn't see what the advent of cell phones was going to do to your business you were toast.

The Post Office and UPS "absolutely,positively" saw no real need to get things across the street or across the country overnight.

The railroad companies didn't see the impact trucks would have on hauling freight anymore than the trucking companies could predict the impact of airfreight... You get the idea.

Someone, somewhere isn't going to be content not to break it!

Paul: I agree! Some people shouldn't be allowed to do anything but the simplest of tasks. But, there is a difference between continuous innovation and discontinuous innovation and we should all be aware and on top of it!

Howard: I feel you pain because it's my pain, only on the other side of the counter!

And, yes, being psychic would help. Although, I'm not sure I really want to know what's going in in some of the heads of some of the people who show up at my door. But, it really begs the question of: Could there be a better way?

And, Tiny... I'm not sure easier or faster is the answer either. But, I'm not sure that's what I was suggesting. What I was suggesting is there might be a better way and if there is, it would be great to at least aware of that wave when it crashes over us!

Thanks again for commenting!

avatar   tiny   star   3/10/2010   3:59 PM

everything's been done before. It's a universal truth.

actually, there shouldn't be an easier, shorter way to do anything when it comes to servicing automobiles. even the simplest of cars operate on complicated machinery and should be treated as such. when one looks at engine timing and electronic spark distribution and all elements therein, and to have them so precise as to cause the engine to continue to run to power such a thing as an automobile, and to have the brakes applied just right and to have it stop where you need it to, every time, and to have the air conditioner blow cool, refreshing air so her make up doesn't run, and have it all function simultaneously, is to be perfectly engineered.

why on earth would one want to run through a repair in twenty minutes or so? could one guarantee that such a repair would be quality? i doubt it.

avatar   howardg    star   3/10/2010   3:56 PM

Mitch things are "good" in the industry as it stands now. I have been doing this for 12 years now at 3 different places. No store can stock everything and that almost what its going to take. For instance' this morning a client called me for a light switch on a 1989 Cheverolet Cavalier. The computer does not list the one that the car needs. The vehicle in question has auto trans, tilt wheel, with floor shift. the two choices that were offered by the computer were without tilt or automatic trans without tilt. The paper book was no better. I had the two instock that were wrong along with no cataloging. Fter finding the correct switch under a similar Pontiac model it was still not stopcked locally or available same day. Sometimes you find yourself in between several rocks and several hard places. Im all in for change to make life easier and grow sales. So what is the answer? Becoming psychic would help a great deal. How do we predict what to keep in stock?

avatar   DUH.   star   3/10/2010   3:37 PM

Mee kneeather!

avatar   Captain america   star   3/10/2010   3:28 PM

Sure.... there is always room for improvement with new ways and better ways to do things, but this does not take away from our American way of wanting things Now! So money needs to be spent on educating the moron populus. Are profession that we work in has allowed people to be too dumb for way too long. I feel there should be a law that allows citizens, to take away peoples keys when they really get stupid about there cars and overall craziness. Dumb people should not be allowed to drive.

avatar   Paul   star   3/10/2010   1:12 PM

I think most people are comfortable with the idea of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" to really work on a earth-shattering new way of doing things.

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