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NCMA Tackles Technical Questions at Annual Conference

By Mark Phillips

The NCMA’s Knowledge Exchange Conference tackled topics such as migrating from AAIA Legacy to ACES data standards, to the role that print catalogs still play in distribution.
Mark Phillips
Members of the National Catalog Managers Association (NCMA) gathered in San Antonio, Texas, April 24-27, to discuss the effect that cataloging has on both counter parts professionals as well as the companies moving parts through the distribution chain.

The NCMA’s Knowledge Exchange Conference tackled topics such as migrating from AAIA Legacy to ACES data standards, to the role that print catalogs still play in distribution. Attendees heard that paper catalogs, which a healthy portion of counter professionals still utilize, aren’t going away any time soon.

Michele Bracoli from Macomb Printing sat on a three-person panel of print company reps. She said paper catalogs must engage counter professionals if they’re going to continue to be used. “A lot of people tell me the coverage is still the best with the printed catalog,” she said. But, to maintain their status, they need to “pop” more to keep counter pros interested. “There are ways to make catalogs more marketable than just information-based.”

Dick Weise of Fry Communications said print is something his company will always do, but all printers are doing more and more digital services. “Wouldn’t it be neat to have something like an iPad?” he said. “I see it coming. You could touch the screen, move things around. Look at the pictures while you’re looking up parts.”

Bill Peretto of Adair Printing believes the printed catalog’s role is becoming more of a  vehicle for marketing. “You’re showing it off,” he said. “They have 16 to 32 color pages at the front showing the company’s products.” The counter professional is seeing that eye-catching color and the photos and it might grab their attention, he said. That will make an impression and help drive sales, he added.

The conference turned its attention to Mexico Monday afternoon. Evaristo Garcia, a Mexico auto industry expert, explained how difficult it can be for aftermarket auto parts companies to thrive in that country. For example, he said car manufacturers can mandate that for a warranty to be valid, all work must be done at the dealership.

There is no law in Mexico like the United States that protects a warranty if work is completed at an independent service shop. That means, in the example he cited, some cars won’t be repaired in an independent shop for between three to five years. However, it can cost three to five times more to have repairs done at a dealer, so many Mexican consumers void the warranty and use a non-dealer repair shop.

Later, Garcia moderated a panel of Auto Value/Bumper to Bumper, National Pronto and AutoZone professionals who operate in Mexico. The importance of paper catalogs to someone like Rene Smith of AutoZone couldn’t be overstated. “If you killed paper catalogs, you’d kill a huge amount of business. Don’t do it,” he said to the laughter from throughout the audience. Smith and the others, Luis Javier Martinez Jr. of Auto Value and Miguel Angel of National Pronto, explained that parts lookup on vehicles produced in the United States is rather easy for them. If the vehicle is produced in Mexico, there’s more investigative work that must be done. Measuring and cross-referencing with paper catalogs is essential to getting the right part.

The difficulty is capturing all that knowledge gained through trial and error by the counterpros. Much of what’s learned this through process doesn’t find its way back into cataloging if a particular counter pro leaves his
position. That information leaves with him or her, they said. “As long as we have a paper catalog and can cross-reference, we’re OK,” Smith said.

A highlight Tuesday morning was an address by John Washbish, president and CEO, the Aftermarket Auto Parts Alliance. His overall message to NCMA attendees? “Help us sell more parts,” he said.

He addressed how parts proliferation is becoming a huge issue. The numbers of SKUs is staggering, he said. “By 2012, the average Alliance distributor will have 500,000 parts in the catalog, not necessarily in stock,” he said. About half of those parts will be non-application, he said.

Migration away from premium lines is affecting the bottom line, he said. “I’d rather make 30 percent on a buck than 30 percent on 80 cents.”

“We don’t like this trend,” he said. “But the current economy has made value decisions tougher for consumers.”
Differentiation, he believes, is the key to selling up. “The absence of a compelling value proposition makes price ‘the boss,’” he said. It erodes profitability for suppliers and resellers, he added. “You have to give people a reason to buy premium lines,” he said.

On Monday, attendees visited the vendor trade show, where the conference was held, inside the Hyatt Regency Riverwalk hotel.

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