By Mandy Aguilar
I couldn’t possibly fathom all those years ago, that I was then in the true forefront of electronic commerce. It was during the Bicentennial 1976 and my dad drove me early in the mornings in his Fiat 128 to the dealership he used to run with my uncle in Puerto Rico. My part-time job those days was to electronically transmit points and condensers orders to parts manufacturer Magneti Marelli in Milan, Italy.
I became a teenager that year, but I was curious enough to fiddle with that ultra-futuristic contraption that sat inside the air conditioned office in that Fiat dealership’s parts warehouse: a typewriter with a phone! Yes, an Olivetti Te300 Telex machine. Up to that point, I had always worked behind the counter in the parts department.
The idea of working in the heat of a parts warehouse in Puerto Rico was not quite the thrill for a kid my age. I figure I needed a way to get inside the air-conditioned office and learning to use that Olivetti Telex was my ticket to being cool. Well, at least being cooled off.
It wasn’t an easy thing for a teenager to learn, but my curiosity and my ignorance got the best of me and I was able to learn it. By far the hardest thing was that you can only go back three spaces if you typed the wrong character before the transmission paper tape was punched in error for eternity. Luckily, I got the knack for it and was often rewarded with the familiar response which became first words I kind of learned in Italian:
Trasmissione ricevuta. Transmission Received!
Yes indeed, this was e-commerce back in 1976. Thirty-six years later, all of us in the aftermarket auto parts industry are now deeply involved with ecommerce, from electronic catalogs to order-taking via the Web. From eBay to Facebook to Twitter, we all need to market our parts online. Marketing has never been more important to our industry and the tool to manage this titanic task is e-commerce.
Often times, perhaps too often, we hear that the Internet has brought a paradigm shift to this business. But here is the golden nugget for all of us in our industry: e-commerce has expanded our business. We still need our brick-and-mortars warehouses, our stores, shops, delivery trucks, counterpeople and sales experts. Our customers demand it! In our neck of the World Wide Web, e-commerce is a tool to grow our business, not a means to replace the value proposition we bring to our customers. In other words, we are B2B, true and true. By the nature of our business-to-business reality, we can all use e-commerce to grow our existing business structures by adding capacity and efficiency with very manageable costs. Now how often do we even get a chance to do that?
I’ve been involved in this change and have seen many of my peers accomplish this; the results are of a magnitude usually only seen in our industry by way of expensive expansions, mergers or acquisitions. This is the thrill you’ll get from committing your organization at every level, not just IT, by providing the best possible e-commerce experience to your customers. As with all opportunities, there are challenges. There are no maps or scripts to show how e-commerce will evolve. The e-marketplace evolves fast and so must you.
Mandy Aguilar is the regional vice president for Jacksonville, Fla.-based The Parts House.