By Allen Markowitz
As an automotive business trainer and industry consultant to parts stores and repair centers, my mind does not always see a black and white world. While most people are enjoying the nice weather, I am usually analyzing my surroundings.
I had the opportunity in 1973 to open my first auto parts store at 22 years old. It was our family’s second, on our way to five. When was the last time you saw any young people opening new stores in your neighborhood? Today it’s chain stores, big box retailers or an established local company adding a new location. The allure for young people to enter our industry for the long haul seems to have been lost.
As I look at today’s parts stores, I get the sense that the experienced veterans of our industry are leaving us. When a customer came in with a part in hand, we knew what it was, how it worked, why it went bad and very often, just pulled it off the shelf. Our counter staff came from kids who worked on their cars and were always in our stores buying parts (when was the last time you worked on your car or even looked under the hood?) They usually started out as drivers who took an interest in looking up the parts and helping the customers. When we noticed someone had the right ability and attitude, we then started hands-on counter training, which could last from three to six months. Training usually ended when they were accepted by the customers.
As I speak to this new generation behind the counter, most are part-time or are just passing through with little knowledge about auto parts. Unfortunately, our industry is typically low-paying which makes it difficult to properly support a family. Their counter person training is usually minimal. Much of the time is devoted to an explanation of company policies.
I often wonder how we will get along without counter professionals and then it hits me: I see bridges without toll collectors (isn’t E-Z Pass a wonderful thing?); supermarkets without checkout cashiers (have you had the opportunity to try the self-checkout stations?); and banks without tellers (banks now have programs where you can take a picture of the front and back of your check with your smartphone and it is automatically deposited into your account).
So where do we stand with all of this modern technology? Most parts stores have software available free to the repair shop that allows the shop to connect via the Internet to the store’s computer point of sale system. This eliminates the need to call the parts store to order parts. Although, if you get the wrong part it is your fault no counterman to bark at. The Internet has certainly taken the need for experienced countermen out of the picture, for a good part of the business. Today, there are call centers handling the needs of a multiple of stores, consequently eliminating many counter positions.
Yes, we are evolving as an industry, but I often wonder about the many long-term friendships that were formed over years and the personal touch that seems to be on its way to being lost forever.
Allen Markowitz and Allan Gerber operate Auto Biz Solutions, which provides training, marketing, management and business consulting services to both the automotive jobber and independent repair shop.
For more information, go to: www.autobizsolutionsllc.com
or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.