Many of you do not know that my first experience in the aftermarket was at an independent jobber in Ohio. While much of my time was spent in the engine rebuilding portion of the organization, I probably did a 50/50 split between rebuilding and counter duty. I understand that does not make me an expert on your day-to-day obstacles, but clearly, I have spent plenty of time toe-to-toe with both the DIYer and the anxious technician looking for their parts.
The task of getting either one of those customers the required parts is definitely not easy. Both sets of customers have their own unique set of challenges. Accuracy, speed and value are front of mind for the technician. The DIYer, on the other hand, probably needs some technical advice along with the accuracy, speed and value stuff. Not only do you need to be a logistics guru today, but you also need to be technical on top of that.
When I started, we had a great resource it was a rack of catalogs that stretched for as far as your arms could reach. It was well organized into sections that made absolutely no sense at all. The good thing was, no matter what set of catalogs you were working with, they were all organized in the same nonsensical order. At least we had consistency going for us. The one good thing about the old catalogs is that they were usually very high and you could sort of hide behind them with your head down to make yourself appear to know what you were doing. The customer was never able to come behind the counter that was about 10 feet from the door. I never really did understand why we kept all those parts behind the counter. Was someone really going to walk out with a 75-pound battery (that had no acid in it)?
Once you got the right part number, it was off to the cards to see if you actually had the part. This system was another mystery. A cryptic series of hash marks and 1s that told you if the part was in stock or for that fact, ever been considered for stock.
Today is so much different. Information is at the counterperson’s immediate disposal. With the help of the web and all the digital capabilities, you can literally accomplish in seconds what was not even thought of back then. Images, part attributes, specifications and even price comparisons are only a mouse click away. Send it off to the printer or even spin your monitor around and you and the customer can share all this information. One more click and you can check not only your inventory but that of all of your suppliers and in some cases, even the manufacturer.
Sure, we can complain that we don’t have enough images or not the exact part attribute we are looking for, but by comparison, we have come a long way, for the better. All these advancements make your customer’s experience greatly improved. Your productivity and efficiency are better, and the whole aftermarket runs more smoothly.
There are a lot of very dedicated people in the associations and at your suppliers who work tirelessly to stay up-to-date with all the available technology and continue to bring it to all of us at a blistering pace of change. Sometimes I think we all forget how far we have come and how many great tools we have at our fingertips.