What does the new year hold? We’re starting 2018 by getting the lowdown on the automotive aftermarket for the year ahead through the eyes and ears of aftermarket leaders.
Here’s our Q&A with David Prater, president, and Steve Tucker, VP of marketing, for the Automotive Distribution Network.
CM: What’s in the works for the Network in 2018?
DP: We plan to focus on the inventory management piece and provide some resources to the membership. We’re still in our planning stages on that. IT is the department that we’ve invested in the most over the past three years. It was a one-man department, only one part, and now it is our largest department. Everything used to start with product. You started with your deal, you cut your deal and then you market it — what you were buying. You processed rebates and information off of that. Now it starts with the data.
Everything runs through technology starts, and so we’re collecting the data, and then the product team analyzes that data, interprets it, provides that information back out to the membership with recommended stocking. The next step in that is to add the actual inventory modeling service internally here to help those members that don’t have somebody on staff. You have to be a little tech-savvy to use the tool. Sometimes it’s easier to put an expert in a chair here. It’s more cost-efficient for everyone.
We’re launching our own system, Stratus. We’re moving heavy into training, which is a joint project between the product and the marketing teams, which will be a very heavy online tool. That is a big, big piece for us. Continuing to focus on our expansion into Mexico. Then we’re tying in our relationship with the Nexus group, which is our international buying group. We’re tying that in with our Network products DC, which is our central warehouse. We will begin to SKU specific import product lines to make those available to our membership. It’s going to be a busy year in 2018.
ST: We have a lot going on. From a marketing/sales perspective for 2018, I think the first thing you’re going to see is we have renewed for the eighth year our sponsorship of Clay Millican and our involvement with NHRA, the drag racing series. The important thing there is not so much that they won. It’s that it provides us a valuable tool to market our products and services to our customers. We run hospitality events at 22 of the races. We bring around 4,000 customers to the race as a reward for their business, so it certainly gives us some credence with those folks. Our convention is up in Orlando in March. We’ll have approximately 1,200 to 1,400 people attending that.
We’ll have a huge amount of seminars. We have 10 different speakers across 60 different sessions going on, so that’s a huge focus in addition to the booth show. Then of course there’s always time for fun, and team building can go on there as well, so that’s a prime event for us. We’ve upgraded our car center programs. One of the things we kept hearing is that they wanted a two-level program out there, one for an entry-level program or something maybe for our smaller customers, and then an enhanced program with additional training, promotional opportunities, increased warranty coverages for the larger customers, and so we have included that for 2018.
Our WebShop initiatives continue to grow. WebShop is our electric catalog and ordering tool that a large number of our customers use to access our members’ inventories to place orders, stock check, look at prices. We currently have about 4,000 customers using that tool, so it continues to be an ever-growing part of our business, and we’re excited about the marketing opportunities that brings us as well. As we mentioned earlier, we’re making a huge move forward on our business services. Again, it’s just not about buying better and selling better. It’s about all the steps that take place in the middle.
Editor’s note: This Q&A is part of the “Crystal Ball 2018” aftermarket forecast that appears in the January 2018 issue of Counterman.