Bob Cushing was named executive vice president, Professional, for Advance Auto Parts in August of 2016, following an extensive career in leadership at WORLDPAC. In this exclusive AMN Executive Interview, Cushing brings us up to speed on his plans for this newly created role and how things are progressing with the merging of Advance, Autopart International, Carquest and WORLDPAC.
This past August 2016, you were named to the newly created position of Executive Vice President, Professional for Advance Auto Parts, overseeing the company’s Professional business. Tell us about this new role, and how your extensive experience as President of WORLDPAC informs your new role at Advance.
My role is to make sure that the entire organization is focused on caring for our professional installer customers FIRST. That means understanding that we are truly in the service industry: do we offer the quality, trusted part a repair facility needs to get its job done? Can we get the shop the right part at the right time? Are we partnering with independent repair facilities and shop owners to give them the business solutions and tools they need to be competitive? Today, we are leveraging the product assortment available across the Advance Professional enterprise for the benefit of our customers, and are building out technology solutions and new programs to improve that professional customer’s journey with us. Coming from WORLDPAC, for example, we can look at some of the resources or technology that worked specifically for WORLDPAC customers in the past and now apply that to the entire enterprise to better serve Advance, Carquest and Autopart International customers, too. It’s all about building the solutions to support First Call capability.
What are the some of the opportunities, and conversely, what are some of the challenges you are seeing in this new role?
We are going to market with the most extensive product assortment available in the aftermarket. This gives the professional customer the flexibility and comfort of knowing they have access to a comprehensive selection of original equipment and aftermarket quality products each and every time they buy from Advance, Carquest, WORLDPAC or Autopart International. At the same time, we have to be constantly improving the experience for our customers, making it easy for them to do business with us. We actually trademarked the phrase “The Right Part at the Right Time” because that is what our professional customers tell us is most important to them. So we are challenging ourselves, developing new initiatives to make sure we get parts closer to our customers faster and deliver on that promise.
The professional repair industry as a whole faces a challenge: vehicle technologies are evolving rapidly and becoming more complex. If we at Advance are committed to delivering solutions that a shop needs to compete, that means we need to be preparing the aftermarket workforce to service new vehicle technologies and the technologies being developed. Today, we are offering a robust professional training program throughout North America: with Carquest Technical Institute (CTI), WORLDPAC Training Institute (WTI) and our online resources leveraged across the Advance Professional enterprise. We create customized training programs that serve the needs of the professional customer.
Your position is part of a major regrouping for Advance as a result of bringing several major acquisitions together. Tell us about the merging of Advance, Autopart International, Carquest and WORLDPAC. Where is the company now in this transition? Will all four brands remain intact?
We are focused on leveraging the resources of each brand, building out enhanced capabilities of all of the business units across the professional enterprise. All brands have a tremendous customer base and we will continue to grow each brand. Today, we are maniacally focused each day on continually improving how we care for the professional customers across our entire family of brands.
Are there any new initiatives/programs at WORLDPAC designed specifically to bring more value to independent repair shops?
What is most exciting for WORLDPAC is the ability to go to market with a more holistic product offering with select Advance and Carquest products. This includes expanding our industry-leading catalog on first-to-market applications and a broader selection of options for the professional customer.
WORLDPAC Training Institute (WTI) will continue to offer industry-leading training for independent repair facilities – especially those that do the majority of their work on imports – and recently debuted new manufacturer-specific training courses, as well as business management classes. We’re also integrating Advance and Carquest training resources into that offering and rolling out a common parts catalog across the professional business units.
What are some of the highlights to be featured at WORLDPAC’s Supplier & Training Expo in 2018?
STX 2018 will be the fifth and largest Supplier & Training Expo we have hosted to-date. The theme, Technology + Innovation – Leading through Education, is certainly something we are passionate about. Putting the robust training offerings available to the aftermarket on display is key: there will be more than 180 OE-style technical and business classes taught by master technicians and industry business consultants for those in attendance. The supplier expo consists of more than 150 international suppliers displaying products and hosting demonstrations. We’re excited to host the event again next year and our customers have certainly embraced it – we are nearly sold out one month after launching registration.
With all of these strong brands now under one umbrella, what would you say are some of Advance’s greatest strengths and advantages today in the distribution and retail segments?
The product assortment we bring to market is industry-leading. In terms of fast delivery of the broadest quality parts offering, the Advance enterprise has one of the largest fleet operations – of any business – in North America.
Our collective training resources feature a team of 80 qualified instructors that lead regional training efforts across the country and in Canada. For the customer, this means that we have master techs that provide specialty training related to any manufacturer or platform needed to help their businesses succeed. We are also building out more and more interactive and online training offerings through CTI, WTI and our MotoSKILL platform to make sure our programs resonate with today’s workforce.
What’s next for Advance? What will be your primary focus in 2017?
We are highly focused on developing and deploying the programs and solutions across the enterprise that professional repair facilities value most. A major initiative is building out an enterprise catalog available for Advance, Carquest, WORLDPAC and Autopart International customers. We’re working to ensure professional customers have the richest content to enable them to make the best product selection for each repair. At the same time, we’re focused on our delivery capabilities to improve the order cycle time to meet the needs of our customers.
When it comes to the automotive aftermarket as a whole, or your segment of it in particular, what keeps you up at night?
The automotive industry is facing a significant technician shortage. By some estimates, as many as 50 percent of the technicians employed today will be retired in the next 10 years. At the same time, vehicle technology is becoming increasingly complex. We all – as an industry – need to commit to attracting the right talent to the automotive industry and promoting the career opportunities that are available. That’s one reason that Advance is supporting the FutureTech Success initiative, a collaborative effort through the TechForce Foundation to raise the profile of job opportunities as a professional technician among young people. Recruiting talented individuals who can work with today’s technologies, better understand diagnostic problem-solving and adapting to new technologies will be critically important to the future success of the independent repair business. Furthermore, once someone has started in our industry, we need to do a better job with retention. A key initiative our teams at CTI and WTI are addressing is helping to create a structured career path for technicians or service advisers, from entry to retirement.
Vehicle telematics is a topic we hear a lot about today and the automotive aftermarket is just beginning to take an active role. How do you see the parts retail/distribution segment fitting into a future where vehicle telematics plays a significant role in the vehicle repair and maintenance process?
Telematics is certainly a topic we are keeping a close eye on; the ability to leverage data and new technologies to help make the repair and maintenance process more efficient. We are leveraging in our delivery fleet today, so we understand how important this will be for our customers in scheduling maintenance and repair.