In this exclusive Q&A, Bill Maggs, CEO of National Pronto Association, provides an update on the program group’s first-half initiatives and looks ahead to the second half of 2018.
CM: We’re at the halfway point of 2018. Could you reflect on National Pronto’s accomplishments and highlights from the first half of the year?
BM: The first half of the year has been pretty good, and our members seem to be pretty positive about business.
As a group, National Pronto Association has grown. We’ve added a couple members already this year: FCP Euro in Connecticut, and Burlington Foreign Car Parts in Vermont.
There have been a few other people whom we’re talking with and looking at. We look for like-minded people who are really focused on their customers. The majority of our members are solely focused on the do-it-for me business, and that’s what our focus is here at the Group for a lot of the services we provide back to our membership.
One of the things that’s really been great is our partnership with Federated [the Automotive Parts Services Group]and the things that we’ve been able to achieve over the past several years and continue to build upon. In particular, the Group Training Academy is a big opportunity and advantage for our service-center customers.
We have the Pronto Smart Choice Advantage service-center program, which enables our service centers to offer a 24-month/24,000-mile parts-and-labor warranty. Within that we also have a rental-car provision and a towing provision. Automotive repairs are very expensive today. You go in and you find out your vehicle repair is going to be $1,500, and you want to be sure that the company you’re doing business with is going to stand behind that repair. The program really helps the independent service center be able to offer protection to their customers.
We’ve added a few product lines. We continue to support our vendors, and our membership continues to do more with those vendors as we move through 2018.
We held our first combined meeting of the Pronto and Federated membership here in Grapevine at the Gaylord Texan back in April, and it was an absolutely fantastic meeting. We had more than 750 people in attendance, including suppliers and WD members and personnel. We held a booth show that was the largest we’ve ever had.
National Pronto and Federated are supporting Toys for Tots together, and we had a really nice golf tournament at the end of the meeting that raised $350,000. We’ll be very involved with Toys for Tots as we move into the fall months prior to the holidays; all of our members will get engaged and take in contributions locally. Federated started the Toys for Tots campaign a number of years ago, and it’s a tremendous campaign and we’re excited to be part of it.
The Group, and Pronto individually, support the University of the Aftermarket Foundation, and we support the Automotive Aftermarket Charitable Foundation. Both of those provide a lot of value back to participants in our industry. In addition to the University of the Aftermarket contributions we’ve made, we just reissued a new pledge that will take us up over $250,000 [in contributions to]the University of the Aftermarket Foundation. We’re really excited about that. Also, we provide up to $30,000 a year – 12 $2,500 scholarships – for employees and children of active Pronto Auto Service Center customers. That’s a wonderful thing that we do as well.
So we’ll continue to support all of these things, not only this year, but in the years to come, because they’re near and dear to our hearts, and our members believe in them.
CM: What kind of challenges and opportunities are you seeing in the aftermarket distribution space this year? Any surprises?
BM: One of the things that I really am concerned about as we move forward is information and connectivity for the new vehicles that are coming out in the future, and the ability for our technicians to be able to continue to diagnose and repair those vehicles and have a chance to get that information. We certainly support the efforts of the Auto Care Association [to promote data sharing with repair shops], and I think we’ll be talking that up in 2018 and as we go forward.
Our industry is experiencing some consolidation. We have some people in our group that are consolidators, and we have had a few members that have sold. Fortunately, usually when that happens, they may sell to another one of our members, and we like that. It continues our growth. Our growth in 2017 over 2016 was nice, and we’re planning on having that again in 2018.
As far as challenges, many vendors have been updating systems and doing things to make their companies stronger. But in doing that, it causes some substantial issues in order-fill. Several years ago, I said it appeared that one of our biggest problems was the ability for our suppliers to get us the parts in a timely manner. We still see that this year. There are probably a half-dozen vendors that I’m concerned about; it’s not that they will disappear, but they’re not performing well. And we need parts. Our customer is the professional shop. They bring a car into the bay, they diagnose what it needs and they’re going to call us for the part. And if we don’t have the part, we lose that part forever, because they’re going to go buy it somewhere, even if they have to buy it at the car dealer. So when we lose that opportunity, we lose that opportunity on that vehicle forever. Cars are manufactured better today, which is great for the consumer. But how many parts will a particular vehicle have in its lifetime? If we lose one of those, then that’s a total loss of our opportunity.
I see vendors doing a good job of adding new part numbers and having the coverage, but there’s a need for good-quality data to be able to sell their products. It has been improving, though, and getting better year after year.
CM: What does National Pronto have planned for the second half of 2018?
BM: In addition to everything we’ve talked about, and everything that we do day in and day out, we’ll have a membership meeting at the end of September in San Antonio, for Pronto members, with a real focus on sales and marketing, which would include our service-center program and our vendor partners. So we’re excited about that.
We’re hoping to roll out some enhancements for our service-center program starting in January of 2019. We’ll announce those to our members at that point in time, so they can get ready and plan to take advantage of some new opportunities.
We always attend AAPEX, and we’ll have a meeting at AWDA with The Group before that starts. We’ll probably have a session at AAPEX with 1Parts, an international trading group that we started in 2014 with Auto Distribution International in Europe. We’ll have a meeting in Europe for 1Parts during Automechanika as well.
CM: Is there anything you’d like to add?
BM: I think that supporting the Auto Care Association is extremely important, especially with the challenges that we’re going to have with information in the future. Independent distribution is very special today, and we have to work really hard to make sure that it continues to exist in the future. Supporting the [Automotive Warehouse Distributors Association] is a big part of that.
The Group – the collaboration between Pronto and Federated – is going to continue to grow, and that’s very exciting. [We held] an IT summit at the end of June, and we’ll probably have a couple other meetings with them throughout the year.
Business is good right now, so that’s really important. People feel good about what they’re doing and the way the business is going.