APA’s Steve Tucker: The Independent Aftermarket Is Alive and Well

APA’s Steve Tucker: Independent Aftermarket Alive and Well

"The strengths of the players in the independent space are often difficult for the big-box guys to replicate."

In the July 2023 issue of AMN/Counterman, we gave leaders from the major distribution groups and trade associations an opportunity to reflect on the most critical issues affecting the automotive aftermarket. For the second year in a row, we let distribution leaders “riff” on these topics in their own words.

Here’s what Steve Tucker, president of Automotive Parts Associates, had to say on the topic of consolidation in the aftermarket.

The consolidation of the aftermarket has been a conversation for so many years now that it almost seems unnecessary to discuss further. Far too many see the independent WD as just “hanging on” and perhaps even as a relic of bygone years. Those of us who live in this space every day know different!

There is no question that there are fewer individually owned and independent warehouse distributors out there. There are still hundreds out there, however, that not only continue to survive but are thriving. The strengths of the players in the independent space are often difficult for the big-box guys to replicate. These business owners operate very close to the street and can quickly adjust to changing market conditions, see trends and act accordingly. 

Servicing the customer and handling issues quickly continue to be the primary drivers, and our companies excel in those areas without question. Having true professionals with extensive parts knowledge working with our customers is a key differentiator for us. While we all do substantial business online with our customers, there is no substitute for personal attention especially when an issue needs timely resolution. 

Additionally, our companies continue to see value in supporting name brands. As vehicle complexity continues to mount, technician customers are looking for brands they trust to ensure the repair is done right, and so the independent aftermarket continues to support our customers with manufacturer brands whenever possible.

Another aspect of the business that has been growing at an ever-increasing rate is the availability of good data and tools to mine and use that data to tailor inventories, maximize space, control deliveries, and improve virtually every aspect of the business models. I feel strongly that this is a key area that all the program groups invested in to provide those tools to our memberships in an easy-to-use concise toolbox. Data is king, and knowing how to take that data and use it to maximize the rest of our capabilities is critical for success and growth.

We can then tie this all together with a strong and responsive industry association that all of us need to support as they look out for us at a national level not only with legislative issues, but also by providing support with environmental initiatives, economic information, and best practices support. Our Auto Care Association is one of the best ways we can all ensure our future and the future of those that follow us in the independent aftermarket. I think for most of us this isn’t just a career, it is truly a lifestyle, and we need to work with Auto Care to leave this business in a great place for the next generation. 

I look at other businesses such as pharmacies, retail, hardware, etc., and while the big-box guys have certainly impacted there as well, I still see a big number of independent businesses operating there as well and they do so based on the same “blocking and tackling” mentality we use. Service the customer! As a parting thought, and if you haven’t done so, I recommend you watch the Tom Hanks movie “A Man Called Otto.” In one of the opening scenes, he is attempting to buy a 5-foot length of rope in a hardware store and the cashier cannot sell him rope by the foot because the system only sells in yard increments. Our folks would’ve figured it out!

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