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Executive Interview With Michael Palm, Vice President, Marketing And Brand Management, CRP Automotive

In this Executive Interview from Counterman’s sister publication, aftermarketNews, we hear from Michael Palm, VP of marketing and brand management for CRP Automotive, parent company to the brands Rein Automotive, ContiTech Automotive Belts, Pentosin Technical Fluids and AJUSA Engine Parts. In this interview, Palm shares with aftermarketNews an update on the Rein Automotive brand strategy in the NAFTA region, as well as his thoughts on the import market today and going forward.

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We hear from Michael Palm, VP of marketing and brand management for CRP Automotive, parent company to the brands Rein Automotive, ContiTech Automotive Belts, Pentosin Technical Fluids and AJUSA Engine Parts. In this interview, Palm shares an update on the Rein Automotive brand strategy in the NAFTA region, as well as his thoughts on the import market today and going forward.
 
While the Rein Automotive brand has been available in the NAFTA market since 2007, there are still some interesting points about the brand that may not be well known in this region. Tell us about the meaning behind the name as well as the company’s OE heritage and commitment to quality.
 
Rein Automotive is CRP’s umbrella brand for a wide range of genuine and OE-quality automotive replacement parts for European vehicles. When we were initially exploring naming conventions for this new CRP Automotive brand back in 2007, we focused on names that would reflect our commitment to quality while also aligning with our German heritage. The word “Rein” in German stands for “pure” and as such we felt it was an excellent representation of what this brand would stand for, namely, consistent and reliable quality.
 
Today, the primary driving force behind Rein Automotive is based on a company-wide commitment to meet the market’s needs with OE-quality solutions that are ready-to-use and work the first time, every time. The Rein Automotive brand includes a growing line of coolant hoses, an air conditioning program, plus an undercar program of anti-vibration and suspension parts, axle boot and wheel bearing kits. In addition to this, we recently introduced the Rein First Aid program, a special part of this brand that focuses on components that have a high replacement rate.
 
It is very important to us that the reputation of Rein Automotive be built on the same level of trust and confidence that CRP has been able to build with our successful ContiTech and Pentosin brands. That’s why, many of our supplier partners, who make up the wide product offering of the Rein Automotive brand are OE suppliers.
 
When we look at CRP’s heritage, we have always had an orientation toward quality. From our humble beginnings in 1954 as Continental’s partner for tire sales to VW of America, we have established long-standing relationships with a wide set of OE and aftermarket customers. Many of these relationships go back many years and are with some of the founding companies of the import distribution market.
 
A few years ago, we asked our customers to define what makes CRP unique. Their reply was quality, service and trust. They told us that CRP is known for providing the highest-quality parts for its partners. They also said we are big enough to help and yet small enough to care. And lastly, our customers told us they know CRP and they know our people. We are reliable, consistent and always there to stand behind our products and services.
 
At the end of the day, this is how you build trust, one customer interaction at a time
 
What is CRP doing to enhance awareness of the Rein Automotive brand?
 
We recognize that brand awareness of Rein Automotive is limited to the product categories we have coverage for, and although we have sold hundreds of thousands of Rein Automotive branded products, we realize there is narrowly focused market awareness within the European import repair specialist channel.
 
Gaining the professional repair technician’s trust and preference is our No. 1 priority, and that needs to be achieved through the actual use of the product. Thus, we need to increase the technician’s interest in the brand so they request it from their distributor. To create this “pull” demand, we need to clearly communicate the consistent and reliable quality value proposition the Rein Automotive brand stands for and delivers to the professional repair technician.
 
To help increase the overall awareness of the Rein Automotive brand during 2014, CRP will be launching a multi-faceted, integrated marketing and sales campaign. From visits by our field service representatives to repair technicians to social media to customer promotions to advertising, we will be employing marketing activities that support both the “push” and “pull” sides of the market. It is very important that this integrated campaign touch our many different audiences using their favorite communication channels.
 
We also intend to have some fun with the marketing campaign by injecting some humor into the messaging. Our headline, “Don’t be a Guinea Pig,” plays off of the perils of using untested and/or unknown brands in the marketplace.
 
We are challenging the repair tech to not be a guinea pig and instead go with the Rein Automotive brand, which delivers an OE-quality solution that is ready-to-use and works right the first time.
 
As part of this campaign, we are finalizing our “Get a Rein Stein” promotion for repair technicians. This fun promotion will give technicians the opportunity to redeem Rein UPCs for a variety of Rein-branded merchandise including a Rein Stein. The Rein Stein piece ties into our German heritage. Although the Rein Stein does not come with beer, it can be used for it!
 
Rein recently released a new Master Catalog and has a growing number of SKUs available. Tell us about some of the more significant new product introductions and also about the unique "Rein First Aid" program introduced in 2013.
 
Yes, the new Rein Automotive Master Catalog was released to the market and features 763 pages of original equipment quality replacement components primarily for European vehicles. This new catalog includes A/C components, anti-vibration parts, coolant hoses, CV boot kits, suspension components, wheel bearings and kits and more. It also has a fully illustrated product section and an OE cross-reference (Rein to OE and OE to Rein) for each of the product lines.
 
The overall growth of the Rein Automotive product offering is a key focus of CRP Automotive. We are not only closing up holes in existing product categories and adding new vehicle coverage, but also planning to expand the brand into new product categories. In addition to providing parts, we are taking it a step further by providing solutions for the professional repair technician.
 
Take one of our significant successes in the past year as an example, a BMW coolant hose program with the temperature sensor and O-ring pre-mounted on a quick connect hose. We learned that many new hose installations were leaking after the install because the repair tech was reusing the original O-ring and/or temp sensor. Our product management team challenged the status quo and suggested that we pre-mount the temp sensor with a new O-ring in the new hose. Since the idea was generated from market feedback, we tested the concept with a few of our advisory council members and it passed with flying colors. From a product management point-of-view, it is very exciting to be able to take products from different categories, which historically were being sold individually, and combine them into a single part solution.
 
We continue to be delighted by the market’s reaction to our Rein First Aid program, both at the repair technician level and with the distributor. As I mentioned earlier, this special parts program focuses on components that have a high incident of replacement or failure rate on certain vehicles. Since Rein First Aid products are designed to be solutions, we include any additional parts that may be required for a proper installation.
 
Today, our Rein First Aid Program features shaped breather hoses, axle boot kits, fuel, oil and coolant caps, dipsticks and dipstick funnels, power steering and oil cooler hoses, switches, sensors and relays and power steering fans and boot kits. Our product management team is currently working on the next wave of parts to move into the First Aid program, including an even more robust offering of power steering and oil cooler hoses.
 
Rein is just one of four brands included in CRP Automotive’s four brand portfolio. Tell us briefly about the other three and the overall brand strategy as a whole.
 
CRP Automotive is the North American sales and marketing partner for several European automotive original equipment suppliers, including Continental ContiTech, Deutsche Pentosin Werke GmbH and Ajusa. These relationships combined with Rein Automotive make up our four-brand strategy, a strategy that leverages our insights and experience in the import market with the highest OE-quality replacement parts.
 
We have been a longtime partner (since 1954) with ContiTech and have worked together to successfully build the ContiTech belt brand in the NAFTA replacement parts market. For years, the ContiTech name has been directly associated with CRP and application coverage for European imports. Today, ContiTech has OE application approvals for many non-European makes. With ContiTech’s added OE success and CRP’s active product development, we offer the most complete timing belt kit program available on the market including our industry leading Pro Series Plus timing kit with water pump.
 
CRP has been Pentosin’s NAFTA market partner since 1983, handling all sales and service activities in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Deutsche Pentosin Werke GmbH (Pentosin) is well known as a leading innovator and manufacturer of high-tech automotive fluids. Approved and recommended for use as both initial fill (OEM) and service refill (OES) by over 25 international automotive manufacturers, Pentosin offers a program of antifreeze, brake, central hydraulic/power steering, motor oil and transmission fluids.
 
Our newest partnership is with AJUSA, a leading global manufacturer of automotive gaskets, head bolt sets, seals and hydraulic lifters offering more than 100,000 different part numbers. As AJUSA’s North American strategic partner, CRP offers a program of more than 3,500 parts and industry-leading coverage for European and Asian vehicle applications that ensures any customer with the opportunity to be “first call” for import engine parts.
 
Over the past 10 years, the import car segment has become an increasingly influential part of the industry. As a supplier of replacement products for European vehicles, what is your take on the import segment, and your company’s role in it, going forward?
 
Import car market growth has generated a great deal of interest in the products that CRP offers. Some of them are very hi-tech components that were low-tech offerings not too long ago. Excellent examples of this are the Rein Automotive hydraulic engine mount and coolant hose with quick connect programs. The design and performance of these parts has changed dramatically over the years and the demand for original equipment replacement parts has increased. CRP is filling a void in the market by developing OE quality vehicle specific parts that get the job done.
 
There is also a new mindset in the market that is creating a higher demand for the quality of replacement parts. Vehicle owners are keeping their vehicles beyond 10 years and driving well into the 100,000-plus mile range. These owners are choosing to replace parts such as engine mounts, suspension components, fluids, belts and hoses with high-quality parts rather than cheaper, lower-quality alternatives. So, if a parts program is to be successful, it will have to be competitive in keeping vehicles on the road longer.
 
This is where the Rein Automotive brand is positioned to best serve the market. The brand stands for quality and repair, and technicians will know from the first time they touch the brand what comes inside the box. And the same can be said for the other three brands of the CRP Automotive family, ContiTech, Pentosin and AJUSA.

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