By now, our entire industry is well aware of the "Chinese presence." What astounds me is that it took so long for so many to actually grasp this reality.

Not to be an alarmist, but if you’re a manufacturer or large-scale purchaser of automotive products and you haven’t made your way to China by now, you can pretty much forget it. For manufacturers, the prime opportunities to joint-venture with Chinese manufacturers have pretty much dried up. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, it only means the best and most economical opportunities are long gone.

It’s not getting any cheaper to do business in China – it’s getting more costly by the day, and at some point the efficiency gap will be insignificant. Industry analysts are calculating when that day might arrive, and are already planning for it.

So, what does all this mean? To me, it means the same thing is true today that has always been true as long as products have been made and markets have consumed them. It means that only the best technological innovations, combined with the best marketing and selling of those innovations, will deliver lasting, sustainable success for any company. In my mind, that has always been the case, and I’m convinced it always will be so.

The race for cheap labor will end faster than most anticipate, and this will force manufacturers and markets to rely on true innovation and process technology to create the efficiencies needed to survive and grow. As we distill this down to the automotive aftermarket, what should we expect?We should expect that the parts we sell will be made all over the world, including, but certainly not limited to, the United States. We should expect terms like "fit, form, function and performance" will dictate a product’s worth, rather than terms like "Made in America," "Value Line" or "As Good As." We should expect that some of the brands we know and love will die, while others will remain and grow. We should expect new brands to emerge and become symbols of excellence and quality, while other, new, "hot" companies fold up and die as quickly as they came.

We should expect suppliers that truly innovate and bring value to the selling and marketing process, and enable their channel partners to sell more, to begin to grow and dominate market share; those that cut services and training and are unwilling or unable to assist their channel partners will lose swiftly and decisively. We should expect that well-run, independent service providers and stores will survive and thrive, while others will be sold or go out of business. We should expect huge corporations to continue to open or own more and more stores, while others will be bought or merged.

Most importantly, we should expect that individuals will still make the biggest difference and play the biggest role as our market evolves. These are the individuals who take the time to go the extra mile, identify the unidentifiable part and deliver the undeliverable service. They are the ones who truly care about their customers’ wants and needs, and go far out of their way to see that those desires are met. Those types of individuals have always made the biggest difference in the aftermarket, and they always will.

Success in this market will never be dependent upon a new manufacturing plant in China. Success will always be dependent upon an empowered and passionate corps of individuals who care enough to do their very best.

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