Finding the Right Source

Finding the Right Source

Import parts specialists deal with the most discriminating, parts-specific technicians in the industry, and their parts needs require a special kind of knowledge and dedication.

He stood before the pearly gates,
his face was scarred and old.
He meekly asked the man of fate,
admission to the fold.

"What have you done,"
St. Peter asked,
"to gain admission here?"

I’ve been an import specialist sir,
for many and many a year.

The pearly gates swung open wide,
St. Peter rang the bell.
"Come in," he said,
"and choose your harp."
"You’ve had your share of hell!"


There is nothing all that original about this poem. It has been adapted to fit a variety of situations in my career. The first time I heard it was in 1974. I was managing my first auto parts store in Minnesota and I was being watched closely by Dennis, the manager of another company store just twenty miles away. I used to attend weekly evening meetings there and Dennis became one of my most important mentors in this business. Dennis started one of those evening meetings with this poem and it has stuck with me ever since. There is just something about the basic simplicity of it that makes it easy to memorize.

I don’t believe that there’s anything easy about a career in the automotive aftermarket. This industry requires hard work, long hours and compensation that has lagged behind other industries for years. This is true for any domestic- and import-oriented business.

By the nature of our business, there are lots of opportunities for discouragement and frustration. And I think the probability for this is higher, as a group, for import specialists than domestic parts businesses. If every different kind of contact can become a potential exposure to the ramifications of error – import specialists win hands down.

Import specialists deal with the most discriminating, parts-specific installers in the repair industry – import specialist installers. Because they usually specialize in specific models, they are highly trained experts that can be very demanding. They expect to deal with an import parts specialist of equal caliber. Their expectation of this relationship is demanding and it requires the import specialist to stay sharp consistently. With so many more different applications available for imports, this can be very challenging and extra trying for import specialist employees.

If most of your parts come from a single warehouse every day, there is a much smaller chance that errors will take place. Import specialists deal with dozens of suppliers and vendors because no one has all of the parts they need to service their installer and retail customers. The "big box guys," like AutoZone, CSK and Pep Boys, allow their employees very little latitude in sourcing parts outside of their corporate networks. Stores that support large franchises like Auto Value, CARQUEST or NAPA, stress the importance of the "single-source" concept in which stores depend on their program group distribution centers for almost everything.

In both of these types of operations, some of the job-related stress is limited simply by the nature of how they are allowed to operate. Dealing primarily with a single source vendor is far less complicated than dealing with several dozen different vendors to satisfy the needs of your customers.

Import specialists must discover vendors across the country that can supply specific niche products for different import models. It is not uncommon for us to use a vendor in California for air-cooled Volkswagen parts, a supplier in Florida for Korean parts and a company in Oklahoma City for a specific rotating electrical part. Calls of this nature happen every hour throughout the day for an import specialist. They take time, they can slow you down and they can add a good deal of frustration and stress to your day.

Too often, a request for a single part from just one customer can create a chain-like series of calls and inquiries that could require as many as six or eight different conversations. All of these are necessary to find the part, shop it for a competitive acquisition cost and to determine a reasonable delivery time, so we can call the customer back and make the sale.

When you have four or five different countermen involved in this process throughout the day, each searching parts for several customers, the pace can be grueling. The margin for error increases with the number of customers, the number of counter professionals and the number of sources that must be utilized to find all of the different parts. A single piece of misinformation or a wrong quotation on anyone’s part, becomes a recipe for disaster. Every day requires a cool head, a good sense of organization and an equal balance of intensity and patience.

Not every day is "hell" for an import specialist, but some days it sure can feel that way!

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