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Getting Hosed

Dealership parts department parts vs. aftermarket parts: Does it all come down to quality or is it simply a matter of price? In some cases, it depends.

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I’m just coming off a fairly difficult week — even more difficult than usual. It began with a service dealer seminar in Texas, followed by a one-day meeting in Michigan. I rarely travel during the week. It’s just too difficult. Being away from the shop is costly, both in dollars and peace of mind. Regardless, I made an exception and traveled almost two thousand miles to deliver a one-hour presentation to a room filled with manufacturing and distribution professionals. That was then followed by another hour as one of four panelists exploring an automotive service future that is unfolding all too quickly.

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One question that seemed to resonate throughout the entire group was what to do about the aggressive way dealership parts departments have been seducing traditional independent repair shop customers away from the traditional aftermarket: taking business the jobbers and warehouse operators seemed to feel was rightfully theirs.

I’m not sure how well my answers helped them understand the complicated process of choosing a dealership parts department over its aftermarket counterpart, but I tried. I told them it was, more often than not, a matter of availability: The dealer has it and your jobber or warehouse doesn’t. In other cases, it’s a matter of confidence.

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There are many service dealers who feel original equipment product is a better choice for high-tech electronic sensors and actuators, having experienced problems in the past with the performance of the aftermarket equivalent. The only argument that didn’t come up was pricing, although I did mention that a number of dealerships have been increasing their discounts to close the gap between the aftermarket and its alternative.

If, however, the panel discussion were today, three days after returning to the shop, I’d have a different answer for them, one more compelling, perhaps, than any of the others.
We have one “traditional” jobber store left in our community. I put “traditional” in quotes because this store is associated with one of the nation’s largest program groups, which means it isn’t traditional in the sense that it’s fully independent. However, it’s all we’ve got after you exclude the two or three of almost every other kind of retail alternative.

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We were working on a fairly large job that required the replacement of one last molded heater hose for completion. The person who orders the parts found it at a local dealership — the only problem was that it couldn’t be delivered until the following afternoon. The technician working on the vehicle was focused on completing the job on-time and ran over to the local parts house. Without looking at the invoice, he picked up the aftermarket equivalent heater hose and installed it. Soon thereafter, the original equipment part arrived from the dealership. The aftermarket part was $38.89 net. The dealership part was $8.89. That’s right: $38.89 versus $8.89 — a $30.00 price differential.

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Admittedly, there was a difference in the two hoses. The aftermarket hose was slightly longer…not $30 longer, but longer, nonetheless!

When I called to inquire about the price I was told it was correct…for “my price level.” I guess that means that if I were buying more stuff I would get a better price. Of course, there is the possibility that if I got a better price, I might buy more stuff!

What do you think will happen the next time I need a hose like the one purchased from the dealer? I could have purchased the part from them, doubled or tripled the price and still come in under what the aftermarket part cost. Faced with the same choices, what would you do?

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The next time a question like the one posed at the meeting in Michigan comes up, do me a favor and consider what it might be like to get hosed the way we did before you condemn us for making what ostensibly looks to you like the wrong choice.

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