Is This As Good As the Automotive Aftermarket Gets?

Is This As Good As the Automotive Aftermarket Gets?

A great deal of technology has found its way into the everyday operations of most businesses within the automotive aftermarket. But has that meant innovation?

I’m not sure if there has ever been an industry more poised or ready for great change than the automotive aftermarket as it currently exists. While a great deal of technology has found its way into the everyday operations of most businesses within the aftermarket, you would be hard pressed to call any of them innovative in terms of “ground breaking” or “game-changing” actions. The model is, if nothing else, traditional in both its construction; and, ultimately, its execution.
Business is being done largely as business has always been done for the past hundred years.

Certainly, there have been changes. Instead of looking up parts applications in a physical catalog and then writing an order by hand … Or accepting a motorist’s vehicle for service; writing and entering customer information on the work order by hand; looking up both labor and parts on paper and then finishing the process manually, you can accomplish virtually every operational step by computer and online. But, exactly what has changed?

We are doing the same kinds of things the same kinds of ways, perhaps a little faster; perhaps, more accurately; perhaps, more clearly; perhaps, accompanied by easier look-up, documentation and retrieval; perhaps, with the aid of digital image here and there, or a bar code scanner. But, exactly what has changed?

There is no argument — the computer has made all of our lives easier and faster. But many of the same tasks are still being accomplished much the same way they have always been accomplished.

The question isn’t whether or not automation is a major contributor to gains in productivity. It is.

The question is or at least should be, are things any better? Is what we are doing, or the way we are doing it the most effective, most efficient way to serve the needs of our customers? Or perhaps more to the point, is there another way, a different approach altogether?

After 34 years in the business, all these enhancements look like variations on a central theme. These variations can be beautiful, but I can’t help but think it may be time for a new “musical score,” or a new piece of music altogether.

The problem, as I see it, is one of imagination. We can’t conceive of something new and different while continuing to embrace what is old, comfortable and familiar. Most of all, it may not be reasonable to ask the industry to reinvent itself while still invested in the current paradigm.

Manufacturers make decisions and offer solutions based upon information made available through their distribution partners for the most part. Their distribution partners make decisions based upon information received primarily through the service centers aligned with their groups. Service dealers are continually trying to adjust to the perceived wants, needs and expectations of their customers. But you have to ask yourself whether or not anyone currently is trying to discern if there is a better model regardless of whom or what might be displaced in the process.
We keep asking ourselves, will this work? Is it acceptable? Is it adequate? When the question should really be — what is optimal?

Realistically, this is a rhetorical question because I believe that somewhere out there, someone is working diligently to find a better, different, more efficient and perhaps, previously unimagined answer, an answer that would shatter the current paradigm.

Before possibility becomes reality and the answer comes from someone else, somewhere else, I’d like to present a question: What is optimal? What would it take to move product and service more effectively, more intelligently, more efficiently from where you sit – wherever that may be – to where I sit – and, then on to the motorist?

Should we read the VIN with a scanner at drop-off and have that VIN number automatically decoded and available to the parts house through the warehouse and back to the manufacturer? Should we be practicing on-demand, on-time inventory control with the same scan technology? You tell me.

Are things “good” just the way they are? Is this as good as it gets? Or, could things be better? Better for you… Better for me… Better for our clients?

Mitch Schneider co-owns and operates Schneider’s Automotive Service in Simi Valley, CA. Readers can contact him at [email protected]

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