by Lee Kadrich
The aftermarket parts and service industry needs qualified personnel to drive sales and provide top-notch customer service. Recognizing this need, the Auto International Association (AIA), a segment of the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA), created its certification program in 1989.
Recently updated, the program is designed to help create “real experts” in the import parts business through a process that teaches and tests a range of technical skills and knowledge needed by today’s counterperson. Improved training gives sales personnel and service writers the certificate of credibility that they need in order to drive sales, provide exceptional customer service and demonstrate their knowledge of import parts.
“Success for my company starts with quality sales people. As an import specialist warehouse distributor for more than 30 years in the industry, we have always put a premium on training,” said Mike Brown, former AIA chairman, and president Olympus Imported Auto Parts. “Since the late 1980s, the primary component in our counterman development has been the AIA Certification Tests.”
Two new and improved import nameplate certification tests — the Import Parts Specialist and Master’s Level Import Parts Specialist — were produced in 2007 and were launched as online tests earlier this month at AAPEX 2008.
“These new and improved AIA Import Parts Specialist certification tests are an important yardstick against which to measure the knowledge and capabilities of an import parts counterperson,” said Mary DellaValle, editor of ImportCar, who chairs the AIA education committee. “Not only do they raise the bar in terms of the expertise required to sell parts for import applications, but they also give jobbers more credibility in dealing with technicians and making parts recommendations for import nameplates — the fastest-growing segment of the aftermarket.
“These enhanced tests would not have come to fruition without the hard work and dedication of my fellow committee members Michael Brown, Olympus Imported Auto Parts; Marty Gold, S-G Imported Car Parts; and Patricia Law, ANSA Automotive Parts Distributors, and Lee Kadrich, AIA executive director,” said DellaValle. “A special thanks also goes to members of the Babcox editorial team (Andrew Markel, editor of Brake & Front End and Ed Sunkin, editor of Underhood Service), for helping create industry-leading certification tests that recognize the knowledge, skills and dedication of today’s import parts professionals.”
The testing is provided in two phases. Applicants must pass the AIA Import Parts Specialist test to be eligible to take the AIA Master’s level test. The completion of these tests fulfills a testing prerequisite for the University of the Aftermarket Automotive Aftermarket Professional (AAP) designation.
Organized by vehicle systems, each test section includes reference resources for test takers. Both tests are given in an “open book” format.
“Each ‘open book’ test is a comprehensive process that requires a candidate to locate information, specific to import nameplate vehicles through a variety of sources,” said Brown. “The old saying ‘it’s not what you know but what you can find’ is the essence of the Import Specialist Tests. From looking up parts to understanding automotive systems, from inventory control to customer service, the AIA Import Specialist tests are the most direct path to understanding the selling of import car and truck parts.”
A score of 80 percent or better is required to pass each test. Those who pass the tests receive a signed certificate, letter and patch recognizing their accomplishments.
“The certificate gives the parts person a validation to show what they’ve had to learn,” said Martin Gold, S-G Imported Car Parts, Inc., former AIA board chairman and “father” of the program. “This leads to a comfort level with the customer who is walking into the store. It is important to have that professional recognition with your people on the front line.”
Jeff Olefson, president of Original Engine Management (OEM) and Forecast Products Corp., who has sponsored the test within his organization for many years, agrees.
“Now, more than ever, it’s important that our distributors have all of their countermen certified,” he said. “Not only will they sell more import parts, but they will have fewer returns and it will help restore confidence in aftermarket sources because of their deeper understanding of import vehicle systems.”
Currently, more than 3,000 aftermarket professionals have earned the Import Parts Specialist certificate, and about 750 professionals have earned the Master’s level certificate.
“This certification is an untapped resource for most of the market,” said Olefson. “Not only does it give countermen more confidence to sell import parts, but it gives them tremendous credibility with their customers.”
All Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) members are eligible for discounts when ordering tests. Only AIA members receive exclusive additional discounts when ordering the tests, and also qualify for discounts on volume purchases.
Lee Kadrich, AAP, is vice president, Government Affairs & Trade for the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA), and the Executive Director of the Auto International Association (AIA) segment of AAIA. He can be reached at 301-654-6664 or e-mail [email protected].