Like any self-respecting independent repair shop owner, Steve Weber, owner of S & S Service, Hamburg, N.Y., despises going to a dealer to get parts. Sometimes, it’s the only way he can get what he needs for his customers’ cars, he says.
S & S Service is a shop that does things right.
They make people feel comfortable and they’re easy to do business with. S & S Service has a modern building; clean shop; attractive lobby with cable television to entertain customers while they wait for repairs; a Web site chock full of useful information about hours, credit cards accepted and a form to request an appointment. If you‘re ever put on hold, which isn’t often or for long, a voice tells callers about specials the shop is offering and reminds them about service intervals.
And like any good business owner, Weber carefully tracks numbers and trends that affect his business. One of those numbers continues to give him heartburn: The amount of parts he buys from dealers. According to his figures, in 1999, 15 percent of the parts he bought for repairs came from dealers. The rest came from traditional jobbers and WDs. By 2004, the percentage of dealer parts soared — to 31 percent. It’s held steady, more or less, since then, Weber says.
To him, it’s like making a deal with the devil, he says. “The bill from the dealers is just too high. Half the time, the aftermarket part is available. It’s cheaper. And it’s better because it’s been re-engineered. But I just don’t know about the part.” He attributes that to a breakdown somewhere in communication. Then there’s the other 50 percent of the time he must buy parts from a dealer. “Sometimes, my hands are tied and the aftermarket doesn’t make the part.”
If S & S Service needs a part, Weber says the dealer isn’t the only call, and certainly not the first. Calls go out to WDs, jobbers and sometimes manufacturers to ascertain why or whether a certain part is available. But sometimes, he has to bite the bullet.
Weber has company. Research by Babcox, the parent company of Counterman magazine, shows that the typical repair shop gets 51 percent of its parts from a jobber/WD; 16 percent from retailer; and 15 percent from a new car dealer. Expediters, manufacturer direct and online rounded out the rest of the list.
Of the top four reasons a repair shop would go to a car dealer, the perception (and sometimes reality) that the dealer is the only source for the part was closely followed by quality/fit of the part. Further, a customer requesting an OE part and price were the other reasons.
The type of parts sourced by repair shops from dealers hasn’t really changed over the last few years. Electrical, emissions, fuel system, engine parts and heating and cooling were the top five categories.
Weber believes sometimes dealer parts are requested because technicians get conditioned to believing the aftermarket doesn’t have a particular part.
“The shop owners get used to hearing they don’t have it,” Weber says. “They just go and call the dealer. We need to know that the aftermarket is making that part. It’s cheaper and it’s better.”
If the aftermarket doesn’t produce a part, for whatever reason, that’s one thing. But if the aftermarket makes the part and the message isn’t getting through, that’s another thing.