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Opinion

Sharing The Auto Parts Counter Professional: An Art or Necessary Evil?

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By Ron Dahlhaus
General Parts Group LLC,  New Jersey

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As I attended my children’s high school “professional life” night at our town’s high school a few years ago, I took notice and was highly interested in the college recruiters from all over, especially those who concentrated on the various professions.

Most of the bases were covered: There were representatives for accounting, dentistry, education, law, fashion, beauty, IT, engineering and the arts. What I did not see was a local tech school that offered a course in automotive aftermarket parts and counter professional training. This begs the question: where do our new counter professionals come from, or more importantly, how does someone become one? There certainly is no line of applicants or any young adult that is looking for the counter professional training school, nor do some young adults even know that the profession exists or care that we exist.

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At our group we always say that we will promote or find our counter professionals of tomorrow from within our own ranks. Promote from within. Really? However, as soon as our competitor’s best counterperson becomes available, we seek that person out like we were hunting for buried treasure, find out what they have to offer, and more times than not, we hire that person, hoping that he or she brings us more business today than we had yesterday. There goes the hopes of our young trainee, who was just starting to see things “our” way. In fact, do things “our” way and his or her frustrations usually lead to a shortened career.

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Most of the auto part stores out there have at least one or a few of those “outstanding” counter professionals. This is reason why most people shop at your store. You know the type: Mature, neatly dressed, well-spoken, outgoing, pleasant to speak with. The guy or gal who makes the female customer feel welcome. The person who makes the professional technician feel like he or she is talking with an equal. The person who understands both the customer’s point of view and surely recognizes his job and responsibility, to sell auto parts and his store. How do we find more counter professionals like the one mentioned or how do we make the others more like that one?

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Most businesses talk the talk about training and teaching, however, very few walk the walk when it comes to spending the money or more importantly, the time. The hard truth is that in today’s business climate when margins are shorter and sales are hard to come by, it is much easier to try to “find” an experienced person than take the time, money, growing pains and effort that it takes to mold one into the way that you want them to be. As we all know, the professional technician has no patience for that inexperienced or limited-experience counter professional.

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So with such a shortage, how do we grow our businesses? How do we open another location? How do we staff a new pickup location? How do we open another depot? Does today’s technology of a modern phone system or a phone room really work for the wholesale dominated business? Does this give us a mask to prolong us from solving our bigger problems, or is it a true opportunity to grow and make all aspects of our business better, as now, our best staff is handling most of our business?

The argument will be that your best counter professionals are doing what they do best — handling most of your customers’ needs. Today’s technology can allow the staff in one room (phone room) or a reduced staff in multiple locations to answer most or all of the calls from where they work — or even from home!

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Does this hybrid of auto parts selling really work? Does the investment in technology, of which the cost of is coming down year after year, really save payroll dollars? Does it allow you to work with less-qualified staff, and does it really allow your “best” to do what they do best — take care of more of your customer base?

With very few known automotive aftermarket learning centers (schools) out there, and the 99.99 percent of the population choosing colleges, tech schools, trade schools, business schools or just business rather than our industry, where and how do we staff and find tomorrow’s quality and qualified counterperson … today? How do we grow our auto part stores and not become one of those staggering “out of business” statistics?

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