In conversation with John MacDonald
John MacDonald literally grew up in this business. Satch, the nickname he has carried since childhood, has enjoyed an aftermarket career marked by commitment and service not just to the organization his family founded, but also to his local community and the industry at large.
That family business, Ideal Supply Company, today operates more than 20 NAPA Associate stores and a burgeoning electric supply distribution business from its headquarters in Listowel, Ontario. And though Ideal is now part of a larger organization, it is still very closely identified with the MacDonald family, which continues to play a role.
His long history of involvement with industry organizations includes chair of the Automotive Industries Association of Canada. For his long-standing commitment to the industry and what it stands for, the AIA recently presented him with its highest honour: the Distinguished Service Award.
Jobber Nation reached out to get Satch’s perspective on the challenges facing the aftermarket and the promise of the future for the industry.
JN: Compared to your early years in the business, what is the most striking change in the aftermarket of today?
JM: The early years were all manual, from writing up orders either on the road or on the counter, and phoning in for parts to your jobber. Today it’s all electronic, from working on the vehicle to ordering parts and inventory management at the ASP. Today we work with our clients on business solutions, strategies to maximize efficiencies, profitability and client retention. This is all done today with best-of-class programming and data sources.
JN: If you had to choose three key near-term challenges for the aftermarket in Canada, what would they be?
JM: First: Our traditional clients are challenged with finding a suitable succession plan, so their business will continue past their involvement and their legacy stays intact. It is hard for someone to purchase the corner garage and see the return that they expect after such an investment.
Second: Vehicles are changing faster than at any other time. Electric and hybrid are gaining numbers every week on our highways, and [are we sufficiently equipped] to provide the products and services to help our clients get them into their bays?
Third: Finding technicians that want a future in the aftermarket. We need to continue to drive the opportunity home at trade schools, job fairs, etc. that this is an exciting path for them to look at, with a promising future for those that want to take it on.
JN: What do jobbers need to do to be equipped to tackle the challenges?
I believe we need to work closer with our clients than we ever have in the past. We need to understand what keeps them up at night, and be part of the solution for the viability of their business and strategy to sustain and grow the business. We need to help with the look, feel and connectivity of their business to the consumer. It becomes a partnership, rather than a cog in the supply chain. It does not need to be financial, but rather idea sharing and helping with contacts to get the job done.
JN: From a personal perspective, you’ve been extraordinarily involved in a number of aftermarket entities, including your deep involvement with the AIA and your foundational work to have the aftermarket curriculum become part of what is now the Automotive Business School. Beyond this, you’ve been very involved with a number of community initiatives. What prompted you to make this commitment in your personal and professional life? What has it meant to you?
JM: My father was a great role model and mentor, who instilled in me that we all must be stewards to our communities and give back, whether it is time, financially, volunteering etc. Ideal Supply is truly honoured to be able to provide so many clients with products and services and they entrust us to help them in business every day.
Those same clients work and live in our communities, so it is fun to see each other outside of work. Ideal Supply is a member of the Chamber of Commerce in each town we are in. What a great opportunity for our team to meet others and share what they do, how they do it and what challenges them.
I have always enjoyed meeting people and learning what makes them tick. Whether it is Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers, United Way, AIA, or our hospital foundation, I have always taken far more away than I think I have been able to provide. I have been very fortunate to meet some extraordinary people over the years that have helped me reach further than I would have ever thought.
JN: What would you tell someone who might feel they don’t have the time for this kind of broader commitment?
JM: Time is one of the few things you can control, so use it to better yourself, get involved with others and try to make a difference. You will find that [in return for] the time spent, you will reap the benefits far more than you think. Every organization and community needs people to be involved; if not they dry up, or worse, go down a path where we have no right to complain or comment standing on the sidelines.
JN: You’re officially retired now. What does this mean for your aftermarket involvements?
JM: I am officially retired now, and after 35 years enjoying an amazing career with some outstanding people along the way, my aftermarket involvement has changed a lot. I am no longer travelling to electrical or automotive meetings in the States or Canada, and [doing] a lot fewer conference calls. I miss the people but did attend our trade shows to see everyone, and I continue to drop into see some of our clients when driving somewhere. The people I was honoured to serve and work with made my career the best I could have wished for.
I do not sit on any automotive councils or boards today, but have taken over as the Chairman of our hospital foundation which is very exciting for me. This picture was taken at our Hospital gala.
Getting to Know John “Satch” MacDonald
My first car was a: 1978 Volkswagen Rabbit 4 speed.
My dream car is: I don’t have a dream vehicle, as long as it holds four golf bags.
My first real job at Ideal Supply was: Working in the warehouse, cleaning shelves and cutting the tabs off boxes.
One lesson I learned then that I still use now: Everyone works together to get the job done.
My favourite part of working at Ideal Supply was: The people. Some of my closest friends are those who I worked beside each day.
When I have a tough problem I’m trying to work through, I: Look at all aspects and weigh the best case solution and the worst case. I always ask for more input than I perhaps need, but it’s always better to have all angles covered.
Aside from spending time with family, when I am not working on a business or community project, what I like to do best is: Other than friends, family and community, I like golf, learning to play the guitar again and spending time out on the water.