One of the most critical issues facing your trade customers is the need to keep up-to-date with the many technological advancements being packed into cars, and the implications that will have on their business.
Technological change is not new, butsome of the core areas of concern are just now coming home to roost for much of your customer base. The sheer pace is dizzying, and the pace of change alone will drive some of the coming changes, the most notably being the increased conversations about specialization.
Specialists are certainly not new in the aftermarket. As far back as I can remember, there were always those shops you brought your import to–largely German brands (yes, that’s right, I’m that old) and a few Japanese specialists.
In Scarbrough Ontario where I grew up, folks generally knew there was a Honda specialist to bring your Civic; nearby there was a European specialist. We almost always had a VW in the drive (just like I do today) so in the rare occasion that we weren’t able to do the work ourselves — remember this was back when cars had points and condensers — the latter would generally get the call.
Which is just to say that specialization isn’t an entirely new phenomenon; shops have been gravitating toward the brand they are most comfortable repairing since the dawn of the aftermarket. Most however did an incredibly good job of repairing just about anything that rolled into a service bay. They used their skills, their intuition, and they use their network of like-minded professionals to effect a quality repair.
Today, however, your trade customers are being forced to become experts and increasingly less-standardized tools and procedures, investing in dedicated brand repair information and training that is tougher to navigate and much more expensive than ever, just to maintain the competency and repair capabilities they expect of themselves.
And so we are entering a whole new era where shops are having to decide how many brands, and which brands, they can efficiently, effectively, and profitably service to a level that meets their promise to the customer.
There is no doubt that the all makes all models shop will continue, but for many small and medium size shops that just might not be a viable option.
Accordingly it is critically important for you they’re supplying aftermarket jobber, to understand where your customers see their business going in the future in this regard and to have a strategy to deal with these changes.
Have the right parts
It’s going to be more than just parts to make for a successful strategy, but certainly those are important. Ensure that you understand not just how demand for coverage might shift as customers specialize, but if their buying habits or preferred brands might affect your inventory decisions.
Have the right training
It has been well-documented that training is a key differentiator for jobbers looking to gain more loyalty from shop customers, but having the focused training is key. Understanding what specific brands or areas your training-hungry customers are looking for, and then communicating that to your training providers so that they can adjust the course materials in kind, will generate high-quality, focused training. Trainers will appreciate the opportunity to fine tune their offering for a particular audience.
Understand the repair tools and information imperative
Shops are facing an unprecedented pace of change in the systems they are seeing on vehicles today, and in their need to tool up to diagnose and service these systems. It is critical for your understanding of their business challenges that you understand what is happening here and where you may be able to facilitate the transition.
Furthermore, the key to a successful strategy moving forward as shops look for their place in a changing aftermarket is to keep the dynamic nature of the market top of mind. Ensure that what you are offering continues to be on target with what the shops your are selling to need (and of course those you are working to attract.) Things are changing; what is perfect today may not be in a year or less.
A shop’s decisions on brand and service area specialization will have a direct impact on your inventory mix. And no doubt as some of your customers move away from one segment of the aftermarket, another is likely to see that as an opportunity to move in.
Making sense of that shifting market, and ensuring that your customers navigate the change successfully, is going to be your big challenge.
You are going to need the parts, programs, expertise and training that your customers are asking for today. And if you’re not sure what those are, you had better ask them right now.
For if you don’t have them, your customers will surely find someone else who does.