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Corporate brands hold more value than product brands

Monday, October 7, 2019 - 06:00
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“He’s is absolutely killing it!” crowed a former Advance Auto Parts sales executive over how Billy Konaxis transformed his auto parts store into a role model of profitability. Impressed by a remarkable turnaround within two years, a corporate manager with Advance who supervises the Carquest division for independent store owners encouraged Konaxis, the owner of Carquest Billerica Auto Parts, to write a playbook. Intrigued by his successes, I dropped in for a visit.    

Billy Konaxis

Inside a concentrated marketplace dominated by a handful of disproportionately larger merchants promoting nearly identical products and services, it was hard to visualize how a single store owner could distinguish their image in a galaxy of shiny personalities. Fear not. Leaders attuned with their company’s internal characteristics and market forces can fine-tune a memorable corporate identity.

When Konaxis, a former Advance district manager himself, bought this distressed Billerica, Mass., location from Advance in 2017, commercial accounts were dissatisfied with the product coverage and upset with delivery service. Decentralized by strict inventory stocking rules and rigid return policies, he customized the category assortments to fit the area vehicle population. Adopting a take charge vision, he beefed up the fleet of delivery trucks to take on this densely congested slice of metro Boston where Interstate 3 meets routes 495 and 128.

If the Department of Public Works needed something by 630 a.m., said Konaxis, he’d deploy his employees around peak maintenance schedules. During snowstorms while other competitors were contemplating grounding their fleet, this store devised ways to keep their customers running.

E-commerce rivals also know well that speed wins loyalty. In an August 29 story, The Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon joined the cargo handling business. They fired FedEX, their primary shipping contractor. In order to control their own network and timely delivery, Amazon added more planes and trucks to feed the 400 distribution facilities. Demanding customers, including installers who buy from Carquest or Advance, will be able to receive packages within the day.

Beyond measure, friction-free online ordering at attractive prices is arguably a powerful incentive to boost spending. However, Billy rejects that reasoning. When a vehicle’s guts lay bare on the lift, Amazon is poorly designed to troubleshoot the unpredictability inside a car care facility. When fitment complications surface, these e-commerce sites are nearly impossible to call directly for a quick fix. When the clock is running, online chat sessions are impractical. In fact, the Economist magazine wrote on August 24 that the largest companies “have abysmal reputation for customer service.” They believe that the major industries need innovation. Agreed, innovation can begin with structuring a company brand that installers can relate to.

Over our lengthy conversation, Billy drew the e-commerce contrast by looking outwardly. “My accounts know that I’m here to support them.” Even though Advance’s online cataloging procurement portal supports his store, Billy believes in making it “my job to help customers turn bays.” When customer anxieties begin to overheat from repair entanglements, anyone can phone his team to cool them down with practical shop solutions.

For Billy, corporate brand matters more than branded products and services. A business with decent parts or capable people but lacks direction invites misalignment. It degrades long-term product profitability and diminishes the employee’s role that risks an organizational identity crisis.

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