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Soap opera auto parts

Thursday, March 25, 2010 - 00:00
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I understand that every business has some very unique characteristics, and possibly even more unique employees. But I must say, the aftermarket is so unique in its people, business model and distribution system that we are like a different species. Our clientele is also just as quirky as we are.

When I try to explain to my friends and family who we are, what we do, why we do it that way, and where this industry is going, most just look at me like I’m making this stuff up. It may have more to do with the amount of angst in my voice as I recount in explicit detail the drama surrounding everything that makes the aftermarket tick. We constantly ask ourselves, where have all the ‘normal’ people gone, why is selling spark plugs so darn difficult, who designed this part, and what the hell was I thinking when I opened an auto parts store? I am going to explain why this business is so challenging by answering only one of the questions posed in the above rant.

Where have all the normal people gone?

I just went to a spring open house at a local warehouse. It was a huge turnout. My wife and I usually take the opportunity to visit these shows to get a glimpse of new products, visit with old friends, share stories of our conquests and lament our common troubles. As I looked around, I noticed that almost everyone there looked the same. We wore the same style of clothing, drank too much during the cocktail hour and vied to be seen as special in our warehouses’ and vendors’ eyes.

At the end of most of these types of shows the sponsoring warehouse gives away door prizes that many of the vendors contribute. A large group was milling around in hope of winning one of the often tacky prizes that were lavishly displayed on an unimpressive table.

Mind you, free is free, but how many more Mr. Coffee coffee pots do I need? Well, let me tell you everyone else thought they must have needed one more also because they all stayed until the very end. Usually ticket numbers are called out in rapid-fire succession because most of the people have already left the show. Not this time. Everyone stayed.

That’s not normal. Some of these folks had a look of wild abandon in their eyes much the same as a gazelle might see right before the cheetah rips him to shreds. Definitely not normal when you are waiting to see who’s gonna win a Applebees’ gift card. Sure, the food is ok, but is it that good?

I began to look around the ‘staging’ area as the ticket numbers were called and the victors started to claim their prizes and noticed all of the vendors hastily tearing down their booths. Why were they in such a hurry to leave? Seemed a little ab-normal to me. Then a shift in the atmosphere occurred so sudden and with such stealth it was like I had entered an alternate universe, where everything smacked with a surreal amount of normalcy. People that had winning tickets were failing to claim their prizes. What at first seemed abnormal was actually realism. When an electronic Dixie horn was the next prize, I overheard someone say “Yikes, what the heck am I gonna do with a Dixie horn, give it to someone else,” and with that threw his ticket away, letting the prize go to someone else. I was however curious what vendor provided this little gem of a door-prize give away, and at once realized why all of the vendors were leaving so quickly. Their business cards were attached to the prizes.

A normal response to an abnormal situation. Let’s face it, if you put a bunch of people in a room, tempt them with something free, a euphoria overtakes the mob until common sense takes over, and everyone begins to complain about the quality or appropriateness of something they got for FREE. I chuckled to myself at the stark realization this had to be the most normal group of abnormal people I have seen up to this point in my life. What’s more, it made me understand why everyone, whether they be in this industry or not, is a royal mess. I must have laughed out loud because the people around me looked at me funny (see, even they thought I was not normal), and one gentleman asked me what the heck was so funny.

I explained my sudden outburst in laughter as his wife returned with a freshly claimed prize. A very nice jacket. As she opened the jacket up too see the size, she was openly taken aback, looking for the business card of the vendor that supplied the prize. Size – Medium. That’s for normal people, and that damn jacket wouldn’t fit a person in the room. My life and business is an abnormal soap opera, and that’s normal these days.

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