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The value in parts partnerships

Suppliers today now realize the importance of backing up what they deliver to you in the box.
Thursday, October 30, 2014 - 07:00
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There is a saying that price is what you pay, but value is what you get, and that is very true in the automotive parts world these days. Many manufacturers are aware that shops want more than just quality parts; they want to know that the manufacturer will back the parts with training, warranties and ownership should something go wrong. 

Around 10 or 15 years ago, we saw a very dramatic increase in the number of off-shore brake rotors and brake drums making their appearance in the U.S. market and on the shelves at many of our parts stores. Besides the fact that many of these imports were challenged by look and feel (they really looked terrible, both the unit and the packaging) even more significantly, they often didn’t fit. That shockingly low price was less impressive when the part inside the box wouldn’t or couldn’t bolt up. This rough start put a lot of us off and because of these significant issues and a general reluctance to risk our name and our customer’s good will, many of us just said no to these cheap imitations and continued to buy the more familiar, more expensive alternatives.

In fairly short order, the products began to look better and bolt up with reasonable ease, but what got many of us finally buying these much cheaper alternatives was the willingness of the warehouse distributors, and thereby the jobber stores, to stand firmly behind these products, offering sales support, buying incentives, training and even labor claims to give confidence to the shops that were so bold as to actually install one of these parts. Low price is one thing, but a manufacturer, warehouse distributor or jobber standing behind a product is something else entirely. When your reputation as a shop is on the line, standing out there by yourself is a pretty scary proposition but standing out there with an entire parts distribution chain standing with or behind you gives you the confidence to move forward. That confidence drives and assures selling success.

There is no doubt that having a quality part in the box is where it all begins, but often what will set one brand apart from another is what comes with the purchase of the part. No matter what manufacturers tell you, nobody has yet developed the perfect part, that will always do what it is supposed to do for as long as it is supposed to do it and often, it is what comes with the part and who is standing behind the part that matters the most. If I have a bulletproof part that never ever wears out or fails but whose manufacturer only offers a partial line or limited coverage and an inferior warranty, I might find myself tempted to go with an alternative, exchanging quality for sales support and better availability. Quality is not only a question of engineering; support after the sale, provided training, labor policy and availability can all come into play. Some manufacturers pack a lot more into that box than just the part and in today’s market, with today’s vehicles, that matters a lot.

If the part in the box was all that mattered, I am guessing that Amazon would probably be the largest automotive parts distributor in the country; but of course all that goes (or could go) with the part is what separates one manufacturer from another and should be a big part in determining who you buy your parts from.

Many years ago I worked for a very large remanufacturer of starters and alternators. In the market surrounding Baltimore and Washington, D.C., these guys were by far the most expensive line of starters and alternators out there. But at the same time, they offered a product of recognized quality, they offered consignments and they offered product availability far beyond what any other distributor could touch. Along with this, they provided ongoing training and support after the sale that made it a very easy decision for a great many shops to make. Branch managers were given a great deal of latitude and flexibility in handling warranty claims, and if we needed to pay labor, we paid labor. If we needed to pay towing for an out of town failure, we paid towing. Along with all of this, this company scrupulously trained their people and made sure that anyone coming into contact with customers knew the product and knew all the resources that were available in supporting the sale.  The part inside the box was without a doubt a quality part but what sold that part was everything that went out the door with it. When you bought one of these starters or alternators, you also bought the quality people and the company behind it.

Like other things in life, sales support from a parts manufacturer runs downhill, but unlike some of those other things that slam into you standing at the bottom of the parts distribution hill, quality sales support from a parts manufacturer can enhance your efforts to service your customer. The manufacturer, through the warehouse distributor and jobber, wins when you buy their parts. Your first step towards a win as a shop owner or service manager comes when you can get a quality part, at a competitive price, delivered in a reasonable amount of time, with the opportunity to service that customer again in the future. What solidifies and assures your win is the value that comes with your purchase. If that manufacturer is providing training, technical support, has great coverage, a generous warranty or labor considerations, sales support or an advertising allowance, you would seem to have a partner in your shop’s success. If that manufacturer provides you with a quality part in a pretty box but not much else, you are most likely on your own.

The normal supply chain in the automotive parts world has the manufacturer at the top and you, as an installer, at the bottom with warehouse distributors and jobbers in between. There has to be a win in it for everyone. If you are having trouble seeing or feeling the win, maybe you are dealing with the wrong manufacturer or wrong distributor or wrong jobber.

What separates quality auto parts manufacturers is not the part in the box: it’s what comes with the part that makes the biggest difference.       

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