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Point Of View: How Are We Doing?

We’ve talked often in this space and in the similar venue on our website for The Greensheet about statistics – what they can tell us and how they are often used to lead us to certain conclusions. Numbers don’t lie, some will say, but, as we have discussed often, the context of the numbers is vital to the conclusions reached. Without a proper context and reasonable understanding of what the numbers really tell us, statistic and studies can often be reckless tools in the hands of those who are unschooled at looking beyond the statistical analysis.

For too much of the past four decades that I have been around this industry, it has been a mixed bag at best when it came to measurables in this business. Over the last 20 years particularly, that has improved, however, with more well-prepared market research than in the past. Between the associations, the publishers and the market research firms, there is more reliable data now than ever before – data that can be used by those on the strategic side to craft a strategy justified by the market research on hand.

But, as I noted earlier — and as I often repeat — it is easy to be misled by the data, and, too often, we accept numbers as gospel, rarely looking at how we got those numbers or who made the analysis.

I’m sure my friends at the associations may not be pleased, but one of the numbers I’ve found curious over the years is the figure defined for unperformed or underperformed maintenance and repairs in the aftermarket.

Early on, AAIA defined unperformed or underperformed maintenance in the United States totaling about $60 billion for 2008. In 2009, AASA defined underperformed maintenance moving from $55 billion in 2007 to $50 billion in 2008. In late 2011, AASA announced that grew to $62 billion in 2010 compared to $54 billion the previous year.

At the time, Paul McCarthy – AASA vice president of industry analysis, planning and member services – said that tight household budgets and high unemployment caused a pent-up demand, with a considerable amount of repairs and maintenance being put off. “Going forward, the weak economic recovery and continued high unemployment levels may continue to keep the amount of maintenance motorists postpone at a high level,” he said.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I understand the need for this type of projected figure, a measure of the potential for our industry as a whole. And I understand it is an admirable goal for our industry players to try and gather every single dollar of sales and service that could be squeezed from the business. But I think that there is much to be concerned about when looking at this type of figure – and certainly care taken when making strategic decisions based on this data.

Regardless of how good we are as an industry, regardless of how well-off the American consumer may be, regardless of the true economic climate in the country, there will always be a very deep pool of underperformed maintenance, and tons of unperformed maintenance. It is simple a fact of life. So, as good as it is to know what the facts may be, we need to use that data as a simple guidepost along the way, nothing more. And, more importantly — as we should do with all data — we need to understand how the figures were derived.

Again, with all due respect, this figure tends to be a very educated guess.

The figures on underperformed maintenance and unperformed repairs should tell us clearly there is much work to be done in this industry – much potential yet to tap. But we certainly don’t want to measure ourselves based on what is left on the table. I like to look at the industry through a lens that shows me what good we are doing, how well we are performing, how much progress we are making in improving our relationships with the American vehicle owner.

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Gary A. Molinaro
Editor/Publisher

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