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Point of View: How’s Business?

If there is one thing universal in business – any industry at any level – everyone’s favorite question and topic for conversation is “How’s Business?” Whatever the industry event, wherever people are gathered for the purpose of business, the question is always asked and usually answered. There is seldom a phone conversation that doesn’t include the query, and, whether the answer is long or short, the response is measured and analyzed thoroughly.

That has always been my experience in the nearly 30 years I have been around the aftermarket, and it has certainly risen to even greater heights over the past several years. Now, nearly everyone has a “How’s Business?” report or study, whether it is a measure at the supplier level, with distribution or at the shop level. There are umbrella studies, studies by independent research firms and studies from the various associations. There are joint projects involving educational institutions and associations, and projects directed by the various trade publications – some proprietary to the publication and some done in conjunction with independent entities.

And, based on various or specific studies, there is always analysis – where the numbers came from, where they are going, what the factors were that pushed the numbers in the direction they’ve taken. There are extrapolations made regarding future trends from the reported “How’s Business?” data, and those in decision-making positions live for these reports and studies, building strategies and tactics based on the data, rationalizing decision-making or recommended actions.

Based on the anecdotal information I have heard for the last month or so, the first quarter of 2013, particularly at the service level, has been good overall. In most cases, I have heard a repeated theme of a reasonably-good start to the year that transitioned into a slowdown in February and into March, and many shops are saying that April has shown a strong build.

Inevitably, what comes now is the projections and prognostications for the remainder of the year. According to one recent study, things look promising for the rest of 2013 – at least from the viewpoint of the shops.

The Advanstar Automotive Group, one of the publishers/media providers to the aftermarket and collision repair industry, has released the results of its 2013 Aftermarket Business World “Independent Shop Study” indicating independent repair shops are generally optimistic about their business prospects throughout the coming year. The study of subscribers to Aftermarket Business World and Motor Age via email who operate independent repair facilities found that “42 percent of respondents anticipate sales and gross margins this year to hold steady, while another 45 percent expect to see an increase between 1 percent and 10 percent.”

The study also illuminated some other areas of transaction between the shops and their suppliers as well. For example, shop respondents consider quality and OEM form, fit and functions as the primary needs of their customers, and more than half — 54 percent — use three to four suppliers for their product needs. And, as usual, availability was key in that supplier-shop relationship, with parts retailers the preferred supplier for 42 percent of survey respondents, according to a press release summarizing the study results.

The complete results of the Aftermarket Business World “Specialty Product Study” were published in the magazine’s March 2013 issue and can be accessed here.

This is just one view of the massive and complex industry we are involved in, just one more answer to the often-repeated “How’s Business?” question we all think about every day. There are variations on the theme, often differing because of location and other factors. But for me, one thing seems certain now.

As it has almost always been, the independent aftermarket is ripe with opportunity, especially for those who are poised to capitalize on those opportunities with strong fundamentals and an ever-diligent approach to customer service. Though the conversation is always interesting, the fact of the matter is that business is good for those doing good with their business.

It is not always easy, but there are always opportunities for those willing to meet and exceed customer expectations – regardless of who that customer is or where you exist on the channel.

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Gary A. Molinaro
Publisher

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