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How Supply Chain Challenges Built Stronger Relationships

COVID has been challenging for everyone, but also presents opportunities to improve business partnerships.

As we come to a close on a year-long pandemic, I have been thinking a lot about how the pandemic has affected my mobile mechanic business, as well as how it has affected my traditional brick and mortar colleagues. In short, it was not an easy year for any of us as the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns created a lot of economic anxiety and uncertainty. 

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Many shop owners were more fortunate than people in other industries thanks to our profession being labeled an essential business in most states, but that does not mean shops and technicians didn’t face their fair share of challenges in 2020 and during the start of 2021.

 One of the biggest issues my mobile mechanic shop faced in 2020 and the start of this year has been obtaining quality parts with a quick fulfillment time. COVID-19’s impact on the automotive supply chain was significant as major auto manufacturing hubs in China, Japan and South Korea reduced manufacturing output. Many members of the automotive industry agree that supply chain disruptions were an issue. A 2020 survey of automotive industry workers by accounting firm PwC stated that 23 percent of automotive workers saw supply chain disruptions as the biggest concern from COVID. Only a decrease in consumer confidence, workforce reduction and global recessions were of greater concern to auto industry workers.

 Looking back on the year, it is obvious that our industry’s concern about supply chain disruptions was warranted – for my business, Auto Repair 2 You, it was the main challenge we had to overcome. I can now safely say that while 2020 was not an easy year for me and other automotive professionals, I am able to look back and be proud of the way we were able to work through supply chain disruptions and ultimately create stronger relationships with new and old vendors.

The struggle to find quality parts

 When the pandemic first hit, most manufacturing was shut down completely. While most of the population seemed to worry about finding toilet paper and hand sanitizer, my biggest concern was finding the parts to fix my clients’ vehicles. My company specializes in both traditional auto repair as well as RV repair and the mobile and socially distanced nature of my shop meant I had a lot of demand for work without certainty I could obtain the parts I needed to complete the job.

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 Getting these parts from traditional third-party vendors was a difficult process at the start of the pandemic. Many times, we resorted to calling the manufacturers directly or buying the parts we needed online with no manufacturer warranty. Buying our parts online was not ideal, but it was often a better alternative than telling our client we couldn’t fix their vehicle in a timely manner.

 Our experience calling manufacturers directly was largely a positive one. Most often, being polite and understanding the difficult situation they are in will ensure they will do their best to get you the parts you need.

At one point, we were having trouble finding a part for a door latch to repair an RV door, and after having no luck with our usual vendors, we called the manufacturer. They actually took the part from one of their RVs on the assembly line to give it to us. This is an inspiring example of a manufacturer that went above and beyond to help us, even though this part was in short supply.

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 I applaud the manufacturers that made an effort to meet our immediate needs and I do have empathy for those who, due to the effects of the pandemic, were hurt in their inability to conduct proper quality-control tests. I recognize that this seems like a logical occurrence as many manufacturers were forced to cut production, which meant having less capital to invest in quality control.

 We had a recurring problem with some A/C system blower motors. We received a high number of calls since last summer about blower motor after blower motor not functioning properly. All of these blower motors had similar manufacturing dates.   

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 These challenges were difficult to overcome, but they did teach us valuable lessons about working with alternative vendors when necessary.

Finding new vendors and building stronger relationships with old

 A difficult year for the entire auto industry meant we were forced to build relationships with more vendors in order to increase our odds at sourcing more parts. Before the pandemic, we preferred to have a working relationship with only a few vendors, though that put us in a bind when parts were hard to come by. Many parts are still hard to get as manufacturers have not returned to post-pandemic production levels.

 We used to think having a few good vendors was enough, but we have found that the events of the past year proved that you often need additional reliable suppliers to adequately get good sources on parts.

 Our increased involvement with new vendors has made finding parts easier, while helping us develop new business relationships with good people.

 In addition, it was important for us to remind our vendors how much we appreciated them. We made sure that people on our team would stop by the warehouse and ask them about their personal lives and their business. This also meant sending over gifts for the holidays and helping them out with whatever they needed. Our vendors were so essential to us this year and every year, so I think it is a good rule of thumb to treat them like they are part of your own team. They don’t work directly for us, but we can’t do our work without them.

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 This year was a collective year of struggle for many in our industry, but the silver lining in all of this is that our struggle helped create stronger relationships. These stronger bonds helped everyone from mechanics to vendors work together to meet each other’s needs.

Matt Farnham is a mobile mechanic and owner of Auto Repair 2 You. It specializes in preventive maintenance options for passenger and recreational vehicles in the Phoenix area. for more information call 480-343-2727. Photos courtesy of Auto Repair 2 You.

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