Relationships are what make this industry what it is today. For decades, the parts industry was virtually unchanged in how the repair shop and the parts supplier relationship functioned. That is, until the late ‘80s when computers became an integral part of many repair shops, making parts ordering simpler with less interaction between the parts store employee and the repairer. This was a slow ramp to where we sit now, with far more parts being ordered electronically than not. This is good for parts store margin, but not conducive to relationships.
I would not be reaching very far to say that the relationship I have with parts suppliers has far more to do with the “friendliness” and quality of their computer interface than their employees, most of the time. If the human factor is no longer a factor, it changes the equation and puts the traditional supplier/repair shop relationship in uncharted waters with some pretty powerful sirens trying to lure the repairer away.
I get requests for consultations on how I feel about certain online mega providers who also happen to sell auto parts. Their questions about my buying habits and my answers often leave me asking the question, “Why do I do it that way?”
The answer for now is that I have a long-term partnership with my key suppliers. They have my back. They support the things that are important to me as a repair shop owner. I made that statement because I feel that relationship is experiencing some erosion in all of those areas.
Buying Power Challenge
I see that today’s parts pricing, due to internet and competitive pressure in the DIY market, now pretty much gives a guy who buys $100 in parts a year the same buying power that I have. The DIY market is shrinking and I hear that DIFM is critical to the future success of any parts supplier. If the trend is following that path, and not likely to stop as vehicles become more complex, why not declare the winner and redesign the entire vertical so that repairers can make the margin that all the management gurus say we need to make, without setting us up to look like we are gouging people because they can buy parts at your store for the same price that we do?
I want to keep my relationship with you, but three words: rock, hard place. Make a little more money off of the DIY folks who run the wheels off of your front counter. That’s who should be paying more for the service you are providing.
I see that the entire industry is freaking out over Amazon, but if you don’t want me to use my Amazon Prime account to buy auto parts that will show up the next day or at least exactly when they say they will, please answer with a solution that does not have me paying $20 to ship a mission-critical part that costs $8 and takes seven to 10 days to arrive.
Customers expect same-day service. It really stinks when they call back after I tell them seven to 10 days and they say, “Amazon has it for 30% less than you quoted me. Why don’t you get it from there?”
This is not an easy problem to solve. I have heard some of the very best in the industry try to address it. Like so many other things we have been talking about, it is time to do something — now.
Engage the guy who “throws the box away.” Their reality has changed. Their customer has changed. But, our relationships do not have to change; rather just the way we do things together.