Truly Tapping into Vendor Resources
Keith White, a commercial sales manager with Advance Auto Parts, openly embraces challenges. The recent Army first sergeant is also energetic and personable.
Yet, it never ceases to amaze White how hesitant some of his customers are to reach out to him. White works with 114 shop operator clients for Advance, and he senses reluctance from some of them to contact him when issues arise.
“I had one call me the other day, and the first thing out of his mouth was, ‘I hate bothering you,’” White recalls. “I said, ‘You’re not bothering me; what have you got?’ And it was something very simple. … It was done 10 minutes later.”
Parts vendor representatives like White have several services they can offer shop owners—but only if owners make an effort to reach out to them to tap into those resources.
White and several others in the industry spoke with Ratchet+Wrench to note how parts vendors can best be utilized as information providers and business builders.
Communication forms the foundation of the relationship between shop operators and parts vendors. And vendors can’t offer assistance if you, as a shop owner, don’t call upon them. White, who has worked in the parts business for 25 years, says there’s simply no reason for shop operators to suffer from paralysis by analysis when weighing whether to reach out to a parts company’s commercial sales manager, or commercial account manager.
In fact, White doesn’t even mind taking the occasional call from an irritated shop operator. The way he sees it, he says, it’s an opportunity for him to help reduce a shop owner’s level of stress and take care of his customer.
One way to avoid potential issues is by consistently checking in with parts vendors. Kurt Shelton, owner of Springdale Automotive in Prospect, Ky., meets with his “parts guy” once per week, for example, and always in person.
“I think it’s important that they understand my business, as much as anything, and what the expectations and delivery times are,” says Shelton, who has operated his Louisville-area shop since 1995.
Communicate with Purpose
Al Pridemore, who, along with two of his brothers, owns Pride Auto Care in the Denver area, suggests meeting in person with parts vendors at least every 3–4 months. The owners of Pride Auto Care have a roundtable discussion during catered, roughly two-hour dinners, with at least a couple commercial account managers. That helps the Pridemores and their vendors address any issues with regard to supply, service, or parts quality, for example. Additionally, the group examines the possible implementation of new processes.
“We get together with those guys ... and communicate upstream,” Pridemore says. “We get together and communicate on a more wholesale level.”
Considering parts representatives, such as commercial account managers, might have around 150 focus customers, independent shop owners might assume it’s tough to break through and forge a legitimate, one-on-one business relationship. White insists that’s not the case.
In fact, he indicates that reaching out to a parts vendor can be a little like visiting a doctor, in the respect that describing your problems in detail can help produce a proper diagnosis.
“Based off the data we get, we’re able to come back and look and see what marketing ideas and things that we have that’ll help them grow their business,” White explains. “So, the more data they can give us … the better we can come up with solutions they need.”
Learn All Services Available
The Pridemore brothers have dealt with countless parts vendors over the course of their careers. Over the years, the Colorado shop operators have learned the importance of utilizing every service that parts vendors make available.
Unfortunately, Al Pridemore has noticed that many vendor services are little known and underutilized among shop owners.
“These programs are there to make you more profitable, and hopefully more effective—and hopefully more efficient—as a shop operator, and they’re used very sparingly,” the owner notes.
The list of underutilized services that many parts vendors offer to shops is lengthy. It includes advertising training, marketing support, free digital applications, overall Internet awareness, search engine optimization (SEO), and credit card processing.
But a few vendor services seem to be especially under-utilized throughout the industry. That list includes:
Technician Training Programs. White is a big advocate of training programs, like the CARQUEST Technical Institute. And, he believes such programs, which provide hands-on training from leading specialists, could solve much of what ails the industry these days—if more shop owners simply took advantage. In fact, he estimates that, nationwide, just 1 percent of Advance Auto Parts’ technicians take part in the training made available to them.
“We’re always hearing [shop operators] need technicians, they need someone that can do certain types of jobs that they don’t have currently,” the commercial sales manager says. “So they’re always looking for good people, instead of taking the time [to] just train the ones that they have and make them great.”
Shop Referrals. Parts vendors are often willing to provide free advertising to shops in the form of referrals. AutoZone, for example, allows customers to manage their own profile listings, personalize them with their logos, and have incentive coupon offers.
Business Development Groups. Parts vendors occasionally help facilitate the formation of groups in which member shops partner in regional markets to share in marketing initiatives and charitable endeavors, in an effort to fortify consumer trust and brand awareness.
The bottom line: It’s important to remember that the relationship between shop owner and parts vendor is a symbiotic one.
In other words, both sides of the equation need each other to be successful, as Pridemore notes.
“If we’ve got issues, I can’t sell as many parts,” he says. “And, if they’re not selling as many parts, they don’t make as much money. So, there’s a viable reason that we’re all wanting to stay on the same sheet of music—because it’s better for both of our businesses.”