ATI Fall Showcase: Bennett: Economic Forecast and Industry Outlook

Sept. 13, 2023
ATI Executive Coach Mike Bennett preaches a gospel of embracing technology and creating an innovative spirit to shop owners.

If you’re a surfer, you don’t want to be on the back side of a wave paddling feverishly to catch up for a shot to ride on the crest. That was the crux of the presentation ATI executive coach Mike Bennett made on the stage this morning at the ATI Fall ShowCase. 

Using a plethora an industry-based data, he challenged attendees to think innovatively about the challenges facing the automotive aftermarket and see them as opportunities to elevate their service at the shop level.

Bennett said shops need to create a holistic approach to creating a customer experience that is dialed into the customer’s needs and that trains service advisors to lead the way. “Great customer service is to meet your customers where they are and know their buying personality,” said Bennett.

He said shop owners need to consider that customers whose vehicles are in the four- to seven-year-old range—which he dubbed “the sweet spot”—will have a value-over-price mindset while those who have vehicles in the car parc’s average—12-plus years old—will buy on price first and will wonder about the vehicle’s longevity. To that point, Bennett said advisors need to be ready to assist customers with those decisions.

“Have different options for your customers—a good, better, best option scenario. Let customers feel more informed and more empowered,” Bennett said.

He said consumers want convenience and trust from the auto care industry, which provides service to 70.1% of all vehicles in the U.S. Bennett said the way to dive that home is to ensure those themes are prevalent in the marking that auto repair shops create. In doing so, it positions the local shop as knowledgeable and in touch with the consumer so that when the phone rings, they’re ready to lead with authority.

“You have to train your people to address phone conversations from a point of authority. They need to fluently address what the customer is looking for and be ready to deliver. Then you have to (know if) you have the tooling and access to information to service the vehicle. It needs to be a holistic process,” Bennett said.

Forecasting the Future

Pivoting from the present to the future, Bennett talked about a few key areas where shop owners could gain an advantage moving forward.


Bennett said the industry has a strong future despite the current narrative and the Biden Administration’s push for the 2035 zero-emissions campaign. He said that while EVs are here to stay, they pose no immediate threat to the aftermarket. He added that by the 2035 deadline, 76% of cars on the highway will still be gas-powered and by 2050, the balance between ICEs and TVs could hit homeostasis at 50%. “It's not something to be afraid of. This is an opportunity to embrace this as a technology and establish ourselves in the marketplace and be on the front side of the wave,” Bennett said.


According to data shared by Bennett, replacement tires have become a successful profit center for auto repair shops—it’s a $58.7 billion business.

Tech Loss

As the technician shortage continues to create a talent gulf in shops across the country—a projected 900,000 by 2026, according to Tech Force Foundation—retiring techs continue to create a generational gap as 9,000 baby boomers exit the industry each year and 10,000 reach retirement age every day. Bennett called on the industry to find a way to be attractive so that more women enter the automotive aftermarket and the best and brightest don’t leave to work in other industries. 


“AI is here to stay,” Bennett said. He pointed out the effect that the technology would have on the industry—4% impact in auto care as manual labor is hard to automate. He said shops that embrace AI will leave the rest behind since AI can help create a much more streamlined and personal customer experience and free advisors to do more work at relationship building. “Automation is where AI will show up to aid in human staffing. This may be marketing, follow-up, or data entry to improve and optimize processes and it's an advantage for shops. It will remove the busy work for human employees (who can then) focus on the customer experience,” he said.


Bennett concluded his talk with a screenshot from a website selling the first flying car. “What do you notice,” he asked. One person from the audience chimed in “Price.” The vehicle’s pre-order price is $300,000. “No,” said Bennett. Someone else piped in, “2025.” 


Bennett said technology is moving fast and shop owners need to rethink how they take advantage of every resource and learn to embrace technology, change and innovation. If not, they’ll find themselves on the backside of the wave and not riding it.

“If your business isn't innovating at the pace of the outside (world), you're done. Accept the innovation that's coming. What are you doing moving forward to out-innovate your competition,” he concluded. 

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