The positive sales trends that characterized business in the "do it for me" (DIFM) channel at the end of 2013 continued throughout the first quarter of 2014, as technicians reported that the strong traffic (car count) continued, according to Northcoast Research Holdings survey research of U.S. repair shops. The research by the Cleveland-based company is based on monthly surveys of 300 repair shops.
"Indeed, it was particularly encouraging to see that the market continued to grow last quarter in spite of the fact that Mother Nature did her best to keep consumers inside as much of the nation was beset with extremely harsh winter weather conditions," said Nick Mitchell, research analyst.
Mitchell said weather impacted traffic trends the most during January, which is a phenomenon that moderated through the quarter and into March. While technicians reported that car counts were adversely impacted by the inclement weather conditions in January and the beginning of February, average repair orders continued to move higher on a year-over-year basis.
Looking ahead, most of the technicians believe that this trend will continue in the spring as drivers are forced to deal with the havoc wrought on their vehicles by the roads this winter due to the harsh winter weather (e.g., potholes).
In addition to having a very optimistic outlook for near-term business because of the aforementioned expectation for increased pothole-related work, many technicians are feeling better about business as traffic trends sans weather have remained strong, and anecdotally, there is talk that consumers are now much more willing to perform routine maintenance work.
The only fear that seems to exist in the market place today is the possibility that gasoline prices rise sharply as we approach the summer driving season, Mitchell noted. "Fortunately for everyone involved in the automotive aftermarket, the latest forecasts from EIA have prices at the pumps remaining slightly lower on a year-over-year basis, which means that consumers’ wallets won’t take a hit filling up their vehicles and miles driven trends can continue to improve."