You have a long, distinguished career in the automotive aftermarket. What have been some of the most significant changes during your time in the industry?
There have been so many changes since I began my career. Certainly technology has had an incredible impact on our business, and the advent of the computer has offered great opportunities as well as tremendous challenges for the industry. For example, electronic cataloging and the move toward e-commerce as a strategic tool have been major changes to our business. The growth and consolidation of retail competitors and trends toward offshore product manufacturing have certainly had an impact and will continue to have a significant effect on the aftermarket. Inventory proliferation, import vehicle growth, the Internet, gas prices, the decline of the service station – the list goes on and on. One of the great things about our industry is that it is constantly changing and if we are able to be flexible and adapt quickly, we will both survive and thrive.
Federated Auto Parts has seen steady growth since you co- founded it in 1985. Do you anticipate continued growth in the coming years?
We are very fortunate to have strong members who have carefully planned their growth over the years. Many of our members have opened or acquired new stores, expanded stores and warehouses, and built or moved into new distribution centers in the past couple of years alone. It is exciting to see the continued investment that the majority of Federated members are making in their businesses to position their companies for the future and ensure that they are providing top quality parts, service and programs to their customers. Knowing the dedication, vision and strength of the Federated membership, I would expect to see continued growth going forward.
What types of processes or technologies has Federated implemented to help technicians order the right part the first time, thus lowering returns?
We have been very proactive in taking measures to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to technology, especially as it relates to internet parts ordering. Keeping return levels low benefits both our service provider customers and our membership. We maintain an internal e-catalog that gives us the ability to make changes faster and provide timely updates, both dramatically reducing the chance of error. In addition, we have integrated images into the catalog for most application-based product lines and have developed a website to provide specifications and images for non-application parts such as service lines, tools and equipment. By taking the necessary steps to improve parts ordering efficiency, we are able to help our customers save time and be more productive.
How important are name brand parts to your customers? How is Federated’s product strategy different from other program groups?
While I can’t speak for other groups, Federated sells and supports some of the best known brands in the business, and we are determined to be the brand leader in the aftermarket. Supplying premium quality branded products is one reason Federated is the preferred destination for so many shops. While we might be able to make more money selling private label products, we believe that we have to focus on what is best for our customers. Name brand suppliers provide more than just high quality parts. They also offer training, marketing support, catalogs, manpower and other value-added programs that help differentiate Federated in the marketplace. To complement our name brand parts lines, we also offer quality co-label products produced exclusively for Federated by some of our best vendor partners to ensure Federated members have a unique product offering.
What role in technician and shop manager training does Federated take?
Federated understands the need to take the lead in education and training, and we embrace that responsibility. We deliver and facilitate technical training from our product suppliers in almost every form: hands on, video, audio, Internet and so on. We provide the most-up-to-date training including counterman training, ASE Prep Training, member education, business management, Delphi Self Study and E-Tech online training programs, and we offer a discounted price on the popular Delphi “AutoIQ” program. However, we do not stop at technical training. We also offer Federated Installer Business Seminars, which are designed to help business owners and service managers run their businesses more efficiently and profitably. These programs are designed for business managers, whether new in business or an industry veteran, with an eye on managing and optimizing business opportunities.
Federated Car Care Center membership has grown significantly over the last several years. To what do you attribute this increase?
We have made it our goal to provide our customers with the resources they need to compete everyday in the marketplace. We have worked hard to make sure that repair and maintenance stay top-of-mind and ensure that shops are communicating effectively with motorists about the importance of maintaining their vehicles. That is why we are putting so much effort into our Federated Car Care Center program. We have increased our support of Federated Car Care, providing shops with programs like Roadside Assistance and their own website because we know that they have to compete for consumers’ business. We have been able to attract new Car Care Center members because they realize Federated is committed to their success.
Federated has a strong relationship with the end-user in terms of promotions. Why are these important to continue, and what, if any, feedback do you solicit to ensure the promotions are what shops want?
Federated promotions are designed to show our appreciation to customers and associates for their support and involvement. We have promotional programs aimed at rewarding technicians and shop owners, counter and outside sales people, and sometimes even our members. Most often our promotions are designed to say “thank you” or recognize outstanding performance. We get tremendous feedback from our customers and associates on the most effective programs, and the one thing we continue to hear is to “keep it simple.”
Today, what do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the aftermarket? What do you expect our industry to look like in the next several years?
There will continue to be great opportunities for companies that have vision for the future and focus on their customers. Many things change and require parts distributors to adapt their businesses, but as long as we help our customers provide the best overall value possible, we can be successful. Our industry faces many challenges including parts proliferation, access to repair information and a need to improve our image, but turning these types of challenges into opportunities has made this industry great for decades. One of the biggest challenges is using technology in an effective manner, and technology will also be our biggest opportunity. There are so many areas impacted by technology: technical data and electronic catalog information for the technician; telematics and e-commerce for business and consumers; Internet and social media; data warehousing; and everything in between. We are on the edge of many breakthroughs in many of these areas and there is little doubt that technology will be a game changer in the future. The challenge is to make it work for us in an effective and efficient manner going forward.
You are very active in the industry and are the new chair of the University of the Aftermarket Foundation. Why is this type of industry involvement important to you?
Since we started Federated, we have been committed to industry involvement and support. We feel strongly that such involvement is good for Federated and the aftermarket, and I am very proud to serve as the chairman of the University of the Aftermarket Foundation. The scholarships and ongoing education programs that the foundation provides are instrumental in developing the future leaders of the aftermarket. The Federated membership also believes we have a duty to our customers to make sure they are represented when it comes to major issues facing our industry. One of the biggest concerns facing the industry today is Right to Repair, and I believe in supporting this issue as both a citizen and as a member of the aftermarket. Our industry works well together to provide quality solutions and a variety of options that result in a tremendous value for vehicle owners. With an aging vehicle population, we continue to see record levels of safety which is a tribute to our valued suppliers and service providers. We know our parts, as well as the differences in product features and benefits they offer. Still, I believe our industry works extremely hard to deliver quality, safety and value to our customers and to communicate those messages in a positive and professional manner, every day, year in and year out. We can all be proud of the overall performance and value that the aftermarket delivers to consumers and we must work together to defend their rights. It would be impossible for me to repay this industry all it has given me, but if my involvement can move our shared goals forward, even a little bit, I feel I will have made a down payment on that debt.