The Bottom Line:It's foolish to dismiss the DIY market

Jan. 1, 2020
In most markets, selling retail parts is not only viable but necessary.
When I was in high school, I was like everyone else my age –– I wanted to buy a car. Instead, I bought a Corvair. (No matter what you think about Ralph Nader, take my word that he was right about the Corvair –– it was “unsafe at any speed.”)

On the plus side, perhaps, was that this car gave me the “opportunity” to become a do-it-yourselfer. Unfortunately, the auto parts stores in our area didn’t quite see it that way. I remember the first time I needed a headlight, which just happened to be the same day I took possession of the aftermarket demon. I went to the nearest parts store and, to make a long story short, they reluctantly sold me one after making me feel like an idiot. Imagine having the nerve to waste their time asking for a headlight. You see, they catered to the “professional” customer. It didn’t matter that they scored a bigger margin selling it to me.

Well, I may have been young and naive, but I wasn’t going to subject myself to that experience more than four or five more times. Mercifully, I took the hint and started buying my parts at Kmart. Of course, I had to deal with some quality problems, but at least I wasn’t humiliated.

Later when I started working in this industry, I found out that maybe I wasn’t such an idiot after all. The traditional parts sellers had been aloof to millions just like me.

Then someone, somewhere out in the vast wholesale wasteland got the idea that maybe selling to DIYers wasn’t such a bad idea. The jobber/retailer concept was born and you’d thought that the traditional players had discovered the meaning of life.

While jobbers were easing into this business on largely a hit-and-miss basis, a number of retailers came on the scene. Using a full array of proven marketing and merchandising techniques, the retailers made mince meat of competing jobbers. In an attempt to keep pace with the retailers, jobbers joined program groups that also were retail astute. Those who have embraced the menu of

programs and services offered by the groups have become viable competitors with the retailers.

But the effort of jobbers to sell to DIYers is apparently waning. Witness Lang Marketing’s latest study on jobbers’ DIY share: DIY business at the jobber level declined at a 1-percent annual rate between 1991 and 2001, while total DIY sales increased slightly at a 0.7-percent average annual pace in current dollars at user price. In contrast, Lang says, DIY sales by retail auto parts stores climbed at a 5.1-percent average annual rate for the same period. 

In most markets, selling retail auto parts is not only viable but necessary. Granted, cars are more difficult to repair today. But for the growing number of people who can’t afford to have their cars fixed by someone else, your store better be open for business. And act like you’re glad to see them when they patronize you. It would mean a lot to me.

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