GAAS panelists discuss customer service, parts returns and private labels

Jan. 1, 2020
CHICAGO ? In today's changing aftermarket industry, independent repair shop owners have a plethora of options to consider when sourcing parts. Whether they purchase from a local WD, prefer private labels to brands, or price shop for products online,
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CHICAGO — In today's changing aftermarket industry, independent repair shop owners have a plethora of options to consider when sourcing parts. Whether they purchase from a local WD, prefer private labels to brands, or price shop for products online, shop owners are struggling to communicate their needs to WDs just as the WDs are struggling to communicate their needs to manufacturers.

Scott Bennett, Fred Myers and Jim Bastone

Gary Molinaro, editor and publisher of The Greensheet/Automotive Week, chaired a panel at this year's Global Automotive Aftermarket Symposium (GAAS) that included Jim Bastone, owner of Bastone Auto Service; Scott Bennett, director of operations for Bennett Auto Supply; and Fred Myers, president of One Stop Undercar. During the panel, participants shared their thoughts on parts sourcing, customer service, margins and the changing face of the aftermarket industry, sharing years of experience and a collective wisdom with GAAS attendees.

Bennett, who's worked for the family business since he was 13, says the key to running a successful company is staying in contact with his customers.

“With fuel costs today, and lots of other parts manufacturers coming into the market, there's many different opportunities,” he adds. “But with all this in mind, you really have to keep your ears to the ground and listen to your customers.”

On the flip side of the coin, Bastone reports that his technicians influence many of the decisions he makes within his business.

“We did used to buy the brands, but what influences me now is what my techs see because they are the ones putting parts on the car,” says Bastone. “That's a big influence on whether or not I'll buy a product again. Products that work keep my technicians happy, and if my techs are satisfied with product the car doesn't come back because of that product.”

Myers, who brought his experience in the South African aftermarket to bear in the U.S., agrees with Bastone in terms of brands. In his experience, private label brands have increased and manufacturer second lines have increased, which is indicative of the mindset of the people ordering the parts today.

“It's not the brand name that’s important, it's the availability of a part and the technician's past experience with a product,” Myers says.

In fact, Myers sells a private label brand called Black Label, which is very popular with his customers. Unlike many of the branded lines he sells, Black Label sees a 60 percent margin, which he predicts will continue to grow in the coming years unless certain changes take place within the industry.

Of course, for WDs, returns are a big problem that can affect the bottom line. According to Bennett, it's a problem for all aspects of the aftermarket.

“Everybody in this room would love to see return rates go down,” Bennett says. “In our shop, one out of four or five pieces we sell will go back. Our lowest return rate customer is the walk-in customer, because they know exactly what they need. Still, I'm always encouraged to hear ways to reduce return rates.”

Myers, who agrees, adds: “The return situation is the blight of our industry. We don't have a lot of technicians out there. Instead, we have parts changers who use parts to diagnose the problem. Or they order parts ahead of time, before the customers actually come into the shop. Then the parts come back to us because the customer was a no-show. WDs are being abused. Manufacturers are being abused. As an industry, this is something we should be working on.”

With all of the diverse challenges independent repair shops and WDs face today, the panelists were certain of one thing: communication, and customer service, could resolve the issues and build a stronger industry going forward.

“Know your customers — not my customers or your competitors' customers,” Bennett concludes. “If you know them and take care of them, you'll keep them.”