Too bad 2009 had to come to an end. No telling when we can enjoy such a finely tuned recession again. Actually, there's hope. In 2010, credit should still be tight for both businesses and consumers this year, which in turn, will continue to make commercial customers and consumers alike jittery, unsure and unpredictable.
For those of you who were in the game, not standing on the sidelines watching the action, you know I'm not being all that facetious. You know that 2009 was filled with opportunities to gain market share and grow your businesses. Sure, you had to think a bit more, but you did think and change things rather than just react to what was happening in the market. For some real-world examples of how well some businesses did, go back and read our "Top Story."
To add to that story, I think the new Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association's (AASA) Special Report can provide clear direction to what every WD, jobber and retailer should do this year. Titled, "AASA in Aftermarket Parts Distribution," this study couldn't come at a better time; that is, if distributors will take it seriously and take action. Before I get to the action part, let's quickly review the findings that I think are pertinent.
The study centers on the relationship that suppliers have with you. In particular, it delves into the role of the factory field representatives. Just what is their value and how effective are they in helping distributors sell their products? Predictably, factory reps are an invaluable resource. Distributors expect them to perform a range of functions including problem solving, sales assistance with outside sales people, technical assistance with products and their installation, technician training and competitive information.
Essentially, the study serves as verification to do what we should already know, but strangely, it is the eye-opening from the standpoint that many in the industry don't act on the obvious, choosing rather to react. Inaction is a formula for failure.
OK, so factory reps are the go-to guys and gals of the industry. With that kind of importance, it seems that it would be wise for distributors to pressure manufacturers to provide this value-added assistance. Likewise, it seems like manufacturers are only helping themselves by providing factory reps. Indeed, is there a more potent partnership than manufacturers and distributors working together to improve inventory, market and sell products, as well as troubleshoot any problems that arise?
But a return to the 1970s is not what you can count on, so I wouldn't put all of my parts in that basket. Manufacturers, like everybody else in the distribution chain, are looking to cut costs, not add them. So rather than count on factory assistance, I would seek to control my business by adding to my own sales support. I would get as many highly trained salespeople on the streets as possible, not only to cover my normal market area, but also well beyond it, especially in areas where distributors and retailers have taken a wait-and-see attitude. Consider their behavior an open invitation to expand your business.
The study also revealed that the top four factors for distributor customers were product availability, product quality, customer service and product knowledge. Other than product quality, the top four factors are really about customer service. Judging from these findings, isn't it clear that the winners throughout the channel this year, or any other year for that matter, will be those who smother their customers with service? Yes, it will cost you plenty to provide it, but it will cost you more if you don't.
So it's your choice in 2010. You'll need to be a visionary, a predictor, a politician, a change agent, and above all, a bit of a gambler.
Sure, there's risk involved being aggressive, but the one thing you can't be is a spectator, because this business has become one that will not wait for anyone to catch up.