It has almost become a cliché, but no top-shelf, executive-level aftermarket conference is complete these days without at least one shop owner or technician panel -- the industry’s attempt to always keep the top of the channel in touch with the reality at the end of the channel.
That is not to take a cynical approach to such presentations or the planning by those putting together these programs. To the contrary, most of the panels I have seen have been well done, usually utilizing a good representative from the shop level, a well-versed example of the automotive entrepreneurial class.
Too often, I am a bit surprised to hear some of the executive attendees expressing surprise that someone at the shop level was so articulate, so insightful, so learned. I guess the “grease monkey” expectations are hard to kill off, even from those in our industry who should know better. Luckily, those attitudes are few and far between.
At last week’s Global Automotive Aftermarket Symposium (GAAS) held in the Chicago area, there were a couple of panels on the agenda that included shop owners, one of which stood out to me in a fundamental way, with one shop owner taking an approach in his business that is a bit unusual these days, and a throwback to the way many shops used to operate in the past.
The subject covered by that panel on the first day of a two-day event was “What’s Driving the Supply Chain?,” a panel moderated by Babcox vice president Jeff Stankard, that explored the ever-present aftermarket challenge of delivering the right part at the right time to the right place -- all against the backdrop of immense parts proliferation, technological complexities and a vehicle parc that overwhelms the mind. The panel members -- including a couple of program group leaders, a parts store operator and a shop owner -- examined what each level of the supply chain can do to help make their customers along the channel stronger and more effective businesses today and down the road. It was certainly a presentation that captured the attention of the approximately 300 industry leaders in attendance, folks who are guiding the industry these days and in the years to come.
The shop owner member of this panel was Pat Weber, the owner and CEO of Glenview, Ill.-based Weber Automotive Service, and acting vice president to Chicagoland’s Bumper-to-Bumper Association. Weber, who is currently an ASE master certified technician and L1 advanced engine performance specialist and is presently working toward his accredited automotive manager designation, has the business in his blood, working at a small gas station at the age of 13, receiving training through work at the Glenview Naval Air Station and while working as a mechanic through high school. He was wise enough to mix mechanical training with an associate’s degree in business and a four-year degree in automotive at Oakton Community College.
But there was something that Weber said that piqued everyone’s interest, including panel members. Weber said he has often been challenged by his peers and colleagues concerning this one point as well. According to Weber, he carries a reasonably significant inventory of parts in his shop, and he does it because it keeps repairs moving, keeping techs productive, and servicing customer’s vehicles quicker and more efficiently than if he had to order every part he needs every time he works on a vehicle. And even the panel members seem to roll their eyes significantly as Weber said he was willing to make that kind of significant investment in his repair and service business since it made the process move more efficiently.
Maybe it was the old-timer in me, but I was pleased to hear a shop owner talk about the advantage of having a parts inventory on site -- something that used to be a given for any moderately busy shop, a fundamental lynchpin in effective shop operations not that many years ago. It takes a reasonably-significant investment to operate a shop like that, but I believe, as Weber said, it also gives him just one more way to meet the challenges of today’s service business, a means to deliver what the customer expects: a reliable and quick repair at a reasonable price.
I’m certainly not in a position to say all shops need to operate with this kind of strategy, but I can’t help but think that Pat Weber knows that the path to success is paved with this kind of commitment -- and it is something those further up the channel need to support in making shops like Weber’s effective in their mission to serve the automotive consumer.