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Mr. Manufacturer,

Who is your biggest customer?

Who do you depend on the most to choose your products?

If you're thinking the local jobbers or Mr.John Q. Public, give your head a shake.

It is, and always has been, the local repair businesses, mechanics and technicians who decide which brands they can trust and, ultimately, purchase nearly 80% of all parts produced for the aftermarket.

The front line of the automotive service industry is the finish line for most of the parts and tool manufacturers of the aftermarket industry and yet, it appears these same manufacturers are the most out of touch with its customers.

Okay, you tell me.

If you are a product manufacturer, how do you promote a new product to your customers on the front line?

How do you get feedback on product defects or satisfaction?

Leaving this job to the local distributors (if you're lucky to be added to their product lineup) really doesn't work that well because their community reps don't have the time to give your product the justice it deserves. It also means that if you are aligned with a particular distributor, you miss out on all the other potential customers in that market. Plus, if you do depend on the major distributors, how do you get access to outlying markets?

On the other side of the coin are your customers. No, I'm not talking about the retail customer or the jobber you move products through, I'm talking about the shop owners, technicians and installers who you depend on to ultimately sell your products to the consumer.

They are the ones who really need your support. They need training, answers to questions, warranty support and better customer service directly from you but too many feel strongly that you really don't care. Yes, we all know that having enough field reps to satisfy each market region is financially out of the question but do your customers really care about that?

No, they don't.

What the front line is really stuck with is being the only ones, in this whole industry, that are legally and morally responsible for the products sold and installed by them to the general consumer. This means that whatever happens, they are left holding the bag.

A merchandiser's position is quite different. I was told by the division manager of a major retailer "Our job is to supply products. If the product fails, it is not our fault for selling it, it is the customer's fault for buying it."

This can't be the new market reality.

Remember the term "Brand Loyalty"?

We all have seen and heard of our market being overrun by cheap offshore parts. Well, the way I see it, we've opened the doors ourselves for that to happen. Since we've lost the product training and support, we've given up on 'brand loyalty' and can no longer distinguish 'cheap' from 'quality'. What we're left with is price shopping, which has opened the doors wide open to low priced alternatives.

In the past, we were on the lookout for counterfeit parts in 'look alike' packaging trying to break into our market.

Guess what? They don't have to fake it any more.

Here are a couple of eye opening facts;

#1. If a retail customer comes into a shop and says "My car needs struts. Which ones should I buy and why?"

 - How many shops can really answer that question? Not knowing the features of each manufacturer means the shop cannot even start to match a product to the customer's needs. Availability and price are the only options left. 

Hey, we're supposed to be the 'professionals' and if we can't answer the customers' questions, who will? Are we just 'installers' and 'grease monkeys'? 

#2-  An installed part fails prematurely for the second time and the defect is reported again to the local jobber/supplier. Their solution is to replace it with a new one and (maybe) compensate the labor with the promise of passing the defect information on to the manufacturer. That's the last anyone hears of the problem.

- In reality, the repair shop decides to not install the same brand again which will, no doubt, create the same result and choose to no longer purchase that brand. In fact, all other products sold by that jobber will now come in question, especially when there is no follow up and no efforts shown by the manufacturer to solve the problem.

How many more quality manufacturers have to close their doors before we realize why they lost sales and their market share? 

We definitely need a way to bring the manufacturers and their customers together.......again!

We need you and you need us!!

I have some ideas and they don't include hiring more people, but I would really like your views and your experiences first, whether you are a manufacturer, jobber, business or tech.

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