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The front line of the automotive service industry is the finish line for most of the manufacturers and suppliers of the aftermarket industry and yet, it appears to be the most out of touch with its suppliers.

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 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 they're 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 counterfiet parts in 'look alike' packaging trying to break into our market.

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

How many quality companies have to close their doors before we realize what happened? 

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



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