"Think Big, Deliver Big: How the Aftermarket Will Drive the Economy, Jobs and Profitability" was the theme of this year’s AAIA Town Hall, sponsored by NASCAR Performance and new contributing sponsor R. L. Polk. The resounding message echoed among panel members was that the economic reset that resulted from the recent recession has prompted an industry reset that will position the aftermarket for growth, but they cautioned that we should not forget the lessons we learned the past year.
Tim Rogers, president of the Polk business unit at R. L. Polk & Co., kicked off the 13th AAIA Town Hall by outlining five vehicle trends that will create new and profitable opportunities for the aftermarket:
1. Light vehicle sales are heading up;
2. There will be steady aftermarket growth over the next four to five years (a projected more than $3 billion in parts and service increases by 2014);
3. An aging vehicle population (average age of vehicles on the road is 10 years old);
4. The fight is on for future service business (OEs will increase efforts to get a larger share of the repair pie); and
5. Technology changes are on the rise (ex. CAFE standards will increase from 35 mpg by 2016 to a projected 60 mpg by 2025).
Kathleen Schmatz, AAIA president and CEO, then moderated a discussion with panel members Kevin Freeland, COO, Advance Auto Parts; Eli Futerman, co-president and CEO, Hahn Automotive Warehouse, Inc.; Larry Magee, chairman, CEO and president, Bridgestone Retail Operations; and Jeff Brekke, Global Automotive Aftermarket president, Gates Corp. Schmatz brought to center stage a range of topics including OE competition, the aging vehicle population, green initiatives, eCommerce, training, employee retention, declining new vehicle sales and the Right to Repair Act.
"The aftermarket has quickly, significantly and robustly rebounded from the great recession," proclaimed Schmatz, as she welcomed panelists to discuss strategies that will generate long-term prosperity for their companies.
Magee commented that Bridgestone is very intent on partnering with its customers to "keep their cars running newer, longer," knowing that customers are still very cautious about spending money on vehicle repair. Brekke said he is encouraged by the changing political tides as a result of Tuesday’s election, but asked the question, "How do we manage (those impacts) as an industry?"
Futerman advised that the country needs to come together more than ever to "bridge the gap of extremes in the country."
"Whether your political affiliation is left, right or center, we need to reach a common ground to address and overcome common challenges," Futerman said.
On the topic of going "green," Freeland said that Advance has instituted several energy-saving initiatives including the recycling of oil and batteries. The company’s Internet business and content has grown such that consumers are able to research parts availability to pinpoint a store location and minimize travel time.
All panelists emphasized the need for on-going training, education and employee-retention efforts as a means to increase productivity and profitability. Futerman emphasized that the "stars are aligned" for increased market share and growth opportunities. The question is how to capitalize on the fact that consumers are holding onto their cars longer.
In closing, Schmatz said that business is good and industry executives are admitting it, the aftermarket sweet spot for repair and service opportunities is bigger than ever, and with the aftermarket continuing to think big and deliver big, it’s time to celebrate.
Accolades for Industry Volunteers
Also during Town Hall, AAIA recognized three outstanding volunteers, who were recently honored at its Fall Leadership Days Sept. 28 in Baltimore, Md. Rusty Bishop, CEO, Federated Auto Parts Distributors, received the AAIA Aftermarket Advocate Award for his efforts in promoting the programs and events of AAIA and AWDA. Jerry McCabe, principal, J&B Service, received the AAIA Visionary Award, which is given to the individual who demonstrates vision and imagination in the application of technology to the betterment of the aftermarket. John Quirk, president and CEO of VIP Parts, Tires and Service, received the AAIA Outstanding Volunteer Leader Award for his leadership role in fundraising for the Chairmen’s Reception and education sessions at AAPEX.
Also recognized was Charles Grospitch, GAAS Scholarship recipient No. 1,500. Grospitch is currently a sophomore with a 3.7 GPA at University of Northwestern Ohio (UNO) in the automotive technology program. He placed first in Ohio in Skills USA and sixth in the U.S. While attending UNO, he works weekends at Advance Auto Parts. He has passed four ASE mechanical certification tests, and aspires to own his own custom car shop some day.