Robert Sanford is responsible for ACDelco’s business strategies and overall performance. He joined GM in 1982 and has served in a variety of service, sales, aftersales and management roles with the company. Previous assignments have included: director of GM Mexico/Central America/Caribbean Aftersales; regional service manager for GM’s Northeast Region; zone manager in Memphis and San Antonio; Chevrolet distribution manager and customer assistance manager. He has received the General Motors High Achiever Award numerous times.
Q. You made a major change in your business model this year by opening up the distribution system. Why did you do this, and did you achieve your objectives?
A. Last year, I mentioned that our management team was addressing some concerns expressed to me by our installer customers. Parts availability was chief among their concerns. Our brand and products are extremely attractive to many independent installers, but the challenge was getting them. So, in less than five months after changing the distribution model, we’ve made measurable progress toward improving availability. Since last year’s AAPEX show, in fact, we’ve signed new direct accounts that add 110 new distribution points to our network nationally.
It’s our job as an aftermarket company to make it easy for our customers to buy from us, regardless of how they choose to buy. So, to better align with the dramatically shifting buying patterns across the market, we also are aggressively focusing on aftermarket e-commerce. Our sales growth through our direct account e-tailers is up 45% year over year, and really validates the strength of the ACDelco brand when our customers have a world of choices at their fingertips.
Q. How did your shop owners respond to the new distribution system, and did you lose any distributors when you opened up your distribution system?
A. We’re relieving the pinch points, but the situation didn’t happen overnight and neither will the solution. But, we’ve taken a huge step, and we’re getting positive feedback from our customers. As for our distributors, most saw our business changes as an opportunity to expand their service areas and develop new ways to speed parts to their installer customers. And, we introduced a number of incentives to make it easier for direct accounts to stock our products.
Q. As a business unit of General Motors, how do you balance supporting a network of independent aftermarket shops with a business channel of GM dealers’ service departments?
A. ACDelco is uniquely positioned to ensure that GM customers always have access to quality General Motors Original Equipment parts and highly trained technicians — regardless of where they go for service. That is a strategic advantage for us.
Q. You announced changes to your Professional Service Center program and field organization at AAPEX; can you explain them?
A. Yes. Effective Jan. 1, 2016, we’re adopting a simpler, two-level enrollment system: Professional and Premium. We’re sweetening our purchase loyalty rewards, and increasing labor reimbursements under the Consumer Assurance program. In addition, we’re providing free technical assistance and introducing an all-new shop image program.
It includes new, illuminated signage, new awning options for the entrance, and new colors to pull it all together and present a shop at its best.
We are doing all these things to bring more value to shops willing to partner with us and offer the best parts and service to their customers.
In addition, we announced we’re bringing 165 GM employees into our field organization to better serve our customers and maximize our sales and growth opportunities. That will happen in the first quarter of 2016.
Q. ACDelco is turning 100 next year — how do you plan to celebrate?
A. Yes, we’re almost 100, but I think we look pretty good for our age. We have a strong brand rooted in technology and innovation, great distribution partners and a significant product offering of more than 90,000 parts across 38 lines. Our earliest predecessor — United Motors Corporation — was formed by William C. Durant, who also founded General Motors.
He understood a couple of fundamentals of the aftermarket business that still exist today: That to maintain quality vehicles, you need a trusted source of quality parts. And you must offer training to your customers because quality parts mean nothing if they’re not properly installed.
We’ll have much more to share early next year, but we plan to talk about our future by showcasing the brand leadership we’ve built since 1916.
Q. What new products and services has ACDelco introduced this year?
A. We are always looking for ways to keep our product portfolio fresh and relevant, and as the only true provider of General Motors OE parts to the aftermarket, we’re going beyond maintenance items and adding more high-tech GM OE parts into the aftermarket.
This year at AAPEX, we introduced GM OE transfer cases for Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickups — there is a lot of volume there. We also showed our GM OE longer-life brake rotors with exclusive Duralife technology — again, we’re the only aftermarket provider of these.
On the training front, we announced a program this summer to reward technicians who make the effort to improve their knowledge and skills through training. Training keeps shops current on the latest vehicle technologies, but we know it’s hard to get it done. Again, it goes back to why ACDelco is focused on providing a complete repair solution versus just selling parts.