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Executive Interview: Robert Sanford, General Director, ACDelco

Robert Sanford is general director of the ACDelco channel of General Motors and is responsible for its 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.


Robert Sanford is general director of the ACDelco channel of General Motors and is responsible for its 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.

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Bob Sanford AC DelcoSanford’s 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.

Sanford earned his bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York.

You’ve been in this role a few months — have you had an opportunity to meet with shop owners who participate in your Professional Service ­Center program and, if so, what are they telling you?

Sanford: Among the first things I did when I arrived was visit with a number of our ­distributors and PSC ­program shop owners. While we have an extremely constructive and honest relationship with our advisory ­committees, it’s no ­substitute for face-to-face visits and talking with them about their business challenges and opportunities — and learning how we can add value.

I appreciated their generosity of time and feedback. I was pleased to learn we’re doing a lot of things right — including the quality of our parts and field and business support. But they told us there is room for improvement on other issues and we’re addressing those as a management team.


In your view, what is ­ACDelco’s biggest challenge?

Sanford: We need to accelerate our growth. The automotive aftermarket will soon be a $150-­billion-a-year business and we want to be a much bigger piece of that. I’d like to reach more independent service centers outside of our PSC network ­because there is tremendous potential there.

We have a strong brand ­rooted in technology and innovation, great ­distribution partners and a significant product offering of nearly 90,000 parts across 37 lines. We are the only true provider of GM OE parts, as well as premium aftermarket parts for most other makes and models. We regularly leverage the engineering technology leadership of GM.

We can bring value to these shops while still honoring their desire for independence and upholding the quality that distinguishes us from our ­competitors. So that will be a priority as we focus on our growth plan.

You seem to be focusing on ­millennials lately – why?

Sanford: Quite simply, millennials are the next generation of our partners in the trade. They will inherit this business and we want to enhance their awareness and usage of the ACDelco brand. What they need is a solid foundation: We offer industry-leading training, great products and great marketing support. We’re profiling a few promising young techs-in-training in a series of videos called “The Part That Built Me.” Their stories are unscripted and authentic, and they are on our YouTube channel, syndicated on ­websites where the next generation of trade go and spread via social media.


We want to entice young people to consider careers as technicians because there will be a shortage in the next few years. We’re providing free access to introductory courses through NATEF-accredited programs and our support for the GM ASEP technician program. This helps the industry and it promotes the ACDelco brand to a new generation of technicians.

Last year you introduced a Regional Service Chain program. How is it going?

Sanford: Fantastic. We have nearly 400 stores in the network and we’re seeing solid sales growth. A lot of consumers are turning to RSCs for maintenance and certain minor repairs, so this diversifies our presence in the market. We’ll make an announcement soon that will further enhance our partnership with Regional Service Chains.

What new products and services has ACDelco introduced this year?

AC DelcoSanford: We are always looking for ways to keep ACDelco fresh and relevant. We’ve released hundreds of SKUs to our customers this year, including GM OE emission products that are new to ACDelco.

We continue to emphasize a ­“repair” strategy rather than just selling parts. Shop owners tell us their techs are happier — and more efficient — when they have everything they need to make the repair. That means more ­activity in the bays and satisfied consumers.


This strategy ­extends to software, too. Shops can access our TIS2Web diagnostic software by the day, month or year so they can keep more diagnostic work in-house. At AAPEX, we sponsored a clinic where shop owners could learn how to diagnose, replace or reprogram GM Transmission Electro ­Hydraulic Control Modules, the heart of more than 8 ­million GM six-speed ­automatic ­transmissions on the road.

We have also released OE key fobs to the aftermarket. Again, we want our shops to be able to provide one-stop solutions to their customers.

And we have made our training more accessible with the introduction of short “TechTubes” that tackle individual topics, as well as half-day ­sessions that help techs take advantage of important training without ­taking time away from the bay.

We just finished redesigning our award-winning Knowledge is Power car care educational seminar to help independent service centers better ­connect with all of their customers through education and empowerment. There is a lot of updated content, ­especially in the area of hybrid technology. When we first introduced Knowledge is Power, we thought it would appeal just to women. But it has resonated with everyone who wants to be better ­educated about maintaining their vehicle.


Our updated ordering system, ACDelco Connection, makes it easier to do business with us.

The Connection is a B2B ­online parts ordering tool that ­offers ­automotive professionals quick access to their ACDelco supplier’s full inventory of parts, real-time availability, price and labor for all makes and models. The Connection provides exclusive access to GM Specialty ­Catalogs, including the Illustrated Catalog that contains system illustrations from engineering data for GM ­vehicles from 1992 to present.

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