SEMA News—December 2012
By Mike Imlay
Early Adopters Share Their SEMA Data Co-op Insights
Speaking of Data
After nine months of beta testing, the SEMA Data Co-op (SDC) is poised to transition to a full system launch beginning in January. During its beta phase, the SDC came to encompass more than 125 data suppliers and more than 55 industry resellers representing data exports from more than 25 brands within the specialty-equipment marketplace. Recently demonstrated at the 2012 SEMA Show, the SDC promises to revolutionize the aftermarket’s approach to product data.
An industry-owned and operated project, the Data Co-op is designed to bring full product data management capabilities to participating suppliers at the lowest possible cost. Co-op members enjoy a secure, centralized data repository based on industry standards, with extensive on-boarding tools, expert live training and technical assistance and unlimited standard or fully customized data reports.
“Industry support has been outstanding, and we look forward to expanding our capabilities when we go live this January,” said Jon Wyly, SDC CEO. “Our goal of educating and training suppliers to manage their own product data is being very well received.”
Especially valuable has been the feedback received from early adopters of the program, who have worked with the SDC team to help refine and develop the potential of the system.
To find out what progress has been made in the beta phase, SEMA News recently talked to leaders of five early-adopter companies. The group includes some manufacturers who are data suppliers, some retailers and distributors who would be data receivers, and some companies that do both:
Greg Adler, president and CEO of Transamerican Auto Parts.
- Donnie Eatherly, president of P&E Distributors Inc. Family-owned for more than 50 years, P&E Distributors is a two-time winner of the SEMA Warehouse Distributor of the Year award. The company, which is based in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, boasts an 88,000-sq.-ft. headquarters facility and stocks and sells products from more than 350 different manufacturers.
- Zack Kanter, president of Proforged Chassis Parts. Founded in 2002, Proforged offers a full line of 1,700-plus performance ball joints, idler arms, tire rod ends, pitman arms, center links, control arms and sway bar end links for foreign and domestic vehicles from ’39–present. Amazon.com, JEGS and Summit Racing Equipment currently distribute the brand.
- JR Moore, director of warehouse operations for Performance Warehouse. A family-owned enterprise since 1936, Performance Warehouse began as a humble machine shop in Washington state. Now based in Portland, Oregon, the company boasts 37 stores, four warehouses and approximately 450 employees.
- Tim Odom, president of The AAM Group. Founded in 1988, AAM is the largest program distribution group in the specialty-equipment marketplace. The group affiliates with 20 distributors and 2,700 stores across North America, creating marketing and purchasing programs to support the needs of its members.
In spite of their differing perspectives and roles in the marketplace, consensus of all five interviewees is that the SDC is an industry data solution whose time is long overdue.
“A lot of SEMA-member companies are at a crossroads with providing data to their distributors and retailers. The SEMA Data Co-Op provides a solution that’s beneficial to the entire industry.”
—Greg Adler, Transamerican Auto Parts.
“Typically, all we get in regards to data from manufacturers is price files, UPC codes and short descriptions. That needs to change. We need long descriptions, package dimensions so we can calculate shipping, product attributes that differentiate one manufacturer’s product from another’s and so forth. We need data that helps sell product, because so many of our sales today are unattended. A trained sales guy doesn’t get the chance to make a pitch. We have to rely on our eCommerce platform to make those sales pitches, and if we don’t have the data, those pitches are never made.”
Donnie Eatherly, president of P&E Distributors Inc.
“One of the benefits that we see to data is that if it’s readily available and affordable, then we can take it downstream to a group of businesses that are very important to us—local installers, mom-and-pop retail shops and such. Those people who merchandize at the local level need data and need to be able to afford that data. The SEMA Data Co-Op is really the only option that I see on the horizon to make that happen.”
At Transamerican, Greg Adler further underscored the importance of the SDC. “This project really fills a void,” he said. “A lot of SEMA-member companies are at a crossroads with providing data to their distributors and retailers. Different requests are coming from different companies reflecting different needs. There can be a big expense involved, as well as questions about whom to partner with. A lot of manufacturers feel pulled in different directions. The SEMA Data Co-Op provides a solution that’s beneficial to the entire industry.”
The SDC as an Economical Solution
The cost- and time-saving benefits of the Co-op are fast becoming major selling points for manufacturers of all sizes. Zack Kanter of Proforged first heard about the SDC through social media. The huge potential of an industry-wide data repository immediately piqued his interest, especially from an economical standpoint.
“We’ve struggled over the last few years to find an economical and reliable way to get our data organized in the ACES [AAIA Catalog Enhanced Standard] and PIES [Product Information Exchange Standard] formats,” explained Kanter. “Our number-one priority for Proforged is to have good data—including year, make and model fitment info as well as SKU-level detail, such as dimensions, weights and photos—so we can provide our distributors with the tools they need to sell our product. Prior to joining the SDC, we managed all of this information in Excel, which made it labor intensive for distributors such as Summit, JEGS and Amazon to load our products into their eCommerce systems.”
According to Kanter, the old adage that time is money definitely applies to data. The beauty of the SDC is that once a manufacturer loads its data into the system, all of the information resides in a complete, comprehensive format ready for dissemination to any recipient the manufacturer chooses.
“Before joining the SDC, the last time we signed up a large mail-order/eCommerce distributor, it took months for them to convert our application spreadsheets into the format they needed,” Kanter said. “That resulted in a slow ramp-up period for sales. By contrast, we recently signed up another new, large account, and the SDC was able to provide us with a single file with all of our ACES-compliant fitment information. The new account should be able to load that data directly into their website—meaning they’ll be selling our full line of product within a matter of days. That sort of speed is invaluable in our market.”
Tim Odom, president of The AAM Group.
“We’ve had a B2B and B2C website for some time now, and data has been an issue from the very beginning,” he said. “We were a little slow to the website party, waiting on developer prices to come down while trying to figure out what the best long-term strategy was for our business mainframe environment. Now we have our basic web platform set and can focus on more current robust data that allows us to have better SEOs and application look-ups and so on. It has been beneficial so far because we have begun working with some fulfillment customers on integration initiatives with inventory reporting and EDI applications. That will make it a lot easier to do business on both sides—and that means more sales at a lesser expense.”
The Experience Thus Far
One of the main advantages cited by all of our interviewees was the program’s ease of use. The SDC includes a Data Agility team that will work with companies to help them properly assemble and format their data for accurate output that receivers can then access.
“The project has really spooled up over the last six months,” said Adler. “Our data folks here have been working with the SDC to provide the information and have started to receive some output that is helping us begin to understand what will work and flow with our current systems.”
“So far so good,” he added. “The SDC guys have been great to work with. It’s my overall perspective that they’re really making it an easy choice for manufacturing companies and data receivers to join in. They’ve broken down a lot of barriers for manufacturers large and small to provide data that then can be dispersed to distributors and retailers. Those information receivers—distributors and retailers—will also find it highly compelling to work with the SDC. Overall, the structure and layout of the program are excellent. Working with the SDC, my people have had nothing but great things to say.”
Kanter agreed that the setup process was relatively easy, with SDC personnel always friendly and responsive.
“It’s a two-way street, though,” he said. “The smoothness of the process is really going to come down to what sort of data you can provide to start with. Since we had all of our fitment information in Excel spreadsheets, it was pretty straightforward for them to convert it to the ACES format. If you mail them a paper application guide the size of the Yellow Pages, it’s going to be considerably more time intensive. But after that hand-off, they’ll do a great job carrying it through to the finish.”
JR Moore, director of warehouse operations for Performance Warehouse.
“The process was easy,” he said. “We just had to go to Jon Wyly and ask to be a data receiver. The Data Agility team is an excellent partner to work with. If you have an issue or a problem, they’ll help you work through it. They work hand-in-hand with you to get you the data that you’re looking for and tailor those feeds to match your requirements.”
The Short-Term Benefits
The early participants have already seen a range of short-term benefits to the program. For Moore, the availability of images has been a major step forward for business, among other things.
“Now when my jobbers go to look at a gasket, they can click on the image to make sure it’s the right one,” he said. “That’s very important for ensuring we get the right part to the right application. It gives the man in the field extra data he can use. Also, getting the package dimensions and weights is very helpful for calculating shipping costs. If you’re selling online, a consumer expects to know what the shipping costs are right away, not after a warehouse crew has packed it up and weighed it. Getting more, longer and better product descriptions has also been a benefit. Some of the data includes feature points that tell consumers things like what side of a car an item goes on or how many are required for an application. Those are things we haven’t gotten in the past from manufacturers.”
Eatherly said that the SDC will also open the Internet to many companies that formerly found online marketing and sales prohibitive.
“The SDC guys have been great to work with. It’s my overall perspective that they’re really making it an easy choice for manufacturing companies and data receivers to join in.”
—Zack Kanter, Proforged Chassis Parts
From a manufacturing standpoint, Kanter actually sees an opportunity for expanding product lines in record time.
“By controlling our data and managing it in the ACES format, we’re able to roll out new products quickly and efficiently,” he said. “Working with the SDC, our distributors basically just have to click a button in order to add new items to their catalogs. This means they’ll be selling new products immediately without having to wait for their data teams to manually add the new parts to their sites.
“It also ensures that our distributors have the most up-to-date fitment information. When we discover an error, we can quickly roll out an update that corrects the issue. Inaccuracies in data cause returns and unhappy customers—something we all want to avoid.”
The Long-Term Vision
Zack Kanter, president of Proforged Chassis Parts.
“The ultimate benefit will be when all the SEMA-member companies join this Co-op,” said Adler. “In the past, Transamerican has sometimes had to beg, plead and pay for companies to provide their data in a meaningful way to a third-party source. Now, however, we have a solution that everybody can feel good about. It promises multiple benefits for distributors as well as manufacturers. The ultimate benefit for Transamerican is that we won’t be struggling with manufacturers to follow a program that we rely on.”
Eatherly echoed these sentiments: “I think as we pass the tipping point of industry-leading manufacturers participating in the Data Co-op, you will get more data receivers. The data receivers in the distribution channel, whether B2B or B2C, will be able to focus more on the marketing side of the sales equation and not be so tied up mining for data. It will also lessen the burden on manufacturers for constant requests for their product data in what seems like endless formats.”
Kanter underscored the advantages of the SDC to manufacturers: “The SDC has the potential to be a simple and low-cost way for SEMA members to get their data organized, and that’s something that should be the number-one priority for any company that is serious about doing business in today’s eCommerce-centric market. The SDC offers a simple value proposition: It will get your data organized and presentable at a reasonable cost so that you can focus on growing your business.”
Odom may have summed it up best: “My long-range vision for the Co-Op is that as data becomes available, we will make the engines that run on the fuel of data more readily available to the grassroots level of the marketplace. The availability of this data will empower and encourage some very large players who have been on the fringes today. But it’s also very important that we get that technology accessible to those 20,000–30,000 independent stores all across North America who make the SEMA marketplace run.
“When we look at the marketplace, we see a lot of manufacturers who just don’t have the resources to get where we need to get. One of the challenges for us early adopters to consider is how we can help them.”