By Mike Imlay
The Industry’s Data Game-Changer
An Exclusive Progress Report on the SEMA Data Co-op
In other words, the revolution is on, and the SDC—one of the biggest initiatives to hit the industry in recent years—is fast becoming a game-changer at all levels, right down to the counter person.
“By all indications, we’re making significant progress,” said Wyly. “What’s especially encouraging is that we’re beginning to push the lid off of a perceived glass ceiling that the industry has been dealing with on the numbers of brands available from any one source.”
Experts believe that the number for prior industry repositories hovered around 300. In recent months, the SDC has grown to exceed 360 supplier brands and 450 receivers. Now the effort is on to entice yet more companies and brands into the co-op to build what SEMA hopes to be the industry’s definitive data repository.
Wyly has every reason to believe that goal is well within reach. In fact, he expects the SDC to attain an unprecedented level of industry coverage over the next few years. He noted that SEMA alone has approximately 3,000 manufacturer members, which translates to a couple of thousand brands that his team can recruit into the system.
That team includes experts dedicated to every facet of growing the co-op. In the system-development realm, SDC Vice President of eBusiness and Internet Technology Bob Castle is an industry veteran who brings extensive experience in e-commerce, data management, business-to-business and business-to-cosumer applications, data distribution and delivery and systems development.
Meanwhile, SDC Director of Membership Jim Graven is spearheading efforts to bring more data suppliers and receivers onboard. His background includes extensive sales, marketing and project-management experience at Reliable Automotive and Arrow Speed Warehouse, where he managed various customer-facing teams, events, media production and end-to-end project organization.
“Our goal over the course of the coming year is to bring all of our development resources in-house,” Wyly said. “This will give us total control of the look, feel and maintenance of the system for users as well as direct control over an ongoing list of enhancements.” He added that the SDC’s ever-growing list of users is providing plenty of suggestions and feedback for such enhancements.
Growing the Co-op
A recent addition to the SDC team, Allen Horwitz is making daily personal contact with potential data suppliers and receivers to expand co-op membership. He said that his role is less about “selling” the people he speaks with and more about educating them.
“We have worked hard to get our information out there, but there are still lots of misconceptions involving what the SDC really is,” he explained. “We’re sometimes confused with SEMA’s Tech Transfer program, which provides vehicle specifications from the OEMs. Another misconception I encounter is that suppliers don’t realize that receivers who are SEMA members are entitled to unlimited data downloads for free as long as they maintain their membership.”
Horwitz noted that there is much enthusiasm for the SDC once such misinformation is overcome. In fact, current co-op members are now going out of their way to suggest other membership leads.
“We have several examples of receivers who have provided us lists of the suppliers that they would like to receive data from through the SDC,” he said. “I also have several receiver contacts who tell me that they’re encouraging suppliers to use the SDC to distribute their data. In addition, I’ve spoken to several suppliers who have been encouraging receivers to sign with the SDC in order to get access to their data.”
“As an association whose mission it is to help our members succeed and prosper, we get to focus on our members prospering ahead of the SDC prospering,” he said. “Yes, we do have a fiduciary responsibility to operate the co-op successfully, but we are primarily mission driven, not profit driven. This has a dramatic effect on the way we go to market and represent our services. We’re empowered to make decisions based on the best interests of our members.”
In the end, the SDC’s entire approach has been to build and offer members a tool set that they can use to develop and maintain their data along with its ownership and control.
“With our HelpDesk we walk them through the process step by step, but ultimately they become the experts over their data,” Horwitz said. “The tool set lowers the bar of the complexity of managing these data sets. Our business model of making the data virtually free to receivers also removes a barrier that suppliers might have for distributing their data.”
Forging New Connections
Beyond disseminating data to existing customers, however, the SDC is also proving to be an important tool for expanding business, affording manufacturers new opportunities to reach warehouse distributors and resellers that they might not previously have dealt with.
“Once suppliers are in our system, they can go through it and view our receiver list almost like a lead list,” explained Wyly. “They can then message receivers through the system and see if they’re interested in doing business. Receivers can likewise identify and connect with brands they wish to do business with. We’re literally making introductions back and forth within the system. As complicated as the technology is behind this thing, the business model is very simple and straightforward.”
Improving the industry’s overall data quality has also been an SDC goal from the start. The co-op has developed a tiered program to assist manufacturer-suppliers in reaching specific levels of data quality, labeled bronze, silver, gold and platinum. The higher the data quality, the more attractive brands become to large resellers—especially outfits such as Summit, Amazon and auto-parts chains with extremely demanding data requirements.
“One of our most significant recent developments is that more than 254 brands have gone through our onboarding process at DataAgility, our outsource for HelpDesk services, and have achieved our bronze level of data compliance,” said Wyly. “That’s our introductory, usable data set for most e-business systems, whether they be for the web, retailing or warehousing. Our goal is to continually work one on one with manufacturers and help them ultimately rise to platinum standards.”
Wyly noted that it’s not unusual for a manufacturer to come into the SDC with a list of current customers for its data while simultaneously setting its sights on data-intense resellers such as Amazon.
“We can show manufacturers in our system exactly what Amazon’s requirements are and help them get to those requirements,” Wyly pointed out. “The manufacturers won’t be guessing how to satisfy their needs. We know what their needs are.”
Wyly conceded that there can be a fair amount of initial work gathering, standardizing and validating product data for manufacturers new to the SDC concept. However, once they clear that hurdle and complete their main data set, ongoing maintenance is simple.
“That’s the beauty of our Product Information Management System [PIMS],” he explained. “It’s a custom-built technology that we designed from scratch. It’s the only one like it anywhere. It’s designed for the manufacturer-suppliers to be able to log into the system and manage their product information right there 24/7, 365 days a year.”
The SDC includes an extremely intuitive interface. Once suppliers learn the system, they have total, continued control over their data. They can make changes and adjustments on the fly and even upload large collections of additional data via FTP or directly into the system. According to Wyly, this yields unprecedented speed to market.
“With other systems currently out there, it’s not unusual to take 30 to 60 days to get new data into the marketplace,” he said. “With our PIMS, a manufacturer can literally load a new part into the system and—if it passes through our validation—that product data is being distributed out to customers that very same day, literally within hours.”
Moreover, the SDC data mechanisms deliver every supplier the same capabilities without discrimination. The system works just as well for a small supplier with 10 part numbers as it does for a big manufacturer with tens of thousands.
Enter SEMA Search
“When you’re sitting on a data repository of the size and scope of what we’re building, any good business person is going to sit down and brainstorm further uses for the data,” said Wyly of SEMA Search’s development. “The question for us was what we could do with this data to further help the industry along. How do we help people sell more parts?”
Unveiled at the recent 2014 SEMA Show, SEMA Search is initially designed for trade use only, although a consumer-facing version is also planned eventually (see the “SEMA Search Quick Facts” sidebar). Every new product entered into the SDC repository will also appear at SEMA Search free of charge. All a manufacturer has to do to be visible in SEMA Search is join the SDC and manage its data just as more than 300 other brands have already chosen to do.
“SEMA Search offers a great data set for counter people to pull from with a very easy-to-use, intuitive interface,” said Wyly. “If you think about the counter person, he’s having people walk up all day long and ask for items, not necessarily brands.”
In this scenario, a knowledgeable counter person likely has some brands in his head that he favors. He may then go to a couple of WD data systems to look up those brand offerings. In addition, he might go to two or three manufacturer websites to show the customer a few more choices as well. Unfortunately for the counter person, each of those multiple sources often operates a bit differently.
“It doesn’t take long for that to add up to a lot of work,” Wyly said. “As a counter guy, you end up having to be very proficient at navigating a wide variety of websites trying to dig out the information to answer a consumer’s question. Our goal is to take all the data that we have aggregated in one place and provide one place for this guy to go to get information on any product or brand at one time for side-by-side comparison.”
“It’s very non-partisan,” noted Wyly. “We’re giving the sales people the opportunity to see everything that’s available and make their decisions based on the information provided. Because we’re SEMA, it’s about helping any and every business every way we can.”
To learn more about the SEMA Data Co-op as well as SEMA Search, visit www.SEMAdatacoop.org online or contact the SDC membership department at 888-958-6698 x4.
SEMA Search Quick Facts
What is SEMA Search?
SEMA Search is a web-based search tool designed for use by salespeople in the trade to access product information from the SDC database.
How does it function?
Through a very intuitive interface, it provides users with the ability to search for parts by a variety of criteria, including year/make/model lookups as well as product searches based on types of products, features, engine fitment, brand, material and more.
Why do data suppliers need SEMA Search?
By utilizing the rapidly growing database of parts in the SDC, salespeople can get a broad view of available products in one place, using one consistent lookup tool rather than hopping from site to site trying to gather information on various brands. Users can also perform side-by-side comparisons of products right on the screen and get introduced to products that they might not have considered or known about before. Suppliers benefit from exposure to the entire user base in a completely product- and feature-oriented manner, ensuring that every product that meets the search criteria will be displayed in a comparable way.
How will SDC members benefit?
SEMA Search is yet another practical, business-building use of the product data that is managed and stored in the SDC system. Not only will the products be made visible to an ever-increasing user base of receivers but potentially to consumers as well when the SDC rolls out a public-facing version. Additionally, the development of SEMA Search will be the springboard for connectivity in the form of “content on demand.” This will enable the delivery of rich product data via application programming interfaces and other connectivity without the need for retailers to house massive data files locally.
How will it change the way retail countermen interact with their customers?
Through this single source for the lookup and display of hundreds of brands and millions of parts, retail salespeople will be able to show customers more options than ever more efficiently than ever. No longer will the retail customer’s options be limited by what the counterman is “used to selling” or what he doesn’t know about. SEMA Search provides a total view of all the products in the SDC database, creating new selling opportunities for all involved and giving salespeople the confidence to expand their offerings.
How will the search tool benefit enthusiasts seeking upgrades for their builds?
It’s really all about the data. As the SDC continues to work with suppliers to add rich content to their data, enthusiasts will ultimately get better information in a more timely manner through SEMA Search. No longer will new products languish on warehouse shelves for weeks or months before customers are aware of them. With the SDC and SEMA Search, new products can be loaded today and sold tomorrow.
How will it help the entire supply chain, from manufacturer to end user?
SEMA Search is all about bringing every possible option to the selling arena. Participating suppliers will have equal opportunity to be viewed by industry salespeople and presented to consumers. Salespeople will enjoy instant access to massive amounts of product choices, and consumers will ultimately find the parts that best suite their project, style and budget. Consider SEMA Search to be a parts encyclopedia wrapped in an easy-to-use, intuitive web interface.