Have you ever asked yourself “what does the future hold for the automotive aftermarket industry?” Or “what will I be doing in the future?”
With these crazy economic times, I find myself asking these questions on a daily basis. I then ask myself: “Is the market really changing? Are consumers going to be more conservative with accessory purchases? And what about all this talk about factory sales representatives being a thing of the past? Are times changing and will the factories not really need guys like me out in the field? What am I going to do?
With these questions leading to more questions, and more stress, I had to find some answers for myself. Over the past few weeks I’ve asked other sales reps in the automotive aftermarket industry from around the country if they’re asking themselves these same questions.
I found out I’m not alone. In fact, some of them were thinking about these same questions and getting deeper than I did. After compiling all of my thoughts and those of my peers, I thought I would share the answers to the above questions from my viewpoint.
What does the future hold for the automotive aftermarket industry? This is an easy question to answer. Our industry will do exactly as it has in the past: build and rebuild. The consumer these days is waiting to see what is going to happen next before spending their hard-earned cash.
Now here’s the tough question: when is “next” over? I feel we’re getting close. My local retail stores say people have been calling and just asking about products for the past few years. Now that same customer is starting to purchase the product they asked about months ago. I find myself doing the same. Do I need a new set of wheels for the truck right now? Maybe in a few months. Let’s see what happens next.
Our industry is made up of so many great minds and so many people with new ideas, I feel this is the time for them to shine. Let’s bring things to the table the consumer can’t live without. It might mean something as simple as just redesigning. It’s going to take work, a lot of work, to get us back to where we were a few years ago.
Is our market really changing? Yes it is, just as it has for the past 50 years. Not so long ago, all of our rides had chrome wheels, a lot of flashy products hanging on them, and movie stars and sports figures telling the consumer what to buy. Take a look around you now. People are still hanging products on their vehicles, but in a more downplayed way: black- or matte-finished wheels, flat paint, and simpler products. Our market is changing, and in my opinion the economy had very little to do with it. Change happens on a daily basis whether we like it or not. We, now more than ever, need to be ahead of the game. I just think the consumer hasn’t yet seen the “next” cool thing.
Which brings me to my next questions. Is the consumer going to be more conservative with accessory purchases? Yes. But he or she is also going to be a smarter shopper, looking for deals online, shopping store to store for the best price, and doing research before they buy. Most consumers know what they want before they visit the place they purchase from.
In some cases the consumer knows more about a current product than the person selling it. They also know about new products being released before the jobbers do. This is no fault to the factory or the reps; the consumer is just obsessed with research. They want info, info, and info!
OK, here’s a touchy subject. Are factory sales reps a thing of the past? Of course not. Reps can provide a great value to factories and sales managers when they work together. These days, reps can be used as a very powerful tool for a factory. The real question I should be asking myself is “what can I do to bring more value to my factories and show significance to my customers?”
A good place to start is by asking each of your factories and customers what they expect from you. Communication and supporting each other is the best way to keep a good working relationship. Reps are here to stay. We just need to change with the times.
Now it’s time to answer the question most important to me. What will I be doing in the future? I came to the conclusion that this industry is where I belong. The factories, the customers and the way our industry is always changing never makes for a dull day. I love the aftermarket industry and hope to continue to grow and make new connections within this industry.
So is this a changing market? Or a change in the times? I would have to say “yes” to both. —Mike Timmons, Wes-Coast Marketing, SEMA Young Executives Network (YEN) member