SEMA News—December 2013
Rapid Change Calls for Immediate Attention
From the Data Co-op to Responsive Websites, Staying Current Is Critical
Current studies suggest that up to 90% of shopping now begins with an Internet search, whether the product is ultimately purchased online or through a brick-and-mortar retail store. And mobile is overhauling other search devices, with tablets alone projected to account for 65% of all sales made on mobile devices. That’s a rapid change from only a short time ago.
“It’s like dog years, where one year is actually seven years worth of change,” said Bob Moore, partner in the automotive aftermarket consulting company J&B Service in Kansas City, Missouri. “For example, I was looking at a presentation we did in 2010, and while there were references to mobile devices, like smartphones and PDAs, there was no reference to tablets. The original iPad was released in April of 2010. Now we’re reading about how tablets are becoming more predominant than the PC. That underscores the need to keep up on technology, especially as it relates to business.”
Companies are recognizing that necessity across the automotive specialty-equipment spectrum and are making changes to their systems and software. K&N Engineering in Riverside, California, is one of the most forward-thinking organizations, and it has embraced technology in as many ways as possible.
“We have redesigned the knfilters.com and aemintakes.com websites to provide a better experience on mobile devices,” said Tim Martin, K&N’s vice president. “A traditional website does not work well on a smartphone, so our sites were modified to provide streamlined product search capabilities, dealer locators and other features. Consumers increasingly use mobile devices to learn about our products.”
K&N also uses analytics software to assess website traffic, online advertising, print advertising, social media and other consumer marketing, Martin said. The business turns to e-mail marketing software to provide product and company information to its distributors, retailers and consumers and software tools to help the company better understand customer buying trends and make merchandising recommendations to distributors and retailers.
Meanwhile, warehouse distributor Performance Warehouse in Portland, Oregon, has been leveraging manufacturer data to fine-tune its inventory management. JR Moore, president, said that the company uses Polk data coupled with catalog data to contrast what the WD stocks with what it actually sells.
“Previously, we had always believed that we should stock a lot of replacement parts for the vehicles that were popular in the area,” he said. “But we’ve discovered that those vehicles may not wear out the parts we were stocking, so we’ve been able to better manage inventory. The SEMA Data Co-op (SDC) helps us carry over that same process to our specialty-equipment lines—determining how many bug shields or running boards we stock based on the popularity of the lookups we get on our electronic catalogs. That helps us have the right part at the right time.”
The SDC has made huge strides in the past year. Its founding principal was to gather and provide robust, clean data so that partner companies could deliver and receive information to make websites more accessible and usable for each other and—more importantly—to enable consumers to use PCs and mobile devices in searches for the information they needed to make smart purchases.
“The SEMA Data Co-op was still pretty much only a concept just a year ago,” said Bob Moore, “so it is incredible what progress CEO Jon Wyly, Vice President Bob Castle and the team there have made. They’re in full production. They have a Product Information Management (PIM) solution deployed. They have 400 companies signed up, and 70% of them are regularly trading data through the SDC. It’s pretty mind-boggling how far it has come.”
Martin said that K&N is a data supplier to the SDC and is pleased with the services, receiving positive feedback from distributors that have exported information for K&N’s brands.
“Anything that improves data accuracy is helpful,” Martin said. “The consistency of the SEMA Data Co-op export processes across a large number of brands can benefit distributors and retailers and make it more likely that their product data is accurate and timely.”
Bob Moore said that the SDC staff is currently working on three broad initiatives that will further enhance the system: data on demand, do-it-for-me (DIFM) data services and SEMA Search.
“‘Data on demand’ is the way mobile apps work,” Moore said. “They use what are called web services to grab data off the web and display it on the mobile device. The SDC is developing that type of system to supercharge the ability to use the SDC with mobile devices and to allow brick-and-mortar and web users access to the full repository of data without actually having to store it.”
The second piece is helping manufacturers gather their product information—populating data fields, in tech speak—to provide the greatest breadth of specifications, images and videos possible for use by consumers.
“For some suppliers, getting over the initial hump of their first data upload into the SDC can be overwhelming,” Moore said. “In 2014, the SDC will be adding DIFM data services to help address that challenge, with the goal of handing the steering wheel of ongoing data management back to the supplier once that initial heavy lifting is completed, staying true to the SDC goal of complete supplier ownership and control of their data.”
And SEMA Search will use all that information, all those data fields, to provide the type of intuitive search that an engine such as Google performs. It will be a multi-purpose engine to enable lookups of all types rather than just by year, make and model.
“You’ll be able to look for a specific part based on its size, its horsepower rating or the type of material it’s made from,” Moore said. “For instance, you could ask to see a blower drive belt that’s 36 in. in diameter with 10 teeth per inch, or you could ask for a piece of titanium tubing with a 2.5-in. outside diameter to use in a chassis.”
JR Moore said that the major emphasis at the PWA conference this year was to get SEMA manufacturers in the same position as the replacement-parts manufacturers, providing WDs and retailers with ACES and PIES data so that they can better determine what they need to stock or not stock. ACES stands for Aftermarket Catalog Enhanced Standard, and it’s the industry standard for the management and exchange of automotive catalog and vehicle data. PIES stands for Product Information Exchange Standard, which defines attributes of automotive products that include brand identification, description, price, dimensions, weights and so on.
“We’re using the SDC to develop an online catalog for our business-to-business and business-to-consumer sites,” Moore said. “The ACES data is beginning to gather some strength and will be a great help to us in selling and managing our inventory. We are also in development for better utilizing the PIES data.”
He noted that Performance Warehouse had a leg up on the process even before the SDC was created because of its relationship with K&N.
“K&N sent us inventory feeds every day so that we knew what they had in stock,” he said. “They also sent us ACES files––the application data––which told us that filter X fits vehicles A, B and C. That’s why I’m excited about the SDC. As it provides more ACES data, we’ll be able to leverage that in our inventory management as well as our catalog lookups for B2B and B2C customers. It’s going to create a bigger audience for SEMA products.”
Bob Moore cautioned that the industry also needs to ensure that the legacy systems—the systems that the distributors and the manufacturers already have in place—are going to be capable of using the more complete data from the SDC.
“We’re trying to work with the third-party legacy system providers that are making enterprise software systems for distributors and manufacturers so that they understand what the specifications are and what SEMA members need in order to accommodate what comes out of the SDC as well as what they’re going to need in order to do business in this new environment,” he said.
SEMA also unveiled another significant technology enhancement recently: SEMA Garage-Industry Innovations Center. The 15,000-sq.-ft. facility adjacent to SEMA headquarters in Diamond Bar, California, includes not only a full mechanic’s garage, media center and installation bays, but also advanced design technologies and emissions testing consistent with the California Air Resources Board requirements for Executive Order certification.
Mike Spagnola, SEMA vice president for OEM and product-development programs, said that members can now go from design to prototyping to emissions testing without ever having to actually manufacture a part, and it can be done in weeks rather than months.
“We now have a Faro arm, also called a coordinate-measuring machine, along with some PolyWorks software,” Spagnola said. “We can use it to scan complete vehicles or individual parts. In the case of specialty parts—parts or tooling that were created prior to the advent of computer-aided design (CAD), for instance––we can do custom scanning for specific components that not everybody may want. From there, we can also do 3-D printing.”
The 3-D printer at SEMA Garage allows members to use CAD files to create testable versions of parts and is a further adjunct of the Technology Transfer program that SEMA has built over more than a decade. Using either Technology Transfer files from Ford, GM, Chrysler or Scion or files developed using the Faro arm, the SEMA Garage team can create a part to the member’s specifications on the 3-D printer. Then, in the case of an engine part, for instance, they can actually run tests on the in-house dynamometer and provide emissions and horsepower data.
The services at SEMA Garage are offered to association members at discounted rates, generally about a third less than is available using other sources. Custom scanning is priced at $65 an hour, and 3-D printing is $12 per cubic inch. The testing services are also discounted, but the prices depend upon the specific tests that are run.
“If members want data on a vehicle that we’ll have at scheduled measuring session, we ask them to either come to the session or let us know in advance what they’re looking to have scanned,” Spagnola said. “The limitation there is the amount of time we have the vehicle, but we are often getting vehicles for longer-term usage.”
The SEMA Garage team can also send the data and images gathered from measuring and photo sessions to the SDC, providing real SEMA synergy.
These types of technologies are only going to progress and become more common, so businesses should involve themselves as soon as possible in the latest developments.
“If you’re sitting on your thumbs waiting for technology to settle out, you’re making a horrible strategic move,” Bob Moore counseled. “It’s dog years. Would you wait another seven to make an important decision about your business?”